Paperwork Reduction – One Step Toward Campus 2.0 »

As mentioned in previous posts, I worked this summer on reconfiguring my office to be a paperless environment. The work on the office is now complete, and I am already receiving a favorable response from staff. One of the first things they comment on is the new overall appearance of the office itself. All file cabinets and my desk have been removed, creating a space that is more of a conversation area than traditional office.

All visitors today have commented there is warmth and ambience which promotes comfortable conversation. There are four chairs and a couch. My desk has been replaced with a USB Hub Workstation. There are no filing cabinets. My office now comfortably seats nine visitors.

The first day I was in the office since it’s been remodeled I had an informal breakfast/coffee meeting with staff, a short meeting with a new teacher, a meeting with a new school business partner, two meetings with students, and a formal meeting with a district consultant and Director of Special Services.

Everyone has commented on the new comfort level they feel. If this becomes a widespread consensus, one of my in-direct goals will have been accomplished. One of the greatest hesitancies among staff in moving toward Web2.0 and increased reliance on computer-assisted tasks was that it was too time consuming and would take time away from meaningful inter-personal relations between staff and students. If I can demonstrate through personal example that the use of the computer (going paperless in certain transactions) actually promotes increased time for personal interactions, I will have successfully removed one obstacle in the shift toward Web/School/Classroom 2.0.

For those following this project here and on the site, here’s a summary of the entire process up to this point.

First the Caveats: Some will argue that “paperless” is just a trendy term and totally unrealistic. Some will argue it’s simply an outdated idea that never took root. Contrary to his earlier idea (discussed in Future Shock) that computers and technology would dramatically reduce the use the paper, in his 1990 book, Powershift, Toffler estimated that in one year “the United States produced 1.3 trillion documents—enough to wallpaper the Grand Canyon 107 times.” [1]

“To date, there is actually little evidence that the tide is turning; most information is still communicated on paper. Scott McCready, an analyst at International Data Corporation, says: ‘What we’ve done by automating our offices is increase our ability to produce paper at a growing rate of more than 25 percent per year.” Personal computers, printers, fax machines, E-mail, copiers, and the Internet have dramatically increased the volume of information that many people deal with—and print—every day. Worldwide in 1998, according to CAP Ventures, Inc., there were 218 million printers, 69 million fax machines, 22 million multifunction machines (printer, scanner, and copier in one), 16 million scanners, and 12 million copiers.’ “ [2]

Of course there is an argument to be made for going paperless from the environmental point of view. However, this can be tricky – one report on companines that have gone paperless reports that in fact, paper use rose by 40% on average. It’s important that staff be trained and reassured that it won’t be necessary to make a back up copy of emails, or other documents.

So let us agree that “paperless” is an arguable semantic term. “The paperless office is now considered to be a philosophy to work with minimal paper and convert all forms of documentation to a digital form. The ideal is driven by a number of motivators including productivity gains, costs savings, space saving, the need to share information etc.” [3] For my purpose, by paperless, I need to explain that this refers specifically to the format in which information, data, and reports will flow in and out of the office. By necessity, the complete elimination of paper is not the actual goal; afterall, I still have books, magazines, and daily U.S. Mail. The plan is to promote the exchange of internal communications via computer as much as practical.

The Specifics: The primary driving factor behind this project is two-fold: I want to use it to promote the whole concept of Web 2.0, but also to demonstrate that if handled properly, it saves time, increases efficiency, and enables more time for social interactions in the teaching process. Here is a list of everything that is currently available to the staff to access and use via web applications. I encourage staff to use all of the following:

  • Design and submit Teacher Lesson Plans
  • Attendance Reporting
  • Grading
  • Entire Appraisal Process including Walk-Throughs, Growth Plans, etc.
  • Reporting Staff Absences / Obtaining Substitutes
  • All registration for staff inservice
  • Transcript generation of professional development
  • All purchasing from Central Warehouse
  • All purchasing – general
  • All work requests for facility and technology
  • Full Payroll Services – including paperless checks teachers can view
  • Field Trip Requests
  • Any type of survey – student, staff, parent, community
  • Lessons available on teacher webpages / ipods
  • Lessons available via pod/vodcasts
  • Staff blogs and webpages
  • Student Staff Issue Bin provided on-line
  • Complete application process for Shannon is on-line
  • Parent access via PC to student grades and attendance
  • Dashboards with critical data posted daily
  • Daily Announcements are made via email and podcasts
  • USB port availability in main office for sharing of portfolios, projects, etc. via flashdrives available in my office.

Information / Record / Data / Document Retrieval: One area that must receive attention before moving into a paperless office environment is the manner in which material will be filed with easy retrieval in mind. One of the most common complaints regarding data storage (especially documents) is that users often forget the name or descriptor under which a document is created. It is impossible to design a system perfect for all users but experience has taught me to avoid filing under DATES or overly-broad categories (i.e. “staff meetings”). A file titled “StaffMeetingMay2003” is way too broad and is going to disappear when surrounded by dozens of other Staff Meetings with dates and different years. I suggest a system that contains easily triggered category trails such as LETTERS, MEMOS, STAFF, STUDENT, FACILITY, combined with a subtopic such as FIRE DRILLS, DEADLINES, DISCIPLINE, and then a specific reference point such as a name or topic. Example: “LetterStudentJDoe.doc”. or “MemoStaffScheduleChanges.doc”.

Legal Considerations: Virtually anything created or filed on a computer belonging to the school district is a public record and can be subject to Open Record Requests. Thus, due diligence and common sense should always be used in what is created and stored on district computers. Best rule of thumb is do not say or store anything that you would not want to see end up on the front page of the paper or the nightly news. It is important that you be aware of the legal requirements concerning documentation, student records, evaluations, etc. Of course, retention of records and destruction of records should be in accordance with all applicable Federal, State, and Local requirements.

[1] & [2] The Elusive Paperless Office, on-line article

[3] The Paperless Office, Wikipedia Post

Technorati Tags: Office2.0 Educational_Leadership Web2.0

Views: 32

Comment by Tom Kennedy on July 31, 2007 at 5:50pm
Hi Greg,

The title of your post piqued my curiosity since I am am aware that digital technologies have increased our paper consumption as you so thoroughly detailed.

I like the new definition of the "Paperless Office" and the way in which your school has implemented it. My school district is moving in that direction and we are in synch with the philosophy, but we still have a ways to go.Great treatment of the subject and a model for the rest of us to follow.
Comment by Greg Farr on August 1, 2007 at 7:01am
Thanks Tom, it is very much a work in progress and I hope to use the blog to periodically update the "real world" benefits and pitfalls as we discover them.

Stay tuned!


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