But my printer is out of ink...

Pink may be the new black if you believe my trendier students, but this is the new "My dog ate my homework."
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Pink may be the new black if you believe my trendier students, but this is the new "My dog ate my homework."  Since most of us require assignments to be typed, students often show up the morning a paper is due lamenting their lack of ink or their broken inkjet.  I can't usually fault them either, since my crappy inkjet in my home office is always out of ink too.  However, the number of students who still don't think to email papers to an instructor is remarkably large.  More importantly, the number of teachers unwilling to accept papers electronically is remarkably small.  All this means is that schools and parents bear the cost of printing when electronic means exist to easily exchange and view files.

Why do we make our students print out papers?  I know I received countless papers back in high school and college that my instructors had "bled all over, " my mistakes happily pointed out in red ink.  While there is some satisfaction in subjecting my students to the same torture, this is the 21st century and there are countless ways to electronically explain to my students how their inability to write a complete sentence really does matter, even in a technology class.  And no, this doesn't mean printing out the paper yourself and then writing comments.

Comments and feedback can easily be entered through the editing tools built into all recent incarnations of Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.  Better yet, feedback can be provided through email or just embedded in the electronic document.  Even at pennies a page, the cost of printing documents adds up quickly, especially if teachers happen to be using inkjets at their desks.  Whether the cost is passed on to students or borne by the school, environmental impact as well as the bottom line can be controlled by leveraging the network infrastructure that you have worked so hard to build.  Many student information systems and standalone products like Edline also allow students to leave work in a "digital dropbox", enabling administrators to easily log electronic communications (as required by recent court decisions) and providing an efficient means for teachers to get feedback to students.

Not only does a more modern approach save time and resources (for students and teachers), but also means an end to excuses.  Even, "the Internet is broken at my house" won't cut it anymore.  I always make sure to have a few extra cheap flash drives in my pockets for the Internet-challenged.  This is a win-win, as long as we can all leave some very old habits behind.

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