5 things I do with email

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About 90% of my job as Director of Writing Programs involves writing and responding to emails. In fact, I answer so much email for a living that my friends know better than to email me—I rarely have the energy to answer emails at home. For me, email is both boon and bane. It’s also ineluctable, and so I’ve given a lot of thought to the role I want it to play in my teaching. Here are some of the practices I use to make it more boon than bane:1. Create clear email policiesWhen I am orienting our new teachers, I stress the importance of good email hygiene, which includes a clear statement of email policies on their syllabi. For starters, I encourage them all to separate personal and work email by using their university email address for teaching and a separate email account for personal email. Otherwise, they’re going to be confronted with student emails when they really want to be answering an email from their best friend. Then, I ask them to include information on their syllabus about accepting work through email (I will do so only if the student has made arrangements with me in advance and only if a paper copy is provided the next class) and the times they check email (I only do so while in the office and never on weekends). Setting these boundaries from the start guards sanity while providing students reasonable electronic access to you.2. Student email addressesIn my business and technical writing classes, I often discuss the importance of a professional email address. Many students will create resumes that include a personal email address that may create a poor impression on future employers. In order to help students realize the potential damage an informal email address can do to their future careers, ask them to research the problem on the Web—a search for “unprofessional email address” is a good start. Have them bring in examples of inappropriate email addresses, which can generate a lot of laughs in class, but then also have students alone or in collaborative groups create a list of resources for free email or tutorials on setting up a new email account.3. Audience awareness in emailWe’ve probably all received email from students with informal syntax, grammar, and spelling. Have students review the material in their handbooks on audience, tone, and (if available) electronic correspondence. Bring in some examples of these emails (with identifying information removed) to use in a discussion about these issues. Work with your students to determine the appropriate tone to use in emails to you but also use this as an opportunity to discuss writing to an audience in general.4. Spam revisionsOne really fun way to work on issues of grammar is to bring in some examples of email spam for students to revise. For homework or in small groups in class, ask students to first identify any errors in the spam and then to revise it.5. Informal peer groupsEmail is a quick and easy way for students to work and collaborate outside of class. Assign students to email peer groups, having all members of the group trade email addresses. Then have students email small portions of their drafts to each other over the course of an assignment—perhaps just the introduction. Working through email creates a peer group that can be available as students work on their drafts; sending only small pieces of the paper keeps the workload manageable and targeted. How does email impact your teaching? Do you use it in class?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.