To Print or Not to Print?

Let me be clear. Printing is not the first and most exciting topic I think about when reflecting on our 1-1 Chromebook implementation. Nonetheless, it’s one of those things that simply needs to be addressed and there is just no right or wrong answer to how it’s handled. There are philosophical, cultural, and practical reasons why a district would decide to go one way verses another. In this post, my goal is to share our district’s story on how we decided to manage student printing from Chromebooks.

When our district went 1-1 with Chromebooks 4 years ago, we grappled with whether or not to provide students with the ability to print from their Chromebooks at school. We suspected that there would be a big shift towards creating and submitting work in digital format, with Google Docs being the most obvious example. We also knew that some teachers would require students turn in paper copies of their work and we recognized that some students simply prefer to review and edit their work in paper form rather than read it on the screen.

Ultimately, we decided to purchase a single, high-capacity mono printer, located behind our student help desk in the library to be used for the sole purpose of allowing student printing from Chromebooks. We then purchased sufficient licenses to a service called PaperCut which allows us to impose print quotas on each student. PaperCut is an excellent and affordable service for mobile printing. We have PaperCut installed on our print server in our network room and our students are tied into the service via Active Directory. Here are the steps students must take to submit a print job:

  1. Print the document, webpage, or web-based artifact as a PDF file.
  2. Log into the PaperCut server with Active Directory credentials.
  3. Click ‘Webprint’ and follow the steps to upload the file, select the printer (there’s only one choice), and submit the print job.

The latest version of PaperCut offers integration with Google Cloud print. With this functionality, students do not need to log into the PaperCut service – they just click the print icon, select the printer, and submit the job. PaperCut tracks the print jobs behind the scenes. In concept this is a seamless process but we have struggled with the CloudPrint service going offline on a regular basis. As a result, we continue to encourage students to use the steps listed above. Additionally, this slightly more complicated method encourages students to consider whether or not they really need to print something and I’m fairly certain this has reduced our overall paper consumption.

Every year, we give each student a 100 page print quota. The PaperCut service keeps track of these quotas and provides students with a mechanism to request an increase in their print quota if they exceed it. I can count on one hand the number of times a student has requested an increase for their quota and, on average, a typical student prints 24 pages per year. In my highly scientific study of paper consumption at the high school (I bumped into our head custodian and asked him if he’s seen a reduction in the amount of paper consumed), I learned that, without question, it’s gone down significantly since our 1-1 program started.

I know that lots of students also print from home. I’m guessing the majority log into their Google accounts on a PC or a Mac and print using traditional methods. Perhaps a few have Cloudprint enabled printers. Going forward, I’ve heard that the latest versions of Chrome OS will support local print options. I’ll be curious to see how this will impact they way we manage printing at our school. In the meantime, our approach has worked well for us. What are other districts doing for printing? I’ve enabled comments on this post and would love to hear from you!

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