Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Want More Technology? Do the math on paper.

We're got a problem in our district.  Thanks to voter approval of a 2012 bond, we've been able to get close to a 2:1 student to Chromebook ratio in our schools (technically, it will be a 2.1:1 ratio in grades 1-5 starting this month).

So what's the problem?  People now want more.  And they want to know what will happen when the bond expires.

On one level, this is a good problem to have.  We have technology that is being used, teachers see the value in what it provides, and they're frustrated that they don't have access for every student, every day.  When it comes to sustainability, though, it's a bad problem to have.  Bond money is not the ideal way to equitably fund and maintain technology in a district, and it certainly isn't possible to increase it when needs exceed the fixed budget given.

cc photo courtesy of Ray
What about grants, PTO funds, Donors Choose, and other ways to get more funding for classroom technology?  Those are all options, but they don't alleviate the issue with equity or sustainability.  If we want to provide more technology for all students and sustain that technology, we need to do the math.  Where do we spend money and where can we reallocate?  Let's start with paper.

If we could (as a district) cut our paper costs just in half, we'd be 1:1.  Right now.  Here are some ways to think about adjusting paper costs to fund more technology.
  1. Start posting "reference" items for students electronically instead of providing hard copies.   Do students need a hard copy of a syllabus or the rubric?  Do they need the printed list of vocabulary terms?  If you found an article online, could they access it electronically?  The pedagogy about worksheets is another conversation, but posting documents that students need for reference vs. interaction is a step to reducing paper in the classroom.
  2. Look for free online resources for learning vs. using hard copy resources or text books.  We'll be posting some suggestions for this in an upcoming post, but there is a ton of free stuff we can use digitally.  Primary documents, electronic databases provided by our school and/or local libraries, and free eBooks are all worth exploring before relying solely on hard copies.  
  3. When you need to print, use class sets that can be re-used or shared (across sections for even departments).  We're in the habit of printing in 1:1 ratios, but what if we made an effort to print in 2:1 ratios (1 copy for every two students)?   Often, we can have students working in groups or pairs, and we don't necessarily need 1 for every student.  Sometimes paper is the best option, but it doesn't always have to be for every single student.
  4. Let teachers know that they need to print their own copies (IF needed) prior to training/staff development workshops.  I think we sometimes assume that every teacher needs or wants hard copies when we do workshops -- and we see a lot of printed PowerPoints.  In our district, every teacher has a laptop, and most have mobile devices.  We are a 1:1 staff, so maybe we should shift our practice to providing electronic versions and setting the expectation that we don't print anymore.
  5. Provide parents with electronic options for newsletters or other posted information instead of sending it home by default.  We started doing electronic parent forms two years ago, which was a huge savings for our district.  However, we could be smarter about things like newsletters and schedules for Back to School nights and conference nights.  Parents can be emailed directly out of Schoology, our Learning Management System, or the PowerSchool gradebook.  For parents who don't have access, we could provide hard copies on request or have print stations at the schools for conference nights,  
Bottom line: purposeful paper isn't the problem -- pointless printing is the problem.  Thinking before we print will not only save natural resources and cut down on consumption, but it will open up budget dollars that can go to something else -- like technology for our kids.