Learning to push ‘send’ instead of ‘print’

Amar Sabih is on top of the world now that he's all but eliminated paper from his lab. / Photo: Owen Egan
Amar Sabih is on top of the world now that he's all but eliminated paper from his lab. / Photo: Owen Egan

Mechanical Engineering lab a paper tiger no more

Amar Sabih hates leaving a paper trail. Not that he’s doing something he wants to hide. On the contrary, the adjunct professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department and research fellow hopes that the more people hear about how he’s greened his lab, the more compelled they will be to try it for themselves.

Sabih teaches a MECH 362 (Mechanical Laboratories) lab with some 200 students. In the past, over the course of one semester, each student would print more than 200 sheets of paper including the course manual, lab reports and miscellaneous print outs. “That’s a lot of trees,” said Sabih. “I decided to do my best to eliminate paper use in our lab this semester.”

With the help of McGill’s WebCT Vista system, Sabih virtually computerized the entire course. Almost all of the material that had been printed out before now lives on the course’s website. Students submit lab reports via email and receive graded copies complete with comments from TAs the same way. The lab’s paper consumption has gone from 40,000 sheets per semester to less than 500. “Instead of hitting ‘Print’ people now push ‘Send,’” said Sabih.

“The beauty of this is that every professor can do this because we already have the necessary tools here at McGill – WebCT Vista and big servers to store files.”

As if saving our forests weren’t benefit enough, Sabih said that time, as well as trees, is being saved.

“It speeds up the process for grading reports – which are now graded and returned within a week,” he said. “And people don’t have to come to McGill to drop off and pick up their work. Less travel means less pollution.”

“It has been so easy to do this and the results have been amazing,” said Sabih. “Students were very enthusiastic about the idea right from the start and I hope that this example will push them to undertake more green initiatives in their lives.”

To learn more about how to implement WebCT Vista go to www.mcgill.ca/mycourses/

Neale McDevitt