By Teachers, For Teachers
While the paperless classroom is not yet a reality, long past are the days when the Xerox machine was a teacher’s best friend.
As ‘going green’ catches on with young and old alike, eco-friendly teaching practices have permeated our nation’s classrooms. School districts across the U.S. are evaluating ways to support their curriculums without creating unnecessary waste. In addition, they are seeking ways to better prepare students to meet the demands of an increasingly digital society.
To minimize classroom waste, students need to turn work in digitally and teachers need to share handouts and graded work on the computer. Schools around the country are adopting online storage and file sharing tools to serve as a virtual clearinghouse for creating, storing and sharing files between students and teachers.
Web lockers, or digital drop boxes, represent a new form of online file sharing and storage that is emerging for K-12 use. Students can create work on one computer and transfer files into their Web lockers for completion at a later time.
With web lockers, you can store and share:
- unlimited amounts of data, including video, voice and graphics.
- files from Macs and PCs
- documents made with the most commonly used applications including PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Pixie (creativity software for children) and many others
Teachers can easily publish assignments to all of their students in seconds with a click of the mouse, and students can submit completed assignments online instantaneously by simply uploading them to their homework folder.The platform provides daily backups of all uploaded files, and the ability to preserve files from year-to-year allows students to easily create an historic portfolio of work.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Healthy School Network, each year Americans throw away enough office and writing paper to build a 12-foot wall stretching from New York to California – and that doesn’t include newspaper, magazines and catalogs. Considering the volume of paper teachers use for handouts, worksheets, assignments and exams, there is no denying that the waste generated by schools takes up valuable space in our landfills.
It is estimated that for every 16.7 reams of paper used, one tree is cut down. This fact motivated the award-winning Clarkstown Central School District (CCSD), based in New City, NY, to implement technology to help improve file sharing for students and teachers, while also saving tens of millions of sheets of paper annually.
Responsible for 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools, CCSD has become a super-user of a drop box system provided by San Diego-based School Web Lockers for grades 4-12. During a recent four-month period, CCSD teachers uploaded 91,000 total documents to the file sharing system, saving an estimated five million sheets of paper. Nearly 102,000 unique CCSD student documents were also uploaded during that same time period.
For John Krouskoff, CCSD’s director of instructional technology, reducing unnecessary paper-based waste is a huge advantage of online file sharing and storage.
“We’re pleased that so many students are uploading and downloading their documents, and that teachers are also returning grades using the School Web Lockers solution,” comments Krouskoff. “It definitely makes a measurable difference in our paper usage.”
The Santee School District, which operates nine elementary schools in the San Diego area, adopted Web lockers technology in 2007. Now every third grade student and beyond at Santee is provided with a password-protected Web locker, which can be accessed from school, home or any Internet-connected location.
On average, the Santee School District uploads more than 6,000 files to its online storage system each month, which has translated into tangible paper and cost savings. The district estimates that its teachers are saving approximately 260 reams of paper each year. That means they saved more than 15 trees in a single year.
The benefits of Web lockers extend beyond the teachers and students who use it: The technology also supports school districts operating under the tightest of budgetary constraints.
With some digital drop box systems offering unlimited file sharing and storage for as little as $1 per student per year, they clearly represent an economical technology solution compared to traditional storage area networks (SAN), which can cost upwards of $25,000, not including ongoing administrative costs to manage the SAN. The new breed of Web-based file sharing systems offer another time- and cost-saving advantage for resource-strapped schools in that they require virtually no set up, and no maintenance. With all of these factors considered, some schools estimate savings of thousands of dollars per year using Web lockers technology, compared to traditional SANs.
Some free Web-based storage services are beginning to emerge, but many schools still opt to use the $1-per-user systems that focus exclusively on K-12 education because they offer a highly secure approach to maintaining student and teacher personal data. There is a fear that free services can potentially sell student information, be hacked or incorporate ads and other distractions to students.
Online cloud computing and web lockers also minimize the demand on IT staff compared to traditional file servers while making files available for students and teachers from home. Unlike USB and flash drives, web lockers also avoid viruses and outside threats.
Web lockers platforms are unique in that they address the safety concerns associated with the student users, while also allowing easy access to files from school, home, the library or any other Internet-connected location.
- blocked file types
- profanity filter
- parental sign-in
- monitoring of student files by teachers and school administrators
- safe teacher blogs and message boards accessible school-wide or even district-wide to promote online collaboration.
One of the most attractive features of the Web lockers systems is that they are typically hosted within an off-site co-location center, eliminating the need for district-owned infrastructure, software maintenance and administration costs.
As federal and state deficits continue to soar, further cuts in education budgets will likely be an unfortunate consequence. As a result, schools, teachers and students will all be required to do more with less. Embracing technologies that simplify age-old processes between students and teachers while saving a few millions of sheets of paper in the process makes good economic and environmental sense. At the same time it helps better prepare our next generation for the digital-enabled future that awaits them.
How do you use technology to save paper, waste and time? Share in the comments section!