September 2012 School Board Perspective - Matt Rustad
Posted 09/06/2012 09:41AM

School Board Perspective
By Matt Rustad, ISD 15 School Board Member

About 25 years ago, somebody made the bold prediction that society would be paperless within 10 years. Yet we quickly learned that the digital boom created more mounds of paper than ever before in the form of printed-out emails, memos, reports, and other fodder for the “in” basket. Unfortunately, as our ability to create content has improved, so has our paper output. I can’t help but laugh (or even cry) at the silliness of using digital equipment to create archaic paper trails that drain precious natural resources and dwindling funds.
From a purely “green” point of view, tech leaders need to start insisting on paper reduction. Paperless meetings and classroom instruction are simple with the availability of email, podcasts, wikis, digital projectors, interactive whiteboards, and more. We could better spend the resources that it now takes us to create tons of unnecessary paper on other school activities.

Paperless schools would also reduce the need for custodial staff to haul away the drifts of paper that students leave in hallways, classrooms, and trash cans. Communications sent by email, posted on a blog, or placed on a website are more likely to reach parents and students than a piece of paper stashed in a backpack or book bag.  In addition to the time savings, going paperless would save money. Eliminating the cost of ink, toner, paper, electricity, and maintenance for printers would free up more funds for appropriate classroom technologies.

Although I do not dispute libraries and the reference books, periodicals and publications they house are valuable, printed textbooks are expensive and have become a burden on schools and students. Textbook budgets have been reduced drastically in the recent past, and as a result, many of us have resorted to using textbooks that are old, with outdated information. Digitized textbooks are easily distributed, require little management, and are far more portable. Our young digital natives would save their backs from having to haul 100-pound backpacks, and they would always have their textbooks handy. Students also adapt more easily to screen-oriented reading, and often find paper to be more of a nuisance than a benefit.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone in this day and age would argue against paperless schools, but still, it is unlikely that schools will ever be entirely paperless. I, for one, would stand up and defend the need to have coloring pages and construction paper available for all! But the time has come to retire printers and copiers to the museum. Printing manuals, handbooks, and handouts year after year is unnecessary and wasteful. The move to paperless schools is like most technology shifts—fraught with fear and the resistance to change.

Vernon Smith, MS, the director of technology for Socorro Consolidated Schools in New Mexico, president-elect of the New Mexico Society for Technology in Education and chair of the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Council on Technology in Education, said this: “Just as the office workers of the 1980s suffered fear and trepidation about moving from their typewriters to keyboards, we are having a hard time transitioning to a digital screen from the comfort of holding what used to be a tree.”

Change is not easy, but it is inevitable.