Imagine how happy I was to wake up to the NYTimes on Sunday morning (accessed via my iPhone) to read IHE's own Eric Stoller and Casey Green prominently quoted in the article "Technology and the College Generation."
Courtney Rubin of the Times makes the observation that e-mail has become a problematic learning technology. (Although she doesn't quite put it in those terms).
The problem: The kids just don't read their professors' e-mail. E-mail is too slow, too boring, too old school. If you want to reach out and (digitally) touch a student - send a text.
Eric has a great quote in the piece, placing the blame for students tuning out of e-mail squarely on the shoulders of us educators:
“Faculty and staff love to blame students for not checking e-mail instead of owning up to the fact that no one ever got that good at using e-mail in the first place,” he said, citing vague subject lines and (exaggerating to make his point) 36-paragraph e-mails from faculty in which the crucial information is in paragraph 27. “How are they going to learn to use e-mail when that’s the model, and why would they want to?”.
Eric, to that I say - "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty". I'm going to start sending only 35 paragraph e-mails from now on.
It is honestly hard to unlearn what we learned in grad school. Why say something in few words when we can use many?
I only have a few friendly additions (or quibbles) with the NYTimes article:
Addition #1 - The Real College Generation:
Any article on "The College Generations" should probably point out that there really is no such thing. 18-to-22-year-old-full-time student living on campus make up only a minority of all U.S. college students. About one in five undergraduates fit this description, with the largest numbers coming from part-time students, commuting students, and adult (usually working) students. E-mail may not work well for your 19-year-old sophomore living in a dorm, but might work very well for your 43-year-old working mom who is finishing her degree part-time.
Addition #2 - Online and Blended Learners:
The effectiveness of e-mail depends not only on who the student is, but how the student is learning. The standard for online courses is that e-mail is but one of the multitude of channels that we use to communicate with students. Posted announcements or new discussion board entries can automatically generate an e-mail. Students can choose to opt in or opt out, depending on the platform. An e-mail can be a signal that something new is going on in the online portion of the course. Learners in online or blended courses may be more tuned into e-mail than those students in purely face-to-face classes.
Addition #3 - Faculty / Student Relationships:
My sense is that where e-mail fails as a higher ed technology is at the same place where most higher ed technologies fail. Technology cannot replace relationships. A professor sending an e-mail to a large class of students that she does not know personally, a group of students with whom she has not established a collaborative learning relationship on an individual person-to-person level, is likely to be ignored or missed. An e-mail from a professor that knows that student by name, an e-mail where the sender and the receiver are collaborating on learning, is likely to be received and acted upon.
How do you use e-mail as a teaching tool?