Friday January 30, 2015 marked the end of an era—the last ever paper study card day at Harvard.

Each semester, roughly 10,000 printed study cards are manually entered into Harvard's system. Study card day is an all hands on deck operation. From students, to Houses, to cards runners, to the team who sorts, scans, and enters the information, this project requires a hefty amount of man power. Come fall term 2015, all of that will change with the release of online study cards through the new my.harvard.edu.

Interested in capturing the process in action, I volunteered to help the truly remarkable team of Registrar’s Office staff who coordinate and execute this massive effort. After realizing the immense effort needed to complete the process, I was shocked by the equally immense amount of paper used. Curious, I crunched some rough numbers: 10,000 cards, times 2 (for the copy Houses often make), times 2 per semester = 40,000 sheets of paper a year! That’s 600,000 sheets since the year 2000.

To put this number into perspective, we are talking about roughly 1,260 reams of paper, or 75.58 trees over a 15 year period. Additionally, Harvard has been using a paper study card system since the nineteenth century (and possibly earlier).

Our move to digital aligns with the Harvard's University-wide goal to reduce waste per capita 50 percent by 2020 from a 2006 baseline, with the goal of becoming a zero-waste campus. The project also highlights Harvard University IT's (HUIT) active participation in building a more sustainable campus community through the efforts of the Green IT working group and other green IT initiatives.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar, Mike Burke, told me that this number could likely be multiplied by a factor of 5-10 to account for the multiples cards students print to handle different scenarios and account for accidents. (It’s also worth noting that as I vocally came about on this realization, I was reminded that I am not even factoring  the environmental or financial impact of toner into the equation).

“We’re removing the administrative hurdles of printing, signing, delivering, scanning, processing, filing, and storing tens of thousands of paper documents per semester, which will let students, faculty, and advisors focus on the truly important functions of teaching, learning, and advancing knowledge,” said Burke. “Combined with the Registrar’s move to the Smith Campus Center, we will be poised to better serve the academic mission of Harvard without becoming an unnecessary obstacle.”

In addition to moving study cards online, the new my.harvard will also move at least 10 paper forms online, and will provide students, faculty, and advisors with a unified, intuitive, mobile-friendly portal through which they can interact and manage their academic careers.

To learn more about what the new my.harvard will do for you, check out the Student Information Systems website to learn about program basics, stay up to date on news, and get involved.