Forum Friday – E-mail & School

Feb 2, 2007 by

Each Friday I highlight a post from the forum that provides either a useful resource, or a thoughtful discussion (I feel like an NPR announcer introducing a special series when I type that). Today’s discussion was generated by one of our newest members on the forum, AndyAK, an educator from the great white north of Anchorage, Alaska. Andy starts the conversation by explaining how he manages over 800 student e-mails accounts, and asks what others are doing with student e-mail at their schools. Replies to his question focused mostly on Gaggle.net, the free e-mail website for schools, and what the benefits or drawbacks are. His original post follows:

AndyAK:
Sometime ago I started using Gaggle.net as a way to control email usage in my computer class. Things worked so well that we soon made accouns available to the whole school, and mandated that only that account could be used at school. The upshot is that I now have to manage over 800 accounts, but there have been some major payoffs in controlling student behavior.

I’m curious what others are doing? Does your school address the issue of student email? Do students have regular access to their private accounts during the day? Is there fallout? And perhaps most importantly, what percentage of the staff fully incorporates email communication as part of their curriculum?? While I think we have all the tools in place, I think it is highly underutilized at my school.

These are some great questions, and have led to some interesting replies about trying to manage student e-mail and creating channels for students to communicate effectively and appropriately:

BionicTeacher:
Gaggle’s the only approved email option in our distict which is 27,000 students (middle and high). Our schools each handle it differently but we’ve got high schools of 1200 or so dealing with accounts for each student and with each student having a laptop it can be a hassle.

I agree that if you don’t create a channel, students make their own. I see that every day, even in middle school. I imagine high school is dealing with things that are much larger.

Later on the conversation turns to productivity and how e-mail, both student and staff, can actually be a distraction in schools:

rick:
We don’t do email with the students at school. We suggested it a couple of years ago (setting it up on the server) but the staff was not too thrilled with the idea. I think some of the resistance was do to the inability to really properly supervise the communication and, and this is a valid point, the fact that the students would be likely to be checking their email while they should be doing assignments. Email can be a big productivity drain in the work place and, I have watched teachers when they were themsleves in a learning situation too interested in their email to pay attention. I can promise you that even if a student has a hot mail account or some other free email account they are not permitted to use it while at school. Yes, there is a lot that needs to be reviewed with them but sometimes one just has to choose what to invest the teaching time in.

AndyAK:
When you watch and see adults still losing their jobs because they do stupid stuff on company email, it made me think (as someone in the Business Ed section (at the time)), we need to train kids about “formal” email and “other” email.

Plus….we’ve had teachers corresponding with kids on emails where the student username is completely inappropriate…….on one of the linked blogs, there’s a paragraph about behaving a certain way at work, and another way at home. I talk to kids about this frequently, and I think they can get it, if it gets demonstrated to them.

Email and chat, when unregulated, seems like what the locker rooms were in the past…..a place where the bullies could be in charge, and we were afraid to look.

I know that this is an unsually long post for the site, but this issue is an important one as schools begin to seriously consider what types of communications students should and should not participate in online. Personally, I feel that access to some type of e-mail at school for students is an eventuality. No, we don’t have to give students access to their Yahoo accounts, but in order to effectively communicate with one another, and teach the ethical requirements of online communication schools will need to find a way to integrate student e-mail in the learning process. And for those nay-sayers out there, imagine trying to learn geometry without being able to use a protractor or compass. Imagine someone showing you pictures of them, and explaining how they work, and then expecting you to use them in the real world for drafting, engineering, and graphic design.

Now imagine trying to prepare students for new careers in online community management (big business right now) or collaborative office work between offices on different continents (my wife’s mother has been doing this for years). Talking about appropriate use of e-mail isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to have to let them learn (in an encouraging, monitored and directed environment) so they can better be prepared for the real world.

Want to add your 2 cents? Go join the forum or post a comment below to become part of the discussion.

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4 Comments

  1. AndyAK

    Thanks for the mentions, but mostly, thanks for featuring this topic….it’s kind of near to me, but one I find hard to debate much with my local peers. Essentially, the idea of school wide email isn’t something most teachers think about (focus on their room), and I can’t discuss it with Tech Coordinators in other buildings without them immediately considering that they would probably be the ones to implement the process…..without any real additional resources to do so.
    I think you sum it up nicely….to teach it you have to use it, and if you’re going to teach it, it has to be protected, managed, and safe. At least, that’s what I think, but I’d love to hear from others.

  2. For the last 4-5 years I’ve been using Think.com. It is a “webpage”, “blog”, “IM” and email account and seems to work well with younger students, grades 3rd-6th. My problem with it is it is “too closed”. Students can send and receive emails from each other but cannot receive email from outside unless they add the address to their address book. It works for supplying a safe email for enrolling in other applications like Blackboard.com, wikispaces, our new blog site. Some of my kids love it but it is pretty rinky-dink.

  3. rick

    Thanks Nancy, I will have to check it out. Perhaps if I have something useful but “too closed” I might be able to find a away to work it into some of what we teach. And, yes, we only go to 6th and by them most of them are on Hotmail or something else.

  4. AndyAK

    Gaggle gives them “real” email……not as fancy as Hotmail or others, but a number of things that work well for school – file storage on line, message boards, and chat….all with lots of controls. The decision to make it school wide happened at a time when the staff was very “pro-techintegration”. While no one is “anti”, I think the current demands of testing and other programs have caused a lot of teachers to pull back from anything that seems off-task for their subject area. I still see advantages to the way we run it, but I see a lot of the benefit not being realized, as it does have to be mananged. The system you’re talking about sounds locked down enough it probably doesn’t have to be looked at often, and that is a plus.

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