Does the Printer Even Work?

A few years ago, my wife had the pleasure of attending a leadership workshop at Disneyland. She and her team got to learn about the management protocols, leadership styles, and data analytics that Disney uses to maximize guests’ experience in its parks.

One tidbit stood out to me when she described her time there (and it wasn’t that she saw Johnnie Depp dressed as Jack Sparrow running around the park). She mentioned that Disney had done an extensive study on littering. Through data analysis from multiple source and long-term observation they had determined that guests will walk no more than 27 paces before throwing trash on the ground. As a result, they had strategically placed their trash cans no more than 27 apart throughout the park.

This story grabbed me because it has application in schools. Instead of trash cans and litter, it fits quite nicely with printers. And despite what you think or feel about printing, printers play a vital role in our schools.

Now, let me clarify something: I hate printing. I hate the fact that our schools are so reliant on printers to share information and display student work. I hate that we use printed materials when our collaborative technology tools offer so much more in terms of flexibility and interaction. I hate the amount of money wasted on papers, materials and machines. I hate the environmental impact of printing. I hate the fact we pay through the nose for ink after we sign up for such a great deal on our printers. I hate that despite the prevalence of technology in our schools we have actually increased our printing. And most of all, I hate the fact that I know just how vital printing and printers are to the success of our educational technology endeavors.

A colleague of mine recently confirmed a suspicion many of us in EdTech have had for years: printers are the glue that keep tech programs together. Through research into teacher attitudes towards technology, he was able to correlate a teacher’s perception about the reliability of his or her nearest printer with his or her willingness to engage in new educational technology programs. This means that if a teacher feels his or her printer is not in good working order he or she will not engage in the school’s educational technology program. In short, regardless of the planning, strategy, resources, or support a school puts into it technology, if the printer doesn’t print the way the teacher needs it to, those effort will have no effect.

This puts immense pressure on our school in the care and feeding of their printers.

However, printing is not a simple “works vs. doesn’t work” binary. Instead it is a complex aspect in a school that encompasses variables such as “color vs. black and white,” speed and print quality, downtime, location, “personalized vs. shared devices”, print centers, and ease of use.

My recommendation for every school is to take a deep look into their printing. They need to understand how the aforementioned variables play out in their settings and how to adjust them for the best experience by teachers and to meet the needs of the organization.

Let’s talk about the machines themselves. Does each teacher or group of classes need a single printer? More often than not, the answer is no. These individual devices, though very personal to a teacher, are costly and unreliable. Most teachers realize that a personal printer is a luxury that isn’t in the best interest of the school. Instead, schools should look into Multi-Function Devices (MFDs). MFDs are the latest iteration of the copiers of old. Now they copy, scan, store documents, and print all from a teacher’s individual computer. These devices, when places strategically (think about Disney’s 27 pace rule) meet the needs of teachers while being cost effective and reliable. They also allow a teacher to print wherever they are on campus, not just to the personal printer in their classroom. Though word to wise, never buy an MFD. Always lease them with a guaranteed service and replacement contract.

What about volume and quotas? This is a common discussion point in schools as we hope to move more content to online platforms. Should a school place printing quotas on its teachers? As long as quotas are fair and transparent, teachers will see their value in mitigating costs and protecting the environment.

‘I think I can solve our budget problem with the color scanner, color laser printer and this twenty-dollar bill!’

Last, we need to talk about color. Experience shows the teachers love having color printing at their fingertips, especially in primary schools. Is color printing necessary though? I have found there is no simple answer to this question. Some schools make great us of color to plaster the walls with evidence of student learning and progress. Whereas others waste money, paper, and time by over-relying on color copies. This is a decision that a school has to make on its own.

Regardless, printing and the printers are items of the IT remit that need robust measurement and tracking. Schools that are most successful have a clear budget for devices and consumables that is reviewed regularly to identify the value for teaching and learning while mitigating cost and the environmental effect. These schools also use print data to maximize efficiency and to improve the reliability of the devices. And experience has shown that most of these schools also have teachers with greater trust in technology overall which results in some interesting enhancements to student learning.

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