I’ve lately become intrigued with the idea of going paperless. I have certainly cut back in paper use over the years, mostly without really trying, as technology made printing less and less necessary. A few things have happened recently, though, that really have me thinking about the possibilities of a paperless office and (eventually) paperless schools.
I was recently working on two large projects that, just a few years ago, would have resulted in my printing reams of paper. One was a technology audit that we had conducted which included interview transcripts from dozens of teachers. My job was to go through and code their responses to look for patterns. On another project, we were conducting a literature review for effective pedagogy. Both of these required me to read hundreds of pages of documents and to annotate them with key findings. Instead of printing them out and grabbing the ol’ highlighter, I found an online resource that allows me to upload documents, highlight and tag key phrases, then sort by tags. I not only saved money and trees, but was actually able to get my work done much more efficiently.
More recently, I was packing my office in preparation for a move to another floor at McREL. As I began cleaning out my file cabinet, I was aghast at some of the documents that I’d saved. A meeting agenda from 2006…countless articles that are now saved on my Delicious site…a to-do list from last November. Most embarrassing for me personally was a folder labeled “Web 2.0.” (How very Web 1.0!) If I had wanted to access most of this material, the first thing I would do is search online or use my bookmarks – I certainly wouldn’t thumb through countless files in my file cabinet!
I think there are several reasons why both schools and businesses should start thinking about the possibility of a paperless (or at least paper-reduced) future:
1. If we don’t force ourselves to rethink how we read, write, and communicate, we are ill prepared to teach and work with a generation that already embraces technology as its primary tool for these tasks. At McREL, we are experimenting with new ways to support our professional development sessions. For example, our Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works workshop no longer has a Participant’s Manual, but instead uses a wiki to provide key points, graphics, and links.
2. Schools currently spend upwards of $20,000 per year on paper & printers, even more on textbooks.
3. Even with recycling efforts, less paper means fewer trees are cut down, fewer trucks are needed to transport trees to a pulp mill, less pollution is spewed into the air (I grew up near a pulp mill…lessening that smell for future generations would be a very kind thing to do), and less gas is needed to transport paper to stores & offices.
So here’s my challenge: throughout the next month, question yourself whenever you start to print something. Ask if you can access or provide the same information using email, wikis, your intranet site, Delicious, or other means. Try having a meeting where bringing a laptop is encouraged. Find other ways to get information across during workshops other than printing out your PowerPoint slides. I’d love to hear what efforts you made and the ideas you came up with for going paperless.
(For more information on this topic, see the Teach Paperless blog at http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com or follow his Tweets @teachpaperless.)