Obstacles to Mobile Learning #2: Photocopying

Posted: August 29, 2008 in barriers, edushifts, ipod

I had a conversation in Twitter about the high costs of photocopying and how these costs consume so much of a school budget.  The waste is so high that it reduces a school’s ability to invest in technology.

Let’s take a look at some rough numbers*. Let’s peg the cost of one photocopy at $0.10 CAD.  This cost includes the cost of toner and photocopier maintenance.  Let’s also say that a school can purchase a laptop for a school for $1000 CAD.  To be fair, there are infrastructure costs to consider such as network costs, switches, cables, etc. Let’s say that infrastructure costs bump up the cost of that laptop to $1500. Using these rough numbers, 15,000 photocopies = one laptop. In a school of 500 students, that works out to 30 copies per child per year!  That’s right.  If in the course of one year 30 copies per student were eliminated, the savings would allow a school to purchase one laptop for it’s students!

If we take this line of thinking a little further, an 8GB iPod touch currently retails at $319 CAD (as of August 29th, 2008). If we increase the cost of each iPod Touch to $400 CAD to include the cost of infrastructure, then eliminating 30 copies per student per year would save enough money to purchase about 4 iPod Touch units.  When I think back, I can easily identify places where I could quite easily save one sheet per student per day.  Multiply that by 195 teaching days for a class of 28 students and that’s 5460 copies or over 1/3 of the cost of one laptop.  That’s just one sheet per student everyday saved by one teacher.  If a school had 20 teachers with similar class ratios saving one sheet per student per day, the savings would allow a school to buy 7 laptops or 27 iPod Touch units (coincidentally, one class set).  Incredible!

So my question is this: Why are we not taking advantage of this opportunity to invest in technology at the local school level?  Why are we consuming all this paper which, inevitably, ends up in the recycling bin.  It appears to me that schools really do have enough resources to make modest investments in technology.  The problem is with how that money is spent.

The sacrifices are minor but the payoffs are quite large.  At the very least, we can make the argument that we are reducing our consumption of paper to reduce energy usage for the good of the environment.  At best, we can make the argument that we are reducing our consumption of paper to give us the flexibility to invest in our schools and in our students.

* Disclaimer – while these numbers are not exact, they help us gauge how photocopying is reducing a school’s ability to invest in technology.

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