Like a lot of bloggers and teachers interested in technology and education, I’m a geek. It makes perfect sense to me to do just about everything I can with technology. I’m very fast with a computer, and while my physical desk might be a pile of (seemingly) disorganized papers, my computer is always immaculately organized.

Okay, my inbox gets a bit crazed, but that’s why Xobni invented Xobni.

So I’ve been collecting student work in electronic format for a long time – mostly because it seems so inelegant to walk around with 80 student papers (and a pain when commuting on my bike) when I could have each students’ work stored neatly in a folder on my hard drive. I always have access to my comments and student work, can collect the work in the first place via Blackboard, and don’t have to worry about misplacing student work etc. etc.

I remember the moment that I realized teachers might have another reason for collecting work electronically. I was talking to a technology guru at Carleton College, and asking about workflow and teacher adoption of their elearning platform, Moodle. I have this conversation a lot, and it usually highlights one of the the dirty secrets in higher education: low utilization rate for elearning tools. There are budgets, entire staffs dedicated to technology, but few faculty use tools like Moodle or Blackboard to any great extent. Maybe they post a few files, an announcement or two… I have visited (prestigious) schools where full-time “instructional technologists” will actually scan a professor’s hardcopy syllabus and place the PDF into the appropriate Blackboard course. And that single document is the only resource in the course. For an entire term.

Of course there are the power users – geeks like me, and large introductory classes that make use of online testing (and automatic grading).

But the technology guru at Carleton surprised me. She told me that most faculty collect work electronically and review it on their computers. I was surprised, and asked why. She told me that the faculty had changed their workflow for environmental reasons. They changed their ways to save paper.

I was not surprised, then, to discover that Carleton College was rated in the top ten of over 300 colleges and universities ranked in the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card, published by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowment Institute. The report card covers many areas of an institution’s operations, and the endowment (what the school invests in etc.) and commitment to sustainability (evidenced by an ‘office of sustainability’ and a full-time person directing said office) are major components.

A teacher’s actions, however, are far more visible to students than complex and long-term investments. What struck me the most about the news coverage of the report card (the media loves a ranked list!) had to do with high school students’ attitudes: “Sixty-three percent of 10,300 college applicants recently polled by the Princeton Review said that a college’s commitment to the environment could affect their decision.” Since the report card  didn’t touch on elearning or academic technology, I take the Carleton faculty’s commitment to be a cultural expression of the school’s larger commitment and an indicator that they earned their ‘A-.’