I feel a little bit like I am in a confession box, so here it goes:
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
I didn’t take all that long either. It is with guilty heart that three days into my challenge, I have broken my self-imposed second rule to refuse to produce paper products. Today, I handed in my first assignment at Cambridge, which required not one, but TWO (!!), printed copies of my assignment.
The net result? 18 pages of printed paper handed in (double sided, of course), plus four pages that were wasted because I printed and then had to reprint because of various errors. Not that I was happy about either, as you can see from my expression when I handed in my assignment.
I tried to avoid printing, I really did try.
When I learnt that I needed to hand in the assignment in paper form, I sent an email to Dr. Fenner (the Professor who set the assignment) to ask if I could hand in just an electronic copy. Highlighting “good security reasons” for the paper copies, he politely declined to agree to my request.
I was thus left with choice between following my rule and not printing, or not handing in my assignment and harming my ability to get what I am here for in the first place, an MPhil. I decided passing my course was more important.
I could have taken a tougher, more activist stand.
I could have not asked in advance and just handed it electronically unilaterally, sending an email today daring them to reject my assignment over a printed copy.
I could have not been satisfied by just a polite email and asked for a meeting to discuss the issue in person instead.
I could have made a public scene, or gone to the department head, in an attempt to use external forces to allow me to do it.
But I did not.
Perhaps I am too risk adverse to potentially sacrifice my grades before I even started. Perhaps I did not have enough time to arrange a meeting or go to the department head. Perhaps I am not confident in more general and public support for my desire to quit paper, or that others may view printing assignments as not that big a deal. It is likely all three, which is instructive to me as I understand what is necessary for me to address this situation in the future, and the lengths to which I am willing to go to do so.
If I am unwilling to risk having my assignment not being graded, it is clear that I will need to secure permission to submit assignments by electronic copy only, if I am to avoid this situation in the future.
So how will I do that? First I must know my self. I know that my style of change does not typically involve me chaining myself to the tree, or occupying the street, or marching with a placard, although I have come close at times. I work best within systems, and will do so here.
I am going to take two actions:
1. Secure permission to suggest change.
I have discovered in the past that it is easier to achieve a specific change if you first secure openness to change, as when you suggest a specific change your target has already agreed to the idea of change in the first place. I have also discovered that it is easier to get agreement on the general concept, and then progressively work towards the specific, rather than start with a specific idea which may be daunting or scary. I will seek a way of getting permission to suggest general change, and then electronic submission of assignment can be part of that.
2. Understand the real barriers.
Dr. Fenner highlighted “security concerns” as the primary reason for wanting printed copies of the assignment, but I am unclear what the security reasons are or could be. How is there a security concern when my Bank, who deals with something of greater value and greater likelihood of false transactions, allows me to manage my accounts and send money around the world, all online? Or when applications for all UK grad schools used uploaded pdf copies of documents for review, except Cambridge? (Cambridge was the only University that required paper copies to be mailed as well – at great expense!). Camtools already is a secure system to upload electronic documents – we need to log in to using our Raven ID and password. While there may be an actual security concern with online submission of documents that Cambridge is unable to solve (while all other Universities seem to have), it is likely that there are other reasons as well. I will need to understand these barriers and work to over come it.
I feel very guilty that I have sinned, especially so quickly. However, as in all confessions, I will now pay a penance for my sin; I have much work ahead.