Going Green in a Paperless Classroom

Going Green in a Paperless Classroom
Vesta R. Whisler

Abstract: An instrumental case study examines perceptions of a professor and students in
four university classes where the printing of course documents was drastically reduced. The
initial purpose for implementing a nearly paperless classroom was to assist with cost-
reduction efforts during an economic downturn that had institutions scrambling for ways to
serve students with fewer budget dollars available. Based on student perceptions, “going
green” in the classroom was a worthwhile effort when related to saving natural resources,
helping the university in general, and helping students. The professor observed no significant
difference in outcomes when comparing final grade averages of the “going green” classes to
final grade averages in the same classes taught previously. The professor did note that it took
more time to grade typing and writing assignments electronically; however software saved the
professor time in other areas. Recommendations for implementing “going green” efforts in the
classroom are included.

About the author: Dr. Vesta R. Whisler is an assistant professor at Valdosta State
University. She is the coordinator of the Online Bachelor Completion Option of the Office
Administration and Technology Degree Program and co-director of the Valdosta State
University Center for Economic Education.

Keywords: paperless classroom, going green, instructional technology, hybrid courses
Introduction                                      outcomes from courses taught prior to the
                                                  “going green” effort.
         Budget cuts on a university campus
call for extreme measures from all                The Problem
constituents. Hiring freezes, furlough days,
super-sized classes, reduced or eliminated                To control printing costs beginning
professional travel, and even trimmed down        with the 2008/2009 academic year, the
campus maintenance top the list of                University installed ID card readers on
strategies incorporated by one regional           printers in its open computer labs. Each
university (the University). Supply and           student was allowed a $12.50 print credit per
expense budget cuts have filtered down to         semester before being charged for printing at
departments, creating an environment of           “current print rates”. At the time of the
innovative cost-cutting initiatives by staff      study, the current print rate was $.05 for
and faculty. This study addresses an effort       black and white 8-1/2 by 11 single-sided
by one professor to reduce costs and help the     printing, or 250 printed pages for the $12.50
environment at the same time.                     credit (Information Technology, 2008).
         After determining that normal paper      Printers in classroom labs used for this study
usage for her four university classes could       do not require students to swipe their cards
exceed 42 reams of paper for one semester,        as long they are in class, which means they
the professor decided to take immediate           can print during class without charge, with
action to reduce printing costs for both          the department paying for the printing.
students and faculty. This study examines         Savvy students have learned that they can
the perceptions of the professor and her          print for free in certain classrooms, so they
students in four university classes where the     save up their printing (even for other
printing of course documents was drastically      classes) for the times when they have access
reduced. Such a study works from a                to these “print-for-free” labs. This increases
substantive theoretical base using an             the print costs for the department.
instrumental case study approach, in that (1)             Table 1 displays estimates of
the setting is restricted and limited in scope,   printing that might be done by 88 students in
(2) the case is secondary to the issue of         four classes during one semester. Students
paperless classrooms, and (3) evidence can        are often observed printing homework in the
be found in the literature to support the         classroom labs, where the printing does not
question about the effects on students and        count against their print credits. The four
faculty of going paperless in a classroom         classes studied were word processing and
(Baxter & Jack, 2008; Camp, 2001).                communications classes, all of which are
         The professor gathered data to learn     homework intensive. The total estimate of
about the effects that going paperless had on     student-printed pages for the semester
students, the professor, and the department       equals 14,784 (nearly 30 reams of paper),
as a whole. Students volunteered their            for a cost to the department of $739.20
perceptions at the end of the semester, and       (Table 1). With 14 full-time professors in
the professor contributed her observations as     the department, printing costs for student-
well, including a comparison of student           printed pages could reach $10,000 each
                                        Lecture                   homework
                                        PowerPoints 3 Homework    was not
                                        pages per wk 6 pages per right the
                                        x 16 wks      wk x 16 wks first time               Totals

 Total enrollment in four classes                                                             n=88
 Pages per document for 16 wk
 semester                                          48             96          24                168
 Pages per document x 88
 (enrollment)                                   4,224          8,448       2,112            14,784
 Current print rate                                                                         $0.05*
 Total cost at current print rate                                                          $739.20
 *Price set by IT
Table 1. Estimate of Printing by Students in Four Classes during One Semester

The data in Table 2 roughly estimate the                 pages per week in a 16-week semester
number of printed copies generated by the                equals 4,224 more printed pages. The total
professor in four classes with a total                   estimate of pages printed by the instructor
enrollment of 88 students. The syllabus                  alone adds up to 6,336 pages, or nearly 13
(course outline and tentative assignment                 reams of paper. At current print rates using a
schedule) for each class averages 8 pages                fast-speed copier in the University Copy
per student, or 704 printed pages, handed                Center, the cost of this printing is estimated
out the first day of class. Each of four exams           at $126.72. With 14 full-time professors in
might approximate four pages, for another                this particular department, the estimated cost
1,408 pages printed for the semester. A                  totals $1,774.08 per semester.
conservative estimate of handouts at three

                                                              Exams (4       (3 pp. per
                                                               pp. per        week for
                                              Syllabi          exam)          16 wks)       Totals

 Total enrollment in four classes                                                                88
 Pages per document                                       8            16            48          72

 Current print rate                                                                           $0.02
 Pages per document x total students                    704         1408           4224        6336
 Total cost at current print rate                                                            126.72
Table 2. Estimate of Printing by One Professor for Four Classes during One Semester

       Based on these estimates, the                     students and full-time faculty. These figures
department could spend over $11,000 a                    are conservative estimates, as they do not
semester just for the printing generated by              include printing done in classes taught by
part-time or contract faculty, and they do not   been implemented at all educational levels
include other departmental printing costs.       around the country for several years.
These estimates illustrate only the monetary             The U. S. Navy has taught operation
considerations of printing. While budgetary      and maintenance procedures in paperless
issues may have precipitated an attempt to       classrooms since the mid-1990s, touting an
reduce printing in classroom labs, this study    estimated annual savings of $2.4 million for
addresses other impacts such action might        submarine training (Jurgens, 2000). In
have on students, faculty, and the               addition to the cost savings, Jurgens reports
department. After a brief literature review      that learning was enhanced through the use
that explores “going green” efforts on other     of automated review modules and
campuses and a description of the study          simulations:
population and methods, the results of this              Since 1994, Sailors have been
professor‟s paperless classroom labs are                 "graduating" 30-35 percent faster
shared.                                                  from the most advanced electronic
                                                         classrooms than they did previously
Literature Review                                        from paper-based courses-primarily
                                                         because they are acquiring the
         “Going green” efforts are becoming              necessary knowledge and skills for
more prevalent on many campuses. The                     their operation and maintenance
Career and Technology Education Center                   tasks not only more quickly, but also
(C-TEC) of Licking County, in Newark,                    with greater proficiency and
Ohio, opened in 2006 as the first public                 comprehension (p. 40).
building in Ohio to be certified as “green”              According to Brown (1994), Duke
(Krall, 2009). The construction of C-TEC         University used PowerBook computers and
included fumeless paint, chairs made of          wireless networks in engineering classrooms
recycled products, waterless urinals, and        as early as 1994. Jadali, in 1999, wrote
technology to monitor classroom air              about his paperless experience in university-
quality—all designed for three main              level Industrial Technology courses in
purposes: (1) long-term financial and energy     Arkansas, where he provided his
savings, (2) healthier environment, and (3)      presentations, exams, feedback, and grades
environmental stewardship (p. 31). Most          online. At that time, students were still
institutions have no funds to go completely      saving the electronic files to floppy disks.
green, as C-TEC did, but many have               Jadali focused his study on (a) benefits for
investigated ways to reduce the use of           students (increased interest, constant access
natural resources. In a list of suggested        to content, and instant access to feedback),
methods for reducing greenhouse emissions,       and (b) benefits for faculty (less manual
Sungard Higher Education asked its IT            grading, more efficient recordkeeping). The
department to initiate such tactics as           time saved by the use of electronic grading
installing power conservation software,          and recordkeeping software allowed Jadala
replacing monitors with lower-energy LCD         more time for prep, research, and student
screens, eliminating desktop printing, and       interaction.
implementing pay-to-print programs                       In 2001, Waskowitz piloted a laptop
(Schaffhauser, 2009).                            program in a seventh grade English class.
         A review of the literature shows that   The students retrieved, analyzed, and edited
“going green” in the form of paperless           documents on laptops. Based on the
classrooms is not a totally new idea—it has      program, Waskowitz observed that the
ability to make literature more relevant            disadvantages, so he plans to continue the
through Internet searches outweighed any            practice.
technical glitches his students encountered.                 From the published literature, it is
As students wrote about a topic, they had           apparent from the wide variety of
instant access to online information related        institutions (the U.S. Navy, large research
to it, allowing them to make immediate              universities, and middle schools) that the
connections to people and places.                   interest in “going green” is widespread. The
          In a 2006 blog post, Indiana              levels of participation in the effort vary, as
University Services Development Specialist          some, like C-TEC have invested large sums
C. Marc Wagner believes “It‟s time for the          of money to turn entire campuses green,
„paperless‟ university,” based on financial         while others are taking smaller steps within
implications as well as the longevity               their realms of influence to reduce the use of
provided by digital media. Wagner states,           paper in the classroom.
          . . . over it‟s (sic) lifetime a $2,000
          printer will consume $40,000 in           The Study
          paper and toner. One has to ask…
          How many textbooks could be                       This study relates to the smaller steps
          digitized and placed on a central         taken to “go green” in the classroom, by
          server for that same $40,000? And,        examining the perceptions of one professor
          how many more students could be           and her students in four university classes
          served by that information                where the printing of course documents was
          compared to those who will be             practically eliminated. This section
          served by the output of that $2,000       addresses the research question, nature of
          printer? Add to that the fact that        the study, background, and research
          once digitized, the contents of those     methods.
          textbooks is not lost through wear
          and tear and the advantages become        Research Question
          clear. (n.p.)
           Kupetz (2008) teaches his graduate-              Based on student and faculty
level “Managing Technology” course in               perceptions, how will the elimination of
Florida with an (almost totally) paperless          printing in university classrooms impact
format. His goal was not to totally eliminate       students, faculty, and the department?
paper, but rather “to take advantage of
technologies that truly help cut print costs,       Nature of the Study
ease distribution of materials, and facilitate
learning” (p. 36). Students purchase the                    The research took place in the
online version of the textbook and use              context of an existing program where the
laptops in the classroom for accessing              professor delivered all four courses to
content, recording notes, and taking exams.         university students. Based on the literature
Kupetz reports that while going paperless           reviewed, the idea of going paperless has
cut costs and allowed added flexibility,            been studied in various contexts, which
some students still printed out the online          shows that the particular context is not as
textbook because they did not like reading it       important as the wider concept of paperless
online. Based on his experience, Kupetz             classrooms, making this an instrumental
believes that the advantages outweigh the           case study rather than an intrinsic case study
                                                    (Stake, 1995). Such a study works from a
substantive theoretical base using an             PowerPoint. The Word and Excel files were
instrumental case study approach, in that (a)     converted to .pdf format using the free .pdf
the setting is restricted and limited in scope,   converter downloaded from Microsoft for
(b) the case is secondary to the issue of         Office 2007 (Figure 2).
paperless classrooms, and (c) evidence can
be found in the literature to support the         Document      Software
question about the effects on students and        Syllabi       Word 2007 converted to .pdf
faculty of going paperless in a classroom                       and uploaded to WebCT
(Baxter & Jack, 2008; Camp, 2001).                              Content
         Participants were undergraduate          Lectures      PowerPoint or Word 2007
university students enrolled in four classes                    uploaded directly to WebCT
in one department. The researcher, by acting                    Content
as the professor for the four courses, took       Assignments Word 2007 copied and
on the role of participant observer. Yin                        pasted into Content or
(2009) describes a “participant observer” as                    Assignments.
someone who has “the ability to perceive          Hand-outs     Word or Excel 2007
reality from the viewpoint of someone                           uploaded directly to WebCT
„inside‟ the case study rather than external to                 Content
it” (p. 112).                                     Exams         ExamView exported to
                                                                WebCT Vista Exam Feature
Background                                        Table 3. Documents Provided Online for
        All four of the classes studied were
semester-long 2000- and 3000-level classes        For the keyboarding classes, software from
delivered in university classrooms equipped       the textbook publishers was installed on the
with computers connected to the Internet.         networks. Students in the Beginning
The professor delivered one class as a            Keyboarding classes used Keyboarding Pro
hybrid section, meeting two days out of the       Deluxe (Keypro) (South-Western
three in the classroom and one day online.        Educational Publishing, 2008), and students
The other three classes were traditional,         in the Intermediate Keyboarding class used
face-to-face sections. A teaching station in      Gregg College Keyboarding & Document
each classroom includes the capability to         Processing (GDP) (Ober, Johnson,&
project the teacher‟s computer monitor on a       Kimmerly, 2006).
large screen. Three of the classes were                   The professor involved students in
Keyboarding (beginning and intermediate)          the “going green” effort Day 1 of each class.
and one was Communication in the                  They were oriented to WebCT with
Workplace. Total student enrollment in the        demonstrations of where to find the syllabus
four classes was 88.                              and presentations on the first day of class,
        The professor utilized WebCT Vista        and they practiced downloading the
as the course management system for all           documents to their own media (USB drives)
four courses. She constructed a learning          for viewing offline at their convenience.
module for each course every week, where          They also practiced using “Show Windows
all documents normally printed were instead       Side by Side” command in the Windows
uploaded to the appropriate course sections       Taskbar for viewing two documents on the
in WebCT. Most documents were created             screen at the same time to eliminate the need
using Microsoft Word, Excel, or                   for printing or moving back and forth
between screens to see the electronic            WebCT. Most exams involved multiple-
versions of documents.                           choice and true-false questions, scored
          In the keyboarding courses, students   automatically by the testing software in
accessed the keyboarding software that           WebCT. In the Communication in the
accompanied their textbooks. Following the       Workplace class, the professor graded short
lecture and demonstration of specific            essay questions online with feedback keyed
content via the overhead projection device,      in and returned to students via the WebCT
students were able to complete lessons           testing software. In the keyboarding courses,
electronically. The software saved practice      the professor administered production tests
drills, timed writings, and documents            where the students completed documents
automatically to the network; and it             using Microsoft Word 2007. The department
evaluated speed and accuracy, providing          keeps sets of jump drives that can be
students with immediate feedback and             distributed to students for saving their
individualized practice drills.                  documents during exams, where the
          In addition to walking around the      documents can be viewed and marked up for
classroom to observe students, the instructor    grading.
could access each student‟s online portfolio
provided by the software for further             Research Methods
evaluation and feedback. Students in both
keyboarding courses also had access to a                 At the end of the semester, students
publisher Web site with additional resources     in the four classes were asked to voluntarily
such as online interactive tutorials, games,     complete a short survey about their “going
and quizzes.                                     green” experience. The survey consisted of
          Students in the Communication in       ten questions administered through Survey
the Workplace class received access to the       Monkey (2008), a Web site that allows users
Guffey Premium Website (GPW) with the            to compose brief surveys at no cost. Several
purchase of a new textbook (or purchased it      questions provided an area for comments.
separately online if they had a used             The professor emailed all students through
textbook) (Guffey, 2008). In addition to the     WebCT during the last instructional week of
content posted by the instructor in WebCT,       the semester, and asked them to offer their
students could access many learning              anonymous opinions of their experiences
opportunities provided at the GPW,               with “going green”. A live link to the
including online interactive tutorials, games,   survey, which directed students to the
quizzes, grammar/mechanics review, and           Survey Monkey Web site, was embedded in
online documents for editing. During             that message. Responses were collected on
interactive PowerPoint lectures, students        the Web site without any identifying
completed application exercises in small         information, where the professor could
groups using Microsoft Word 2007, with           retrieve the results. In addition to the
their documents uploaded to a student-           surveys, the professor observed students in
access drive on the network. Their work          all four classes, and she noted changes in her
could then be displayed to the class using       own behavior based on the paperless
the computer projector, which allowed for        experience.
discussion and immediate feedback from
classmates and the professor.
          The professor administered objective
exams in all four classes online through
Findings                                               Answer Choices        Frequency           (%)
                                                       Very important                14            61
         The findings include a combination            Important                      6            26
of (a) student perceptions from the
anonymous surveys and (b) participant
                                                       important                      2             9
observations of the professor.
                                                       Not important at all           1             4
Student Perceptions                                    Total                         23           100
                                                      Table 6. Importance of going green
       Of the 88 students in the four classes,
23 voluntarily responded to the survey (26                    Question 4 of the survey asked,
percent). Most of the respondents were                ”How important is it for the university to
upperclassmen (Table 4).                              implement „going green‟ efforts to help
                                                      minimize the use of natural resources?”. Of
                                        Percent       the 23 responses (Table 6), 87 percent
 Class                 Frequency           (%)        responded with “Important” (26 percent) or
 Freshman                      1              4       “Very Important” (61 percent).
 Sophomore                     1              4               Most respondents (83 percent) felt
 Junior                        9             39       that the university benefitted from the
                                                      “going green” effort in this class. When
 Senior                       12             52
                                                      asked about the impact going green had on
 Total                        23           100        them as students, 86 percent responded
Table 4. Respondents by Class                         positively (68 percent marked “helped” and
                                                      18 percent responded that it “mostly helped,
Table 5 illustrates the breakdown of                  but hurt in some ways too”).
respondents by college majors. For a                          Most respondents (83%) recommend
majority of the respondents (52 percent), the         that other professors adopt a “going green”
course they were currently enrolled in was            policy, based on this experience.
the first course ever taken in this                           The survey asked students if they
department.                                           printed the syllabus for this class, or if they
                                                      pulled it up on the screen when they needed
                                         Percent      to use it. Of the 43 percent who printed the
Majors                  Frequency           (%)       syllabus, 30% reported that they found
Business                                      22      themselves retrieving it to the screen when
Administration                  5                     they needed to use it, rather than referring to
Dental Hygiene                  3                13   the printed copy.
Early Childhood                 1                 4           To the final question asked, “Did
General Studies                 2                 9   „going green‟ in this class save you
Nursing                         1                 4   money?”, 57 percent responded positively
Office Administration                            39   and 43 percent responded negatively.
& Technology                    9                     Comments made by students focused mainly
Speech                                            9   on the high cost of textbooks.
Communication                   2
Total                          23             100
Table 5. Respondents by Major
Professor Observations                           sections of the three classes (Fall, 2006
                                                 through Summer 2008), the mean score was
         As a participant observer, this         82 percent. The average final grade for all
professor recorded several issues related to a   students in the “going green” classes (Fall,
paperless classroom, the most notable of         2008) was 81 percent.
which was the amount of time devoted to the
preparation of electronic documents for          Limitations
posting in WebCT, as well as electronic
grading and feedback required for the                    The sample size for the study was
courses. The nature of the classes               relatively small (88 students) and all
(keyboarding and communication) requires a       students were in courses taught by the same
lot of hands-on practice by the students that    professor. In addition, only 26 percent of the
requires formative feedback from the             students responded to the survey. The two
professor.                                       classrooms where these classes met had
         Although software in the                printers where there was no need for
keyboarding classes reported speed and           students to swipe their ID cards to print, so
typographical errors to the students, there is   they would not have been charged for
still a need for the professor to monitor and    printing in these classes even without the
provide feedback related to document             “going green” effort in place. The four
formats. Annotations need to be keyed into       classes studied were homework intensive
the documents, which are then returned to        courses—other courses that require less
students electronically. This professor          printing may not see the same amount of
estimates that the time grading documents        cost reduction by eliminating paper. The
electronically for format was roughly four       “going green” effort was limited only to
times that of grading by hand, which is one      printing done by the faculty and students,
reason that she broke from the paperless         and did not take into account the use of
classroom idea, and chose to have students       printed textbooks or other printing done by
print their production test results instead of   the department.
saving them electronically to the
departmental USB drives.                         Conclusions
         No grading software was used in the
communication class for writing                           The initial purpose for implementing
assignments, so those assignments were all       a paperless classroom was to assist with
reviewed online in WebCT, with feedback          cost-reduction efforts during an economic
returned to students online as well. The         downturn that has most institutions
textbook‟s web site provided online chapter      searching for ways to continue to serve
quizzes and interactive grammar/mechanics        students with fewer budget dollars available.
tutorials that students were able to complete    This professor agrees with Jadali‟s (1999)
without the professor‟s intervention. These      research, that students appeared to have
all provided students with instant feedback.     benefitted from 24/7 access to content and
The software graded the students‟ objective      instant feedback from software-driven
tests, with immediate feedback provided to       activities, and the professor benefitted from
them; however, the professor evaluated the       less manual delivery and grading of those
essay test questions.                            activities. Although preparing documents for
         When this professor averaged the        WebCT was time intensive, those
grades for all students in all previous          documents can be migrated from semester to
semester, saving time when the course runs       discovered. The extent of going paperless in
again.                                           the classroom depends on the resources that
        Based on student perceptions, “going     teachers and students have available to
green” is a worthwhile effort when related to    them. Because the courses studied were
saving natural resources, helping the            taught in computer labs, students had access
university in general, and helping students.     to computers and the Internet during class.
They seemed to value the idea of saving          This is certainly not the case in many
paper, and they enjoyed the convenience of       classes, but the following recommendations
submitting work from anywhere. Students          take that into account.
without computers and Internet at home felt              Teachers can research the publisher‟s
they were at a disadvantage, since they had      Web sites to see what online ancillaries are
to come to the campus to complete and            available for their textbooks. Many, such as
submit their work.                               the Guffey Premium Website used in the
        The professor observed no                Workplace Communication course in this
significant difference in outcomes when          study, provide online instructor manuals,
comparing final grade averages of the            test banks, presentations, suggested syllabi,
“going green” classes to final grade averages    videos, and other resources. Free site
in the same classes taught previously.           licenses for instructional and assessment
The professor did note that it took more time    software are often available with the
to grade typing and writing assignments          adoption of textbooks.
electronically; however software that                    Many institutions provide a secure
provided students with immediate feedback        course management system, such as Angel,
through error checking, online interactive       Blackboard, WebCT, or Moodle (which is
tutorials, and online quizzes saved the          free) where teachers can post lectures,
professor time in other areas.                   assignments, presentations, exams,
        In agreement with Kupetz (2008),         feedback, grades, and much more (Jadali,
who teaches his graduate-level “Managing         1999). Free Web space is available with
Technology” course in Florida as an (almost      most Internet Service Providers, where
totally) paperless format, this professor sees   documents can be posted. Some schools are
how the practice that students gain in           turning to Googledocs or Live@edu as a
managing electronic communication in             free space to share documents.
paperless courses will help them adjust to               The most impact will occur in
communication trends they will find in the       classrooms where students have constant
work force. This professor intends to            access to computers, such as in the situation
continue to strive to reduce paper in the        of Waskowitz (2001), who was able to
classroom, but the experiment with going         procure a classroom set of wireless laptops.
totally paperless brought forth the              With today‟s mobile technology, cell phones
realization that the increased time required     and iPods could be put to use for accessing
to grade some assignments online was a           online resources—instead of being banned
heavy price to pay for “going green”.            from the classroom. During class, these
                                                 students could use digitized textbooks
Recommendations                                  (Wagner, 2006; Kupetz, 2008), take
                                                 advantage of automated review modules and
        Through the literature review and the    simulations (Jurgens, 2000), access textbook
case study of “going green” in a university      companion Web sites (Guffey, 2008; Ober,
classroom, several ways to save paper were       2006), find related content through online
libraries and search engines, take online          computers. Schools might consider leaving
assessments, collaborate on classroom              computer labs open before or after school
PowerPoint presentations, and check for            for students to use, possibly asking parent
feedback and grades.                               volunteers to staff them.
        A classroom without computers or
mobile devices can still make steps toward         Future Research
becoming paperless. The teacher can use a
computer and projector, Smartboard, Elmo                    A similar study on a broader scale
document camera, or even an overhead               should be administered to provide more
projector with acetates to share documents         generalizable results. Data need to be
and worksheets. Clickers, or classroom             collected to determine printing costs
response systems, are becoming popular at          currently incurred by faculty and students, to
universities, especially with super-sized          be used as a baseline before implementing
classrooms. They can be used during                paperless classrooms so that actual cost
lectures to poll the students for                  comparisons can be made. Professors in all
understanding, and some can even be used           departments could be surveyed to determine
to replace Scantron tests.                         how many have already implemented
        At the postsecondary level, students       paperless classrooms, and how many need
have access to institutional computer labs         assistance in implementing paperless
and libraries where they could access the          strategies across campuses. Both faculty and
previously mentioned resources as                  student perceptions should be gathered, and
homework assignments. K-12 students                student learning outcomes should be
might be guided to Boys & Girls Clubs or           carefully tracked.
Public Libraries of they don‟t have home


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