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Are cheap flash drives a key to reducing paper?

I met with the teachers from one of our elementary schools yesterday in what I hope will become regular technology updates for staff. I noted that they had extremely high paper and toner usage for a small school and wanted to try and brainstorm possible ways to save paper.
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Written by Christopher Dawson on

I met with the teachers from one of our elementary schools yesterday in what I hope will become regular technology updates for staff. I noted that they had extremely high paper and toner usage for a small school and wanted to try and brainstorm possible ways to save paper. It quickly became clear that this wasn't just your typical set of teachers who really like to feel paper in their hands and print indiscriminately.

In fact, not surprisingly in this crunchy little community, the teachers were by and large quite environmentally conscious. However, because the school is in a remote area of our regionalized district, many of the students lack Internet access at home (the community has one of the lowest population densities in the state and just rolled out DSL to limited areas this year; many people remain too remote to get DSL and satellite is cost-prohibitive). Thus, teachers must provide students with paper copies of documents that they could otherwise access at home on the web.

Even in the larger town (in population only - it is far smaller in land mass) in our regional district, the public library is open every day and accessible by foot from every school and many homes. Broadband is also fairly ubiquitous and the high school provides extended hours in the computer lab, meaning that teachers feel comfortable assigning homework that requires Web access.

What most students do have in our little (again, in population only) town is a computer. They may not be online, but a very large proportion of homes have PCs. As one teacher pointed out, if students could simply be provided a flash drive on which they could download materials for use at home, he could reduce his paper consumption by 50%. Other teachers echoed his sentiments.

Even in schools where home Internet access is more common, however, students still tend to print too much in the way of research and documentation. How many times have you found students printing entire articles when all they really need are their notes, an excerpt, or an image? If student printing was drastically limited through quotas and students were encouraged to save what they needed on a flash drive (or an online repository if they have Web access at home), then, again, we could really reduce our consumables in the schools.

I told one of the teachers to submit a purchase order for the flash drives. These things are dirt cheap and the cost of a single toner cartridge would cover drives for his whole class. Now if we can just make sure that everyone has a computer at home...Finally, a use for those donations!

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