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Getting Rid Of More Paper

New strategies designed to help K-12 schools eliminate more paper.

In an era when more and more higher educational institutions are swearing off paper, K-12 schools are lagging. “In higher education, curriculum development, homework, classwork, testing, grading and administration, more and more processes are moving away from paper to electronic,” says Terry Cruikshank, senior manager of Industry Marketing with Mount Laurel, N.J.-based OKI Data Americas. “But K-12 schools are still very paper intensive in all these areas.”

The reason, according to Cruikshank, appears to be the much higher percentage of college and university students using laptops and tablets. Certainly, large numbers of middle school and high school students have laptops, tablets and smart phones, but nothing near the percentage of higher education students. So classroom activities and other student tasks can’t shift away from paper — unless the school districts want to provide computers and can afford it.

Even so, K-12 school districts are taking the first steps toward reducing the use of paper. They are replacing thousands of computer printers and copiers with multifunction devices or MFDs. An MFD combines the functions of printing, scanning, copying and faxing in one device.

Now, instead of 2100 printers and copiers, a district might have 700 MFDs placed in centralized printing stations throughout the middle schools and high schools. Elementary schools still need a device in every classroom, because teachers cannot leave a classroom for a few minutes to print documents — as they can with older middle school and high school students.

The system encourages teachers — and administrators for that matter — to think about saving documents electronically as PDF files first and only printing when necessary.

When printing is necessary, the teacher or administrator sends the files to a print queue and drops by the printing station later to pick up the paper documents.

Policies supported by programming can limit what gets printed to certain kinds of documents and require most printing to be done in black and white.

“The benefits of such a document management solution include increased information sharing and collaboration with easy access to key PDF document files,” says Todd Gregory, director, strategic messaging & demand generation with Palo Alto-based Hewlett Packard — HP. “Additional benefits include improved alignment with sustainability polices that limit paper; decreased operating costs associated with paper handling and staff labor; and easier compliance with FERPA and other legal requirements related to reporting and audit trails.”

Paper intense schools

Even if you have already begun the process of eliminating paper, many opportunities remain. OKI Data has commissioned research studies to identify paper intensive areas in K-12 schools from InfoTrends, a market research and strategic consulting firm for the digital imaging and document solutions industry.

Those studies indicate that the most paper intensive tasks in K-12 schools include curriculum development, classwork, homework, testing, grading, attendance and even the process of transferring students from one school to another.

Individualized education programs, mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are usually recorded on paper.

“But it is changing,” says Cruikshank. “Look at all of the tablets being used in high schools today. There are solutions for bubble chart testing. Teachers are also beginning to give essay tests and writing projects online.

“Communications with students and parents is becoming electronic thanks to school websites.”

In addition, the document solutions industry is hard at work developing digital hardware and software alternatives to paper.

Who can print what? How much can they print?

Studies show that no one collects about 30 percent of printouts in trays at remote printing stations. Today, software systems can enable the IT department to set policies that limit printing and prevent waste.

OKI Data is an authorized reseller of PaperCut MF, a print accounting and management software designed to prevent excess and unauthorized printing, copying and faxing.

Users swipe a card or enter a username and password at an enabled device to release documents for printing. A configurable timer automatically purges unreleased print jobs, reducing waste and expenses. The IT department can set policies that limit the number of copies individual users may print, require two-sided printing and restrict color printing.

Knowing which users and departments print the most, IT can help find printing alternatives that bring printing in line with more efficient standards.

Reports on equipment use can help control wear and tear, too, by moving lightly used equipment to stations where more teachers and administrators will find it more convenient to use.

Digitizing paper

Getting rid of existing paper by digitizing it is part of going paperless. Digitizing paper files involves scanning paper into electronic networks, which, in the past, has been a tedious process.

Simply scanning documents to PDF files is easy enough, but then teachers and administrators must take extra steps to save and distribute the PDF to students, other faculty members and to file folders. That’s tedious and time-consuming.

Today, web-based scanning applications can streamline the process. “With these apps you can set up and preconfigure buttons on multi-function devices,” says Cruikshank. “This makes it easy to scan a document and direct it to a department and folder on the network.

“And when you scan to email with these apps, you don’t have to go back to your desktop computer to save all the documents it creates. Today’s large MFDs feature large touchscreen panels that enable you to manage the scans right at the MFD.”

In fact, with these tools you can use the MFD touchscreen to browse and select folders across the network and send scanned documents to those folders.

It is also possible for your IT administrator to automate tasks in the filing process so that a user need only tap a button and select a process from a pull down menu.

Tasks that can be automated include indexing, filename generation, searching for folders on the network, automatic document separation using barcodes, email blasting and others.

A host of business applications can increase the efficiency of these processes. For instance, OKI Data’s Smart Extendable Platform, an open application programming interface (API), enables software developers to customize MFD processes to meet specific needs.

The web interface of a number of MFDs enables users to interact directly with webbased applications via the touch-screen on the operator panel. As new document management applications become available, you can also use the Smart Extendable Platform to add those applications to your MFD feature sets.

Outsourcing print services

While school and school district IT departments can install and configure these advanced paper-destroying applications, it can take a long time to get everyone up to speed.

Another option is to investigate outsourcing. “An outsource provider will carry out an assessment,” says Cruikshank. “Assessments determine what devices are being used, misused, overused, under-used.

“A provider will start in paper intensive areas and streamline by integrating MFDs with touch screens automating printing, document capture, routing and other printrelated tasks.”

Paperless schools have been discussed for many years. Today, it is finally possible to start getting rid of the reams of paper sacrificed to curriculum development, classwork, homework, testing, grading, attendance and transferring students and shift everything into the green, sustainable and tremendously more productive digital world. You can do it yourself or you can outsource the work.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management December 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.