Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting past printing

True story.  I recently spoke with a teacher who found an electronic text s/he liked online.  It was freely shared (no copyright issues), so s/he decided that although a slightly different hard copy version existed in the department book room, s/he would make Xeroxed copies of this online text.  So, each of his/her students in that particular course (~60) got a 30 page packet of this text.  This version of this text was already in hard copy form in the book room.  This version of this text was already in ONLINE format, probably with links that are completely useless in hard copy.

As a tech. coordinator, I feel various levels of frustration at various times.  For the past year or so, though, my frustration level with printing has not only been constant but has, in fact, increased rather dramatically.  I wasn't really able to articulate why I was getting more & more frustrated until I read Will Richardson's "Get. Off. Paper" post this past week.  Here's a direct quotation from his post:
"Yet just about everywhere I go where groups of educators are in the room, paper abounds. Notebooks, legal pads, sticky notes, index cards…it’s everywhere. We are, as Alan November so often says, “paper trained,” and the worst part is it shows no signs of abating."

To be honest, I do respect the fact that some people will simply remember something better if they have "written it down."  Most of us who are teaching today grew up in the "get out your pen & paper" classroom, so that is what we know & how we learn.  I get that.  My problem is not with taking notes in paper form.  My problem is with hitting the print button.

Yes, there was a time when the only way we had to get stuff to our students was via the mimeograph (YIKES) or copy machine or textbook.   That time has long since passed.  We can now project amazing video content, we can access incredible information via the web, and we can share our thoughts and work electronically.

We must begin to ask ourselves why we (and our students) are printing. If we really begin to examine our practice, we will discover that we are needlessly printing things that could be shared another way.

Do your students print electronic versions of their papers to you can grade them?  Why not use GoogleDocs & grade their work electronically?  Are you printing out articles for your students to read for homework?  What about giving students the link and only making copies for the students who may not have access at home?  Are you printing out your syllabus?  How about posting it online so that it can be accessed throughout the year, not lost in the depths of the high school backpack?   Find a text that you want to use?  Have your kids access the e-version, where they can interact with links & content dynamically and share those thoughts with the class.  Our students should be interacting with content in a way that taps into their curiosity, their skills, and their world.  Hard copy is not it.

Richardson's point is a great one.  We need to get off paper.  But I think the first step to making that shift is getting away from the print button.  I'll close with Richardson's final thought from that post:  "are you doing as much as you can to get off paper?"