It's not about saving paper...

One of the most overused lines in the ed-tech revolution is "think of all the paper we will save!".

It's not about the paper, people.

If you are using paper savings to justify your school technology purchase as an offset in your budget, you're making a losing bet - and missing the point.

First, old habits die hard. My 9-12 school has iPads in the hands of every student 9-11 this year - that's about 1000 students. My 160 teachers have had iPads and MacBooks for 4 years, including a year of training and preparation. They have access to three primary ways to publish documents and assignments electronically - Google Sites (using a custom teacher website template we developed), iTunes U, and Showbie.

We print almost as much paper as we did before they had ANY of these things.

Frustrating? You bet. But old habits die hard.

Whether it's "just in case" the technology isn't working, or it's something "they can only do with paper and pencil", or just plain ol' resistance to change, whole forests are still being mowed down by our printers and copiers.

Change is happening - but not nearly at the rate we expected.

One of the ways we've been turning the tide is to not focus on the savings on paper, but on something even more valuable (and relatable) to the teachers.


Let me highlight a story that really hit home for me early on in our testing - pre-1:1, when we had some carts and smaller collections of iPads in targeted assistance classrooms for math and reading.

At the time, one of my "beta testers" was the 2 person team that provided targeted reading assistance to 9th and 10th graders - in the USA, that's a Title I reading program. I asked them to find some metric they could measure to help state their case on how using their 10 iPad cart was helping them in the classroom.

Not surprisingly, they decided to focus on paper. They decided to keep track of a review packet they were using leading up to the standardized test in English in our state, distributed via Showbie on the iPads.

They distributed this 12 page (on average) packet twice a week, for 8 weeks, for 100 students.

At the end of the 8 week period, for just this packet, they did the math. 

24 pages/wk X 100 students X 8 weeks = 19,200 pieces of paper.

Sounds impressive! Total savings in paper? A whopping $153.

OK - it's not really that impressive, clearly. Don't get me wrong - $153 is $153 - and multiplied by many teachers it could really add up. Even the environmental impact could certainly be substantial over time for a whole school.

There was one part of this that they did not see, but I did.

That's the time to takes to produce 19,200 pieces of paper*.

Assuming a 75/page per minute copier (Konica Minolta Bizhub 754e, to be specific), and assuming you can teleport to the copier, never have a jam, or a line, or any other real life factor that could (and will) slow you down, the math works as such:

19,200 pages / 75 pages/min = 256 minutes, or 4.26 hours.

As a teacher, or as an administrator - what would you rather have - $153, or 4+ hours of your time back - time that could be used to refine your lessons, tutor your students, improve your teaching, or finding better ways to use technology to teach your students?

I use this story whenever I'm questioned on how the iPad is saving money by reducing paper, or textbooks, or any other "traditional" metric based on replacing one medium for another.

You have to start somewhere, and the first step in the SAMR model is Substitution - but that process should lead you towards better use of the technology to improve student outcomes.

Shuffle less paper - spend more time improving learning for your students.


*My start in IT was as a computer operator - a job that's much less in demand or existence today. My 2 primary jobs during my overnight shift were backing up the "mini computer" - a VAX 11-780  that had 16MB (yes, megabytes) of RAM, and was 16 feet long - and printing reports all night long on greenbar paper. So you might say I had an inkling about how time is a factor in killing trees!