Paperless Office, Paperless School, Paperless Future

The idea of going paperless is nothing new. In fact, BusinessWeek helped coin the term ‘Paperless Office’ way back in 1975. Despite major leaps in technology since then, we’re still largely living in a paper-fuelled world.

The problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. According to an OECD environmental report, global production in paper is expected to increase by 77% between 1995 and 2020. The office is one of the main offenders in its reliance on paper but schools have also traditionally been significant consumers. However, budget constraints and environment considerations have meant ever increasing numbers of schools are becoming active in the fight against paper usage.

Despite positive moves to eradicate paper waste in schools, Edutopia estimates that the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper each year, which equates to 833 pieces of paper per student per year.

With so much of what we do and what students do being reliant on paper, going paperless seems a daunting task. However, ditching paper processes is an extremely effective way to streamline processes, and improve efficiency and productivity. Once we take the steps to reverse the processes we’ve put in place and try something new, the time we have saved will be worth the effort.

The issues most schools face in this area are not so much related to the paper used in classrooms. Finding alternative ways of learning can be as simple as replacing textbooks with eBooks, having greater access to computers and being more creative when it comes to educational activities. For most schools, no paper means no paper forms, yet putting a new and efficient system in place can seem like an expensive and impossible task, and filed away in the ‘too hard basket’.

www.flickr.com-photos-89228431@N06

But with governments, businesses, health services and other industries aiming for a paperless future – and pages of articles being written about its benefits both financially and environmentally – it can only be a matter of time before schools follow suit.

In fact, this kind of change can help improve age-weary systems immeasurably. One big complaint from teachers in sending home permission slips is the response rate from parents confirming their child’s attendance is incredibly low; not because they don’t want their child to attend an excursion or field trip but because the forms often go missing.

Moving to an online system can save time, save cost and improve liability management for both schools and parents. Forms exchanged between schools and parents, online enrolment systems for new and prospective students and common internal forms such as professional development forms, incident forms, forms for casual relief teachers and much more can all be handed very effectively in a digital environment.

Other advantages come with streamlining the storage and access of emergency and medical details, and excursions and permissions forms, as well as implementing email and SMS notification systems.

While many have concerns over data security (see our post ‘The Private Lives of Students’), these services should always be held on secured servers – or in the cloud – using the latest and most advanced encryption methods.

The end result is a school that not only saves money by cutting down on the cost of paper but also saves money through increased productivity and efficiency, giving teachers more time to do what they do best: teach.

ParentPaperwork offers a 30-day free trial so schools can experience the benefits of transitioning to a paperless environment firsthand.

The origins of ParentPaperwork and its mission to replace paper forms in schools

David Eedle, the co-founder of ParentPaperwork, explains the origins of ParentPaperwork.

I’m staring at the kitchen counter top, there are five piles of paper lined up and my partner in life and work Fiona is explaining how she’s delegating responsibility to me for dealing with each of the piles. Perhaps ‘explaining’ is too mild, maybe ‘instructing’ is more accurate.

Fiona and I have three children at school – a 17 year old daughter in her final year; a 14 year old son and an eight year old daughter. Between them they also participate in five sports activities including footy (yes, the real one, Australian Rules); soccer (what the rest of the world calls football); tennis; swimming; and basketball. They also variously participate in a range of other activities such as scouts, and dance, music and singing classes.

There is nothing particularly special about our family, other than we’ve managed to out-perform the Australian national average of one point something children per family. Fiona and I at the simplest are reduced to being taxi drivers and ATMs, doling out transport and $50 notes at random. I even have a laminated sign I hang on my study door at home during school holidays captioned “This is not a taxi depot, if you require transport you need to book in advance.

What we share with every other family we know is that we drown in paperwork. Not a week goes by without several missives arriving, most requiring our completing a form and returning it to school or whoever is organising the activity. These forms range from the short (“Sign and return”) to complicated (“Complete this two page medical details form plus one page personal details form”).

Our son was a scout for five years. Almost every week his scout troop went on an excursion – by which I mean they walked from their scout hall to some close by location. And under the Scouts Australia rules you have to complete a two page medical information form EVERY TIME. Which is emailed to you, you are expected to print the form and take it with you to the scout meeting. Of course I was the one who turned it into a PDF form and started emailing them back.

I have lost count of the number of times Fiona has called, texted, emailed or stuck her head around my study door to ask “what’s our ambulance membership number?”. In our home state of Victoria everyone pays an ambulance membership fee, it’s less than $200 a year for a family, and is a darn good insurance given even a short ambulance ride can set you back more than $1,000 – with multiple kids playing contact sport it’s inevitable at some stage we’ll need to call an ambulance to some wet, cold playing field one winter.

Because I’m a smarty pants I use Evernote to hold all the essential information in my life, I even have scans of the kids’ birth certificates for when we need to complete new sport team registrations. And of course the ambulance number is in there – so I act as the collective memory for the family. Hence I often wind up completing all the forms.

Back to the kitchen counter. We had one of those synchronicity moments most long term couples share, because we literally looked at each other simultaneously and said “how come none of this is online?”.

What’s even weirder is we actually DID have the same idea six or seven years ago, although more focussed around the issue of collecting payments from parents as well as permissions. We made it as far as registering a domain, building a few sample pages, and meeting with a couple of schools, however it seemed the world was not ready, as we found little interest at that time.

Fast forward to late 2013 and again we approached schools in our local area and said “we think you have a problem with paper forms. Is this true? And if so, would you be interested if we attempted to create a solution?”. This time every school answered “yes” and “yes”.

So we spent a couple of months drafting a basic system and went back to the schools and asked “what do you think of this?”. The responses were encouraging and during the first few months of 2014 we continued to iterate and develop the platform, and tested the ideas with local schools.

Thus ParentPaperwork was born.

Our mission is simple. We want to replace paper forms in schools worldwide. We’ve spoken with schools and parents in many countries, and every single one has confirmed to us that paper forms are a time and cost burden, it makes no difference where you are– Australia, UK, New Zealand, USA, India, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Ireland – we have schools piloting ParentPaperwork everywhere.

In August 2014 we participated in StartUp Victoria’s inaugural pitch night, and won, adding further confirmation that ParentPaperwork resonates with almost everyone we speak to.

In December last year we closed a seed round of just over $350,000, and now we are knuckling down for the long journey to helping schools everywhere save time and money, and improve liability management, by dumping their paper forms and transitioning to our online forms platform.

We’re excited by the future for ParentPaperwork, we might be building a commercial business but when schools and parents tell us our system is making their lives so much easier, then that’s a great reward.

Education technology startup ParentPaperwork announces Indian distribution deal

Education technology startup ParentPaperwork today has announced it has signed an exclusive distribution deal for India with smartData Enterprises (India) Limited.

smartData will distribute and support ParentPaperwork’s online forms platform into the vast Indian schools marketplace. smartData Enterprises, a subsidiary of smartData Enterprises Inc, a California based incorporation has a excellent track record of developing high end software solutions with strong expertise in healthcare, business automation, web and mobile applications. One of the known names in the areas in which it operates, smartData ranks globally no 1 on oDesk and amongst top 5 provider on Elance. smartData has its HQ in Mohali Chandigarh with branches in Nagpur and Dehradun.

ParentPaperwork’s CEO and Co-Founder Fiona Boyd says she is excited by the opportunity:

“There are more than one million schools in India, it’s one of the largest education markets in the world, in comparison there are maybe 160,000 or so schools in the USA, it made complete sense to us to look to India when deciding on our growth strategy.

We met with Mr Ajay Tewari, Director and CEO of smartData in Melbourne last year, he was kind enough to express great enthusiasm not just for our current ParentPaperwork product, but for our overall strategy and product development plans.

We’re grateful to Ajay and his team for making the negotiations a positive experience, and coming to an arrangement that will benefit everyone involved.”

smartData CEO Mr. Ajay Tewari says:

“The solution caught my eye due to its good UI and ease of navigation and its customizable functionalities help in catering to all strata of schools. With Indians taking liking to web and mobility, the timing for such productive application is a blessing in disguise for the much in demand “education” – we Indians are known for across the globe. I am very optimistic and excited about this partnership which will open doors for many such future alliances between the 2 organizations”

ParentPaperwork closed a seed round of just over $350,000 late in December 2014, and has spent the first few weeks of 2015 progressing a number of international deals such as the one announced today. Since Christmas ParentPaperwork has also appointed its first sales representative in the USA, and started an online marketing campaign into the UK.

Fiona Boyd says whilst it is early days, the level of enquiries from around the world has been excellent:

“In the last month alone we’ve fielded enquiries from the USA, UK, Middle East, South America and Europe as well as our home base of Australia. ParentPaperwork solves a problem experienced by virtually every school in the world, and we do it in a way that is simple and easy to implement and operate. Our cloud-based software as a service solution for online forms in schools has struck a chord with teachers and school administrators everywhere. At the end of the day our mission is to save them time and cost in an efficient and effective way, and that’s a proposition that resonates no matter where a school is located.”

If Indian schools are interested in ParentPaperwork they should contact smartData on +91 172 406 0000 or email info@smartdatainc.net.

About ParentPaperwork

ParentPaperwork is an online platform to automate paper forms in schools. The system manages excursion forms, field trip forms, permission slips and many other forms parents need to complete for their children and send back to school. By moving their paper forms online schools can achieve significant time and cost savings, reduce the hours needed for school staff to manually manage the process and improve liability management. For more information, and a free trial please go to www.ParentPaperwork.com.

About SmartData

smartData is a software business consulting organization with experience in building high end database driven applications for global customers which includes start ups, growth oriented organization (SME) and enterprises. smartData, is a CMMI 3 company with strong competencies in Open Source & Microsoft platform, Mobile Apps. In today fast paced world, its not just about being delivering value for money, its also about being simple, better, cheaper and faster – business approach smartData follows. A well-defined CMMI processes armed by band of young enthusiastic smartians donning the culture of work hard play harder, makes smartData an experience to work with and work for. Team smartData by following right mindset (customer centricity, commitment and credibility), right attitude (zero defect products) and right techniques (optimizing effort than otherwise) is on its path to success demonstrating that its vision of Scaling has a meaning in real sense.

www.smartdatainc.com.

More information:

David Eedle
+61 (0) 419 876 942
david@parentpaperwork.com

Vivek Sehgal (India)
+91-9988400666
sehgalv@smartdatainc.net

What Jack Black Teaches Us About Field Trips

In Jack Black’s 2003 comedy, School of Rock, the rotund funny man plays Dewey Finn, a washed-out rocker and perpetual loser who masquerades as a teacher to get himself out of financial trouble before (predictably) falling in love with the students and (his version) of the job.

As far-fetched as this movie premise might be – not to mention the numerous legalities ignored in the name of storytelling – there is a surprising truth at the heart of this tale.

Black’s unconventional teaching style and love of music sees him trying desperately to get his students out in the real world to experience concerts and music competitions, only to be thwarted at every turn with red tape by an over-cautious headmistress and over-worried parents. Although the film turns each group into extreme caricatures of their real-life equivalents (e.g. all of the parents drive Volvos), their concerns over the safety of the children, the liabilities of the school and the difficulties of organising an excursion or field trip really hits the nail on the head.

Our recent post, Poorly Communicated Student Information Threatens School Excursions, highlighted an upheaval in Israel where students went on strike over high school teachers banning school trips in an attempt to absolve staff of any criminal culpability for students who may get injured while on the excursion.

There is always going to be a risk in taking kids off campus but transparency by the school as to what the trip entails and any inherent dangers, along with informed consent by the parents, should be enough to allow the students an experience that cannot be matched in a classroom.

Field trips offer an educational experience that engages students like nothing else. Studies have shown the benefits that come with immersing students in hands-on learning, which includes greater retention of knowledge, as well as significant benefits beyond just education.

A recent study by professors at the University of Arkansas looked at the impact of school trips to the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art.

“We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future,” said Jay Greene, one of the researchers.

“We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students.”

The central storyline of School of Rock has the headmistress citing safety issues and notifying parents as the two main problems in planning the trips at short notice with a new teacher at the helm. There is never any question about the validity or educational benefit in going on field trips. Instead, the focus remains on liability, and on the troubles associated with poor communication with parents; problems that many teachers face in real life.

Of course, the film being fictional, Jack Black gets his way in the end (although through methods we wouldn’t necessarily recommend) and the children are able to grow, learn and have their parents witness their newfound maturity and talent.

Jack Black remains an unlikely teacher but someone to learn from nonetheless.

To see how ParentPaperwork can assist with making field trips easier to organise, click here.

Heavy Workload, Heavy Burden – Teachers Leaving Industry Over Unworkable Hours

The myth of the 9am to 3pm workday for teachers is finally being busted as more and more stats about what goes into an average school day come to light.

Our recent article on teacher workloads explored exactly what is taking up the lion’s share of a teacher’s time, while our follow-up on Australian teachers working harder than many around the world dug a little deeper. Now, let’s look at the end result – teacher attrition rates rising higher with each passing year and a system in crisis.

The Numbers

The consequences of extended work hours and unmanageable workloads are very real and very damaging, with recent reports from the UK that each month last year more than 4,000 teachers left the profession.

This 10-year high has been attributed to low pay, long hours and high workloads resulting in close to 50,000 teachers in the UK walking away from the profession, with almost 80% citing workload as the greatest issue. Compounding the problem is the fact that three out of four trainee and newly qualified teachers considered giving up before even entering the workforce.

These alarming statistics, however, are not unique to the UK. In Australia, it has been reported that close to 50% of those who graduate as teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Once again, many cited overwhelming workloads as the main reason for jumping ship. Growing class numbers and lack of support have lead teachers to be working 50-hour weeks across primary and secondary schools both public and private.

The USA is also starting to feel the pinch with similar numbers, showing teacher attrition has grown by 50% over the past 15 years, with the teacher dropout rate higher than student dropouts in some districts.

The end result is a global teacher shortage. The infographic below, put together by UNESCO, shows the gravity of the situation. An interactive version is available on their website.

Every-Child-Needs-A-Teacher-Infographic

A Much-Needed Change

Teacher attrition rate is at its highest during the first five years in the classroom. Preparing graduates for the reality of teaching in a classroom environment, by connecting the dots between theory and practice, is an important step if we are to take teacher attrition seriously.

Already, in Australia and the US, there are many partnership programs taking aim at the problem and getting great results. However, preparation is only part of the solution. Employers need to be more readily involved in mentoring new teachers and welcoming them into the system. This will, of course, be a stretch for school leaders who are also overworked but putting in place new programs that can help reduce the number of resignations will have long-term benefits for the whole school.

Quashing the disillusionment that grows in graduates who have come fresh out of a supportive university environment into a sometimes unsupportive school environment will help reverse the cycle of overworked teachers. It will be a slow process but, for the future of the industry and the future of education, baby steps need to be taken.

Giving schools and teachers greater resources, including better pay and lower class sizes and putting in place systems that free up time, will set them and the system up for success.

The Private Lives of Students – Data Security and Privacy in Schools

How did you celebrate Data Privacy Day this year? Did you change all of your passwords? Or did you enact two-step verification on your login data?

Chances are you’re not even aware of what day it falls on (it’s 28th January for those playing along at home).

Despite being around for almost a decade, Data Privacy Day doesn’t get much news coverage. Like a lot of our personal data that we give out freely online, we don’t give it a lot of attention, even with fresh headlines each week of social media hacks, stolen personal images of the rich and famous, and whole corporations being held to ransom.

All of us would readily say we have concerns about what happens to our data and who has access to it. But very few of us, if any, will read a privacy policy before hitting the ‘Accept’ button and handing over our information to companies we know very little about.

Whether it’s convenience, laziness or lack of education, our willingness to trust companies to not mine our data is at its peak.

Recent experiments that have raised awareness of the dangers of using free Wi-Fi networks from unknown providers include:

These examples highlight the dangers inherent in systems we use every day, albeit, extreme ones. Luckily, the six people who signed over their firstborn were given a reprieve.

What about student data?

It has taken a while for us to realise the importance of protecting the data and privacy of students.

Schools have long kept records on their students that included personal information, health issues, grades, suspensions, absentee and truancy records, etc. But, as school administration systems have moved to digital, storing this information on databases and in the cloud, the issue of how secure this information is and what should actually be recorded and retained has become of greater concern.

It’s not just school records in the spotlight either. Teachers using apps to monitor behaviour, school cafeterias using palm scanning technology to purchase meals, and social media sites being used to trade information on classes and school sports are all causes for concern when it comes to privacy.

Alarmingly, a recent survey in the US by Common Sense Media showed that only 13% of respondents knew “a great deal” about how their schools collected, used, stored and destroyed student data. Their results can be seen in the infographic below.

CSM-school_privacy-infographic_FEB14

The backlash and response

The good news is that data security and privacy for students is an issue that is starting to garner more awareness in the media and with parents.

Recent cases around the world that have made the news include:

  • Concerns about a new primary school database that keeps students’ personal details, including religion and ethnicity, on file until their 30th birthday; and
  • A $100 million database used to store “test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records – even teacher assessments of a child’s character” being scrapped after an outcry from parents and civil liberties groups.

In response to growing fears of student data being sold to third parties, identity theft and personal information finding its way into the public domain, governments are finally taking action.

Last week in the US, President Barack Obama unveiled the Student Digital Privacy Act to ensure that data collected by schools is used solely for educational purposes and cannot be sold on. It’s legislation based on a recently introduced Californian law “prohibiting educational sites, apps and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using the children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them.”

Australia also updated its privacy laws last year to regulate the collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information by independent schools.

What can parents do?

For anyone concerned about student privacy and data, there are a number of things you can do to help keep sensitive information safe.

  1. Educate and get educated

The number one thing parents can do is to learn about the data collection practices and student privacy issues at their child’s school. Find out what systems are currently used, and read up on the company’s services and policies.

Keep abreast of any new technologies or systems being used by the school.

You should find out what data is collected, for what purpose it is used and with whom it is shared. Look into your rights to access the information or to opt-out of such services and ask about what policies are in place if these systems are breached.

It is also important to teach your child about keeping their information safe and the dangers of sharing it with others.

  1. Know your rights

A quick search online will help you understand your rights when it comes to data collection and storage. Ensure the school and third party vendors are adhering to them. Schools should be transparent when it comes to your child’s information. If they’re not, question why. 

  1. Watch the news and be vocal

Follow any story about changes to laws and new legislations that may affect student privacy. Let your school know of any concerns you may have with new laws or with new and current systems being used. The closure of the aforementioned $100 million database shows the power that parents and lobby groups can wield.

It doesn’t have to be Data Privacy Day for us to keep the issues of data privacy and security in our sights. Being aware and raising awareness of the safety of you and your child’s personal information should be an everyday concern not only for you but also for your child’s school. Technology can make a teacher’s job much easier, giving them more time to spend with students.

It’s our responsibility collectively to ensure the products that make our lives easier are also safe for us to use.

ParentPaperwork takes privacy seriously. For more information on how we handle data, please read our privacy policy