The Technology of Paper: When to Reduce, When to Produce

It’s a fact: paper usage damages the environment. It’s also expensive. In this blog post, we look at how to choose between paper and digital mediums for your classroom projects, and also some ways to reduce your costs for when you do need to use paper.

Part 1: Reducing Paper Usage

If you make copies at $0.10 a sheet, you only need 5,000 copies before you’re talking about buying yourself an iPad. Have a five page handout for your students? If you have twenty students, that’s a hundred pages. Do that once a week, and you’ve reached 1,500 copies by the end of the semester. That’s $150 in five-page handouts. It’s also three reams of paper, or 18% of an entire tree (

So it makes sense to reduce your paper usage. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Make All Handouts Digital. This is particularly helpful for your syllabus. This way, students can’t lose it. I actually like to post my syllabus to GoogleDocs, and then have a link to it from ReggieNet. This way, students always have access to the “live” copy, in case I need to make changes.

  2. Conduct In-Class Activities Online. Do you like to give quizzes? Do you want students to write their observations? They can use a discussion board – in particular, I recommend Facebook for real-time in-class discussions that students are more likely to continue at home.  And with the STV 250 labs, there’s no reason not to directly incorporate your preferred technologies during class time, when you’re there to help answer questions.

  3. Have Assignments Submitted Online via ReggieNet. Not only do you save paper, but you save your back from the weight. Plus, it saves your students money. For example, I used to have students hand me a paper portfolio at the end of each semester – some students reported paying $5 to print their 50 pages. That, too me, is an unnecessary expense.

Part 2: When Paper Really Works Better

That said, some assignments simply work better on paper. For example:

  1. Brainstorming. I love typing. But drawing on a computer screen is a chore. Even when touchscreens are available, the surface just isn’t the same. So if you want your students to map out their ideas, blank sheets of paper with a pencil would be the way to go. If you want, they can then transfer these ideas to Word or PowerPoint.

  2. Freewriting. I love typing, but that’s because I’m a bit strange. Although students may type faster than they write, they often feel more creative while writing by hand. For freewriting assignments, I recommend giving students the option to use whichever medium feels more comfortable. In this case, the emphasis should be not on the technology, but on the comfort of individual students. However, note that many of today’s undergraduates have never been taught to write in cursive, but that they do spend a fair amount of time using online social media – hence, they may be much, much faster at typing than handwriting.

  3. Quizzes. Yes, students can submit quizzes online through ReggieNet. However, I’ve found that sometimes students will write more detailed answers if I ask them to handwrite a page in-class. Plus, it can be easier to keep track of my grading if I have a stack of papers to go through than if I have to scroll through everything online.

Part 3: Saving Money on the Paper You’re Gonna Use

If you do need to use paper, here are a few suggestions to cut costs:

  1. Buy a Laser Printer. You know that saying “Go big or go home”? It definitely applies to printers. See, inkjet printers are cheap. Very cheap. You can buy one for $20-$50. And then it’s $20-$40 for each ink cartridge. And each ink cartridge only gives you a few hundred copies. Suddenly, the “cheap” printer isn’t. So go with a laser printer. Sure, a “cheap” laser printer is $100. And each toner cartridge will run you another $100. But each toner cartridge will give you about 2,500-5,000 copies. Plus, inkjet printers like to break down – laser printers tend to last a lot longer. And they tend to print much, much faster. After about two semesters of graduate school, your laser printer will more than pay for itself.

  2. Buy Paper In Bulk. Yes, the bookstore will gladly sell you a ream of paper for $8 to $10. Or you can go to Office Depot and get a five ream box for $20. Or, better still, order from Amazon – they’ll deliver paper right to your door. Order enough stuff, and they’ll even do it for free. (Yes, my apartment manager looked at me funny the day I had printer paper delivered to their office. But it was three bucks cheaper than Office Depot. And I felt like a boss.)