Email is for old fogies…but it’s not going away anytime soon.

j0423020.jpgLast night, I began teaching a college class in strategic planning.  It got me to thinking about a recent conversation with my hubby, who also teaches college part-time.  We’ve had difficulty lately getting in touch in a timely way with our students.  We try our darndest to help students succeed, often in spite of themselves–sending reminders about upcoming or missing work, or concerns about incorrect assignments that were submitted, or any range of issues.  (I once had a student upload a geology paper instead of his e-business paper–could have been a stall tactic, but I’m willing give the benefit of the doubt).

I’m Junk Mail 

Yes, we use wikis, blogs, an occasional audio file and utilize a range of hands-on projects (often web-based) to create as rich and collaborative a teaching environment as we can. But when we need to contact a student directly, is usually means several things:  using the online teaching platform (often some version of Blackboard) to post an announcement or discussion board response or email.  Email usually means either the personal or college email account for a particular student.  Intuitively, I know their personal email is checked more often. But the experienced professor in me also knows that I can better track when, where and to whom the emails were sent and whether they responded through the school’s email.  This is especially needed because students often claim “but I sent you an email about my problem, didn’t you get it?”  No, I didn’t.  Or “What, you sent me something?”  Yes, I did.  And I don’t have to route through my personal email to prove it.

Of course, I shouldn’t take it personally….they’ve just used their personal “college spam filter” to ignore me.  You know, the one that filters out as junk anything institutional.  And as much as I try not to be, I’m part of the institution. I’m junk mail.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article back in late 2006 about just this issue.  Entitled “Email is for Old People,”  it pretty much sums up the way most college undergrads and teens view email.  It’s supported by a several-year-old survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.   Yes, teens declared then, email’s for “old people.”   But many of my current classes consist of, well, adult learners age 40 and up.      

The Virtual College

Today, Campus Technology has an article  by Trent Baston that discusses web2.0 in the college environment.  He notes that “Web 2.0 is becoming a tipping point for creative energy in higher education’s use of technology, moving its center from the campus desktop or server to the Web.”   Some profs are even using platforms like SecondLife to pull everything together for learning.  In a simpler application, the use of lecture-capture systems is growing, enabling students to study anywhere, anytime.  Some colleges have been providing iPods for students, allowing professors to do lectures in podcast (or even videocast) form.   The iPods are either available for rent or at drastically-reduced prices. Overall, the way we help students build knowledge is changing–and anyone who has snoozed through a 1-hour lecture will tell you, it’s due for a change.

Hello, is anyone out there?  Email Etiquette 101.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of one-on-one communication on private issues.  When I email an entire class and get not one response, I feel like I’m shouting in the wilderness. You’d think students would at least check email on their mobile devices.  Last week, Campus Technology wrote about a survey done by Eduventures (thanks to SmartMobs blog for pointing me to this) detailing the technology owned by current college students. A web survey found that 97% of 4-year college students had cell phones and 79% had laptops.  (Of course, the flaw in this is that it was web-based, probably eliminating the students who didn’t have ready web access…but I digress).  Their finding show that students were online for up to 5 hours a day and that email remains the communication of choice for school purposes.

In a perfect world, I would know every student’s phone, they would all be cell phones or other mobile messaging devices.  Maybe they’d even all be tweeting.  But I can’t rely on that for a personal message.  Sometimes I don’t want to build a community or connect with thousands–I just want to communicate with one.  Even with the ability to text message or phone, I find email more preferable.  I send attachments related to class, longer notices about changes in deadlines or clarifications (even if it is also posted on the class web).  I don’t have to worry about if they are in class, at work or what time it is. 

I still say email will be sticking around.  Other forms are preferred for casual communication, but in some situations, email serves the purpose best.  Maybe we need a required short course in Email Etiquette for all college students.  For now, all I can say is:

Chck Ur Email Plz

 …and hope that one of the readers of this blog has a suggestion for better communication options.   I’m open!