We spend a huge amount of money on printing and kill a lot of trees for paper materials in Ed Tech. At the same time, we struggle to have kids keep all of these volumes of paper organized, much less be able to refer to learning materials from prior weeks or months. Although plenty of businesses use plenty of paper and kill plenty of their own trees, more and more are turning to tools like wikis, blogs, and other collaboration tools to create living, useful repositories of information.
Of course, in most businesses, every employee has access to a computer and there is generally some sort of back office hardware and software to facilitate information sharing, storage, retrieval, and collaboration. Most schools aren't at the point of 1:1 and too many of us (especially at the elementary level) lack much more than a basic file/print server on the back end to grow an organic data store accessible by students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
If you think about the kinds of paper we generate in most schools, we're sending notices, report cards, fundraisers, policies, memos, and a variety of other information bits home to parents. We give kids countless handouts, worksheets, quizzes, tests, and readings. Kids take notes, write essays and term papers, and generally fill notebooks and binders. Administrators write memos and policies, handbooks and announcements, most of which get distributed on paper to teachers.
Then we order textbooks, novels, supplemental materials, and workbooks.
Again, while these generate plenty of work for kids and keep people generally informed, there is neither a permanence nor any degree of interactivity or growth. While there are clearly exceptional schools that use the Internet and shared resources to mitigate some of these problems, there is very little in the way of research to determine if moving to a paperless model has any real educational benefits beyond tapping into the green revolution.
I'm inclined to believe that not only are there direct benefits to students (in terms of developing "21st Century skills" around technology integration with traditional work and learning), but that overall communications within a school and community can be greatly improved by rolling out technology to support a paperless school. The communication and collaboration infrastructure that would be necessary for such a venture would drastically change the way students and teachers work and the way in which schools link to parents and home resources.
Read my next post to see how I'm proposing to determine if this drastic change will improve anything other than our paper and toner consumption.