There was a time, almost 10 years ago, when email became so common place that it made absolute sense to try to incorporate it into the classroom. For economic and other reasons, many school districts just couldn’t swing it. As it turns out, that may be the best thing that could have happened. Have you seriously looked at the cost of hosting your own email for a system of students?
There are a couple of things that make one smile. First of all, in order for email use to drop, it means that the students have email accounts to begin with. So, why does education need to provide another one? I think, in my own little world, I have almost a dozen email accounts that various organizations and providers have generously given me. Thankfully, I’ve written rules that forward them all to a single point of reading. Secondly, while I’m certainly not in the 12-17 age group, my own email use has to have dropped at least that much as well. In fact, there are days when I don’t even check email at all.
A while ago, I heard Dr. Gary Stager speak as a featured keynote at the iNACOL conference in Nashville. He came out strongly against the use of clicking, voting technology in the classroom. Other than it’s a frustrating, highly priced replacement for hand raising, he made a forceful point that has stuck with me ever since. He has remained true to his message, including his most recent post in Tech&Learning. I would urge you to look past his focus on a particular piece of technology but look at the real message. While he does open the door a crack for the use of Interactive Whiteboards, his message is a wakeup call to any technology that puts the teacher on a podium at the front of the classroom.
So, how does this tie into student email? In my mind, email in the classroom reinforces the same dominant teacher position. It is a dehumanizing electronic separator of teacher and student. It’s not that students don’t want to use electronic communications; it’s that with all the options they have, they’re switching to better forms.
When you look at their preferred choices for communication, what are the characteristics? Typically, it’s not one to one; it’s one to many. It doesn’t rely on a single person reading and responding; they’ll amass a team of their peers for answers to questions. When you look at texting teens, they’re not texting back and forth to a single person; they’re using the technology to engage a group in multiple conversations. The capacity to do this is quite amazing. Where does this leave the humble teacher trying to get back to a class full of emails?
In fact, most of what needs to happen educationally can be done with better tools than email. The kids get it. There are better tools for their form of collaboration – a wiki or a ning easily embraces the concepts that help working with peers.
Don’t think that they’re limited by a 9-4 schedule either. While school based email systems may seem like a great idea for control, move your work to a better medium and you’ll see that the kids are alright. They’ll be working on their projects late into the evening calling on their own experts as needed. I think of a friend of mine teaching AP Chemistry who used private electronic rooms in a class wiki for groups to focus on their major projects. Or another Grade 7 class where students wrote and peer edited manuals late into the evening – just because the technology enabled it.
“But, if we only had email, I could have students email me their assignments.” Think about it. That certainly is an expensive way to do something that’s better done with a tool designed for it. You need to check out DROPitTOme.
In fact, when you think about all the ways that you might use email, there are so many alternatives to do the job and do it better. It takes us away from Dr. Stager’s fear that everything needs to originate from someone in control and turns over the responsibility for choosing the best tool to the end-user. And, all without receiving a phishing email that could encourage an errant student mouse click.
Given the statistics from the original article, the kids have got it. They’re voting with their tools of choice. Are we listening?
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