Tag Archive for email

Breaking the Chain

18th Century "Letter From Heaven"; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chain_Letter_from_Heaven.jpg

Seventh grade teacher Paul Monheimer and I put together a lesson on email chain letters on short notice yesterday. We tried out some new ideas for teaching kids to “break the chain.”

Nearly all email chain letters are false. Students reviewed a list of 30 well-known email chain letters and tried to identify the one that was actually true.

You are being scammed! Think twice before forwarding something that is designed to fool you. Most appeal to some aspect of human nature to encourage you to forward (you will earn bad luck, someone needs your help, you will gain lots of money or friends).

Chain letters have been around for a long time.

Pyramid schemes” are illegal. The Catlin Gabel acceptable use policy asks students to not forward chain letters.

We directed the students to Snopes.com and ChainLetters.net to determine the veracity of an email message.

I was surprised that the new Common Sense Media curriculum does not include a lesson on this topic. What other teaching strategies or lesson plans do you have for email chain letters?

Email Strategies

As mentioned yesterday, our most popular technology training this summer is Managing Your Email Inbox. Far from old-fashioned, this topic hits most of our teachers and staff members head-on. Email is ubiquitous on campus, the most used technology for 200 employees to distribute information to individuals and groups of different sizes. It is common for employees to receive 100 emails per day, and they’re not of bad quality, either. Parents use email the most to communicate with teachers.

Despite the ubiquity of email, not all employees possess strong technical email skills. Whether or not email is an “old” technology, lacking these skills is a contemporary issue. Some attendees at today’s workshop came to learn to use a desktop email client for the first time. Others already knew how to use rules and folders but wanted to find out how their peers handled the email deluge.

We practiced tips from GTD, Inbox Zero, and Send today. We explored the triage technique to deal with new messages immediately and once when possible. We created rules to move listserv messages to subfolders and increase the relevance of inbox messages. We turned off notifications and set the mail check interval to 20 minutes. We encouraged ourselves to quit our email applications to limit distractions. We shared our own knowledge of reading techniques, since that was not emphasized in the materials I read when preparing the workshop.

Read the lesson notes here.

Photo source: biscotte

Being Responsive To User Needs

It’s easy for an education technology professional to get swept up with the dominant discussions in the edtech blogosphere. How will social media and mobile devices change education as we know it? When will new models of education sweep away the old? Such conversations largely diverge from the dominant issues facing teachers.

This spring, we asked what technology workshops we should offer this summer. Moodle? Facebook? Laptops? Not at all. We identified topics through conversations with faculty-staff leaders and our annual laptop program survey. Take a look at the list and the attendance figures (in bold).

  • Social Networks: 2
  • Editing the Catlin Gabel Website: 5
  • Email Management Strategies: 15
  • Mac Essentials: 8
  • Windows 7 and Office 2010: required for all Windows users

Most teachers and staff commented on the difficulty of mastering existing information sources and productivity tools. Basic competency and literacy trumped new skills. We do have teachers who live on the cutting edge, but they are relatively few in number and often meet their technology needs through different means.

Email “overload” is a particularly hot topic at our school at present. Teachers and staff find it difficult to keep up with the heavy stream of information and questions that arrive by email. For some, reading and responding to email takes up precious free periods that could be used for face-to-face conversations, lesson preparation, or student assessment.

Our users have said it clearly. They need to feel comfortable with email and operating systems first. They know best when an aspect of their professional life is out of balance. Let us provide them with support, strategies, and resources.

Encouraging teachers and staff to take the next step in their technology work is best done through smaller, more personal means. Many vehicles exist, but I find the “showcase” model the most effective. In faculty or department meetings, individuals stand up to show their latest work with technology. These peer presentations are usually grounded in practical, important needs of the school. They also send the message, “if I can do this with computers, then so can you!”

“12221 Emails” courtesy of somewhatfrank

Goodbye, Satellite

We are discontinuing our satellite TV subscriptions, which brought French, Spanish, and Japanese television programming into the classroom for the past seven years. Web video has largely replaced the need for live television. A teacher who wants to present students with authentic vocabulary, regional accents, or international current events need only visit a country news website or search for specific content on YouTube.

While this change may seem relatively inconsequential, I find it notable that we are actually discontinuing a technology service on campus. It can often be difficult to convince users of a service that its end has come. When a new technology arrives, often a certain proportion of users adopt the new technology quickly. Penetration increases rapidly enough that it may seem only a matter of time until everyone is using the new technology. In reality, adoption usually plateaus at a certain level, sometimes just a small fraction of all users, sometimes a majority, and in rare occasions nearly everyone.

Most technologies reach peak penetration and then eventually decline, as users lose interest, or the technology does not live up to its initial promise, or a newer technology comes along and takes its place. Still, a certain proportion of users find comfort in continued use of that technology, and this at which point it can be difficult to discontinue a service. Some number of people still rely on that technology and want the school to continue providing it.

With satellite television, peak penetration was fairly low, because the service was limited to foreign language television, and so only the language teachers used it. In addition, only the upper (high) school was cabled for satellite TV in the first place. When use declined, only one or two teachers continued to use TV in the classroom, and they were very gracious in recognizing that it would not be cost-effective to continue subscription and maintenance for just a couple of classrooms.

Contrast this with teacher voicemail extensions. Our current phone system has been in place for seven years. All employees have a phone extension, but most teachers of eighth grade and below do not have a physical phone. They have a voicemail-only extension. Use of voicemail-only extensions has declined sharply, as teachers and parents now communicate mostly by email. However, it will take more work than for satellite TV to consult with a larger user base and reach an informed decision on changing our telephone practice.

Does anyone read our emails?

Our school switched from paper to electronic newsletters some years ago in order to reduce paper consumption. Since that time, the question has lingered. “Does anyone read the newsletters?” As teachers struggle to keep up with a rapidly growing inbox during free periods, and parents sometimes appear unaware of information distributed to them, it’s easy to reach this conclusion.

Thankfully, we have found a way to collect some data to allay this concern. We installed the Drupal module Simplenews Statistics on our site, and now our main newsletters include an invisible image that sends a request back to the website each time the email is opened. Our kindergarten email newsletter, sent to 40 families, was opened 108 times within 24 hours! Although opening an email does not guarantee that a person reads it or digests its contents, it at least it suggests that email is effective at putting the news in front of our readers.

If you store email addresses for newsletter subscriptions in your website, this module will even tell you which individuals opened the newsletter, which didn’t, and whether they clicked on embedded links. We don’t seek that level of resolution of data, since just the total is a relief to see, and we subscribe a Mailman listserv address to each newsletter instead of individual addresses.

We learned another lesson from this investigation. Data can really help soothe anxiety over changes that involve technology. Looking at our website statistics helps in a similar way. Data won’t answer all of one’s questions, but it helps challenge some deeply held assumptions about the perceived ineffectiveness of some forms of electronic communication.

Your website or listserv platform may include a tracking feature like this.