Students don’t use email. So why do we keep emailing them?

Students like social media (via Mindshift)

Imagine you were born in 1995. You would have been three years old when Google launched in 1998. You would have been five at that millenium party you went to. Nine when Facebook arrived in February 2004. Eleven when Twitter arrived in March 2006.

Why would you have set up an email account? To activate your social network profiles of course! And how many of your teenage friends would have been sending you excited status updates via email? Probably not very many.

I make this point because I’ve been having conversations with students recently around their perception of email. As each year goes by, the demographic of students moves on another year – next year most of the new arrivals will have been born in 1996. Then 1997. And they will be even more bewildered by the university’s constant attempts to contact them via email.

I accept that ‘students don’t use email’ is a generalisation – of course some students do use email. But the vast majority are more active on social networks than are busily ploughing through their university inboxes, so is it any wonder that tutors and administrators get frustrated when students say ‘I don’t check my university email’ or ‘I didn’t get your email’?

There is a point to be made about the extent to which universities are responsible for educating students about the conventions of email. After all, after graduating they will be entering a world in which email is still a key means of communicating. But social media is revolutionising the way in which organisations and businesses communicate both internally and externally. So do we not have an equal responsibility to educate students about the ways to use social media effectively and appropriately?

Social media is a democratising form of communication in that it gives anyone a voice. So it’s interesting to consider the above argument in the context of the recent video (one of many) about the Future of Higher Education:

Many of the points made by participants in this video are not new: “more collaboration”, “more accessible”, “greater ability to learn at your own pace” etc. If the sector truly believes in ‘student-centred learning’, a concept which is easy to say yet not so easy to deliver, then communicating with students via social media is an important way to demonstrate that the sector is prepared to embrace the change that is coming. 
Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed proposed a ‘new relationship between student, teacher and society’ which treats the learner as a ‘co-creator of knowledge’. The book was first published in 1968, thirty years before Google, nearly forty before Facebook. And yet much of Higher Education still operates in a very top-down manner with students very much as the ‘recipients’ of knowledge rather than co-creators.
In the same way as the music industry, Higher Education will experience a revolution. And the more strongly we resist the change that our students demand, the more uncomfortable that revolution will be.

2 thoughts on “Students don’t use email. So why do we keep emailing them?

  1. Nice work. It seems like email would still be fine for parents. I used it a lot when I was principal. A class blog would be where you should post stuff students need and collect any comments they might have. Keep up the good work and look for this posted at http://DrDougGreen.Com after 9 AM on 11/8/14.

  2. Many thanks for your comment Douglas. I agree that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach isn't realistic and that email is still an important form of communication. But your comment highlights that the element of choice is increasingly important if we are to move towards a more democratic system of education that truly puts students at the centre.

    Thank you also for sharing the post on your blog, it's most appreciated.

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