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Jordan T. Moldow
The Athena Working group hopes that by using a “hold-and-release system,” printing waste will be minimized. Right now, as much as 20 percent of printed pages are never collected.
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Over the past year, Information Services and Technology, the UA, and the MIT Administration have been examining how the Athena printing system can be improved to maximize efficiency and cut costs.

Several changes have already been made. Copytech now maintains printer hardware and supplies, and there is a now a centralized budget that pays for dorm printer supplies, so students don’t need to steal paper from Athena clusters or buy paper using dorm budgets.

Bigger changes to printing are being considered, such as the introduction of a print quota, and switching to a system that will not print until the user is physically at the printer. Other changes, like adding scanners to Athena clusters, are also being planned (see sidebar, p. 13).

The initial rollout date for the changes to Athena is scheduled for IAP, when printers in all Athena clusters will switch to hold-and-release, and scanners will be added to select locations.

Working group makes recommendations

Last fall, the Institute-wide Planning Task Force suggested Athena should move to a “greener” printing process to reduce waste, also improve the use of Athena cluster space.

As a result, Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings SM ’78 and Marilyn T. Smith, Head of IS&T, created an Athena working group in March, with the help of the UA and Student Information Processing Board (SIPB).

The working group found that printing costs at MIT are around $270,000 annually, and that students have a strong interest in keeping Athena clusters at MIT. Initial recommendations included:

• Implementation of a “hold-and-release” system, in which jobs won’t print until a student visits the printer and selects them

• Adding centrally-supplied dorm printers and library printers to the public system

• Redistributing printers to more convenient locations

• Limiting free printing to 3,000 pages, with a nominal fee for more pages.

IS&T and the UA are currently evaluating these proposals.

Hold-and-release model

The hold-and-release model for Athena printing would use a system called Pharos, which is currently being tested at the Student Center and at Baker House. A student sends a job to a printer, but the printer doesn’t start printing until the students goes to the printer and presses a button or swipes an ID.

Currently, impatient students often submit jobs to multiple printers, especially when the printers are busy. They end up printing the same thing multiple times because it difficult to remove the extra jobs.

The new system allows for a single queue for each type of printer. For instance, students would be able to submit a job to the black-and-white queue, and then go to any black-and-white printer to release the job. This improves convenience and reduces the waste that is associated with abandoned documents.

Over the summer, two pilot printers started using the system — one in the student center and the other at Baker House. The printer in the student center is named “Lerman” (after former Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman ’72, who was instrumental in the early days of Athena and recently left MIT to become Provost of George Washington University).

IS&T has been working with the UA to invite student participation in implementation efforts. The UA formed an Athena Printing Committee on October 25 to facilitate student communication on the topic.

Allan E. Miramonti ’13, the chair of the Printing committee, said that feedback has been “largely positive … people are actually excited about the idea, and while some concerns exist, people on the whole seem to be happy with it.”

The UA and the working group have also been in discussion as to whether jobs should be released through a touch screen and keyboard, or by swiping an MIT ID card.

3,000 page quota

In the initial recommendations, the working group proposed a quota of 3,000 pages per semester be created in the new, comprehensive system. They determined that only 100 members of the MIT community go over this quota, so it would not affect the overwhelming majority of Athena users. Some suggest a fee of about 10 cents could be charged for each additional page.

The point is not to get students to pay more for printing, said Oliver Thomas, Manager of the Faculty and Student Experience at IS&T. “The point of the quota and the hold-and-release piece is to save money by reducing waste and encouraging responsible behavior, though even that is subservient to reducing waste.”

There has been some concern that the introduction of the new system could increase the number of people going over the quota since users will start to believe that 3,000 pages is the baseline for “too much.”

In response, Thomas explained that there was experimental value in determining the use-cases that may cause a student to go over the 3,000 page quota.

“If there were an instance where a student needs to print over 3,000 pages for academic purposes, we could start a conversation with the department and understand the reasons behind such a practice. If, however, it were an abuse of the system for frivolous reasons, charging a minimal fee for overages seems appropriate because the use of Athena printers is discouraged in such situations.”

IS&T offcers resources to learn more about printing on Athena and reducing paper consumption; see http://web.mit.edu/printing/.

If you have any ideas for implementation or you’d like to take part in the design efforts, contact: ua-printing-chairs@mit.edu and student-printing-feedback@mit.edu.