How I Handle Email: A series for those in Higher Ed.

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

As the new semester is rapidly approaching I thought I would do a series on how I handle email. In fact email is in part what inspired we to start this project. Now for a brief story . . .if you are bored by the story you can skip to the end of this section.

Begin Story: NY Times and Email

I was teaching an introduction to writing in English Studies course when I cam across a piece in the NYTimes, about professors and email, the title of which was “To:Professor@Univeristy.edu Subject:Why It’s All About Me” (It ran on Feb 21st, 2006. I can’t link to it as NYTimes has put it behind the firewall, but you should be able to get it through your University Library for free.) The title tells you everything you need to know about the slant of the piece. Basically they interviewed a collection of professors who felt oppressed by students emailing them with questions. It is a rather badly written piece, just a list of examples rather than any analysis, so it made for a good example of how not to write in my class. At any rate what I was perplexed by was how professors did not want email, felt it was burdensome, made for too many questions etc. I think if the students had been engaged in face to face interactions the professors would have welcomed the interactions, but somehow email was characterized as negative communication that got in the way of the classroom. I love email, I find it makes my task of teaching remarkably better, especially teaching students who are increasingly familiar with this type of communication, and in the context of a university that is ever more corporate where we are required to teach larger and larger classes.

End Story

There is lots to be said here about how communication changes in the age of the digital, which I will skip for now to bring me quickly to the point: I think professors often feel overwhelmed by email because they often haven’t figured out the technical tools to help them manage email. When I am teaching I get maybe 15-20 emails a day from students, more if assignments are due, and I welcome these as they give me a chance to interact with students, and expand learning past the classroom. But if I didn’t have a good plan to deal with all of these some weeks, like near the end of the semester, the students emails will come at 30 a day, plus all of the other email I get from colleagues, and other projects I am working on (now this site) and I need a way to manage quickly and effecitively all of this communication.

So the point of this series of posts.

I am going to try and walk through step by step how I set up email and get ready for the semester, from folders for students, to email lists (so I can email all of them if I need to) and my policy regarding emails (having guidelines for students is important). As this is a great deal of information, I am going to run it as a series of posts, step by step. Starting with the first level: getting away from webmail, to the complex (keyboard shortcuts and templates). Look for all of this in the next two weeks, just in time for the begining of the academic year.

(See Part II)