Technology that serves a real academic purpose which is not achieved as well without it.

The World of (Group) E-Mail
Rick Garlikov

Sample guidelines and information for those teachers and administrators who might want to create their own various e-mail groups among students and colleagues.

Rationale for Establishing E-mail Networks

E-mail networks have the potential for:

This is because they allow group communications to occur without everyone's having to meet under conditions that are rushed or individually inconvenient, and that are not conducive to full and reflective participation in the way that writing in comfort and privacy can be.

Plus, they foster really "authentic" writing, since people:

What Group E-mail Is
Group e-mail forums, commonly known as "lists" (short for e-mail mailing lists), and, in some cases, as "electronic bulletin boards", are groups of people who can send e-mail to every member of the group at one time just by sending the message to one e-mail address -- the list address-- which then automatically distributes it by e-mail to each individual on the list. This way large groups of people can leave messages for, or over a period of time discuss anything of mutual interest with, each other at essentially any time of day or night from their own homes. (Members can also, of course, e-mail directly anything they wish just to one individual member. This is sometimes called "going off-list" if it is about carrying on private discussions perhaps related to a previous or current group discussion. "Off-list" just means using regular e-mail.)

Another Way of Setting Up Group E-mail

Instead of going through a centralized server with a "list serve" mechanism on it, Netscape and Outlook (Express) let you set up groups or lists of people in your address book.  You typically would give the group a group name or list name in your address book and then add or drag into it all the individual e-mail addresses of the members in the group. When you send an e-mail to that list name, Netscape and Outlook send it to every e-mail address in that group. Instead of there being one central list on only one server somewhere, to which people can add or remove their names and e-mail addresses, each member will have his/her own group/list name of members in his/her own address book, and will e-mail all the group e-mails to that list or group name. When people respond, they can use the "reply to all" button, or to initiate a new message, just send it to the group name in their own address book.  Doing it this way means each person has to add new members or take off old members as the group changes, but it is not that difficult.  Once someone has a list made up, if s/he sends out an e-mail to everyone, each person can then easily add the names to their own address book by using their mail program's mechanism for doing that (such as right-clicking on the e-mail links of the recipients and choosing the menu item that adds that address to the address book).  When a member joins or leaves, someone just has to send that information to everyone who then will make the correction in their own address book list/group name.

Benefits of Group E-mail

The great thing about e-mail lists is that everyone can see a message you only have to send once, and anyone and everyone can respond so that everyone can also see the responses. This is great for discussions, and in some cases for requesting information or assistance. It makes for great collaborative efforts together, whether as mutual teachers, mutual learners, or as mutual colleagues and friends.

E-mail lists are different from "chat rooms" in that members are not all at their computers at the same time, typing to each other simultaneously. They simply respond at their leisure individually as they open their e-mail and decide to make a response. This still generally keeps responses immediate enough for most concerns, while at the same time allowing for more thoughtful responses on those subjects that would benefit from some reflection and polish. Some people tend to respond extemporaneously without much thought to some questions, and that is often okay, but I think one of the important values of e-mail discussion is the opportunity it gives for reasonably immediate communications that are still quite thoughtful, rational, and more carefully composed.

Plus, with the storage capabilities of e-mail software, people can keep records of discussions and correspondence if they wish, and forward entire messages (or easily selected passages from them) to other people.

The Social Characteristics of Group E-mail

E-mail discussions in a group can be terrific; or they can be terrible, however, since all kinds of personal and social characteristics come into play by e-mail discussions in ways they do not when people meet in groups in person. Part of that is because anyone who is eligible can join into an e-mail discussion from their home, as they see fit, without having anything else in common with other group members other than an interest in the particular topic. So people join together for purposes of discussion who might otherwise not do so if they had to meet in person. (Some e-mail groups are even world wide, and have members with extremely diverse backgrounds and personal traits.) Also, the nature of e-mail discussions tends to allow people to say more on any given topic, and to address many more different topics over time, than they would likely say in a group meeting. It is more like living in a dormitory or working with colleagues every day, not all of whom you would choose to spend time with if you didn't have this one particular activity in common. So conflicts and irritations can arise.

Below are a set of suggested guidelines, intended to prevent and resolve frictions, but I wanted to say some things less formally first that are also intended to be used, where appropriate, as part of the guidelines for e-mail groups. If you begin an e-mail group of your own, you post your guidelines (usually electronically) to the members of the group.

To Teachers and to Students

It will quickly become apparent on any e-mail group that not everyone has the same ideas or the same way of seeing things as you do. Since your own way of seeing things seems SO certain to you, at first you will think others must be very strange indeed, or not very bright. But this is usually an impression it is good to try to get past, since it is usually a mistaken one. Sometimes it will be frustrating, but if you look at it 1) as an opportunity to learn the intricacies and difficulties of understanding others and of making yourself clear to them, 2) as an opportunity to share with other people your questions and problems, and your ideas, insights AND how you arrived at them, and 3) as an opportunity to learn from others, it will be less frustrating; and it may even foster curiosity about the minds and perceptions of other people (and about your own mind and perceptions) and about the logic and psychology of communication. Remember, what is obviously true to you may not be obvious to others; you have to help people get to where you are in their understanding. (Of course, what is obviously true to you may also not be true, but I'll let you cross those bridges when you come to them. Just try to realize that it is better to learn you were mistaken about something than to keep thinking something is true which is not. False beliefs are not generally the signs of character flaws; but trying to maintain them for your misguided ego's sake, is a character flaw.)

Further, personalities emerge after a while on e-mail forums, and you start to see traits among different writers that may be interesting, irritating, or just funny. People even start to get predictable sometimes. Try to find something interesting or humorous in the irritating traits so you can deal with them without becoming irritable or disagreeable in petty ways, and without becoming rude. If, instead of always being totally immersed in the subject matter of a discussion, you step back and look at the personalities as if you were studying human personalities for a psychology project or for a novel you are writing, you will find much to ponder, and much to laugh about. That will help you deal in a civil way with people you otherwise might not prefer to be civil to at the moment. Many e-mail friendships arise from disagreements that get resolved in a civilized manner between people, who at the time of their original dispute, would have never thought they could possibly like each other but who were committed to working through their dispute in a polite way. It is important to do that; and it can be extremely personally rewarding when it ends up working out.

If there is something you don't understand, say so, and ask what it means. When there is something you disagree with, it is a good idea just to say why you disagree with the person, or why you don't understand, and then let them respond and explain further. Tactful and respectful disagreements are not a problem; they can even be interesting or fun. Sometimes there will be disagreements because two or more of you will have very different kinds of situations in mind without realizing it. Sometimes there will be ambiguities that cause you to seem to disagree, as you take the ambiguous word or phrase one way and they take it another, and neither of you realizes the word is ambiguous in the first place or that there even is some other meaning besides the one you automatically use. Sometimes a third person or a fourth or fifth person will need to point out what neither of you sees about your own discussion.

CONSIDER ALL E-MAIL TO BE POTENTIALLY PUBLIC-- like a postcard that you mail which others might see. Even when you send e-mail privately to a particular person, they can save it and immediately, or some day, forward it to someone you would be very embarrassed to have see it. So NEVER, NEVER write something you wouldn't want others to see. Also, it is extremely easy for you yourself to accidentally send e-mail you meant to be private, to the wrong person, or to a WHOLE GROUP of people. So just try not to divulge embarrassing secrets about yourself or to say unkind things about other people in e-mail; you never know where it might end up.

A Word to Teachers and Administrators

This kind of forum can be very scary for you, because some things may be said or may arise you wish had not. IF you are afraid of those kinds of things, you may need to refrain from participating in, or offering, such a forum, or you may want to operate the kind of forum where you have to approve EVERY message that goes to the group. This can be done, but it is very time-consuming, causes delays in messages going back and forth, and it cuts out much of the genuine or "authentic" educational opportunities that might arise as students struggle to learn to become clear, honest, and tactfully polite at the same time.

Sample Guidelines for E-mail Forums:

"While some groups manage to carry on reasonable and respectful discussions without a need for extensive rules, the nature of e-mail forum (mailing-"list") communications allows disruption by those few who confuse freedom of speech with license to be rude or objectionably intrusive, or who do not understand the nature of reasonable discourse. Consequently, these guidelines were established in case such a problem should arise. Most people interested in participating in discussion groups will find these merely expressions of the way they already conduct discussions.

A) Without trying to limit members' judgment and flexibility with regard to any educational topic, what will not be tolerated include offensive remarks that:

Moreover, merely repeated UNSUPPORTED claims or criticisms, for which explanations and reasons have been requested or whose previous justification has been reasonably challenged, are contrary to the spirit of this group.

B) What is expected:

If a person receives significant off-list mail about having been offensive, an on-list post OF THE NATURE OF 2 or 3 above is probably appropriate. If it is the misunderstanding or sensitivity of one person, and likely that person only, then a simple note to that person should clear up the matter. If none of the above works, or if the response is unsatisfactory, deal further with it OFF-LIST between yourselves first, or OFF-LIST discuss it with the list manager and let the list manager resolve it. Expulsion from the list may be necessary where reasonable attempts to curb offensive behavior fail. Being a part of this group is a privilege, not a right.

The list manager, upon consulting with other list members, will use expulsion only as a last resort for people who seem unable to be civil even after a warning or explanation.

Participation in this group implies acceptance of these guidelines.


1) This "list" is automated in such a way that your REPLY key will send a reply to the whole list. If you want to send a reply only to the person who composed a post, do NOT use the REPLY key; begin a new message addressed just to them. It is generally safer and less embarrassing to check the address on your outgoing mail before you send it.

Mistakes happen, however. That is one reason why it is important not to write something you would regret having made public.

2) While those people who prefer just to read what others say, and not write something themselves (commonly known on the Internet as "lurkers") are certainly welcome, please do not remain a "lurker" merely out of shyness. Your comments or questions could make an important contribution to a discussion, particularly if it is a comment or question other lurkers wish someone would post.

3) When referring to previous messages, please summarize relevant parts sufficiently to let readers know what you are responding to. If you quote from previous posts, please quote only those passages necessary to place your response in context. Quoting entire posts may waste scarce mailbox space, and it makes for tedious reading.

4) Frequent short, superficial shoot-from-the-hip postings by a single individual on a wide variety of topics usually serve only to raise doubts about the poster's judgment or the scope of his or her expertise. Please read, reflect and write your second thoughts to the group. This is not meant to curtail the expression of serious questions and reflective convictions.

5) Whenever you can, summarize relevant portions of works you wish to recommend as evidence for a particular position. Mere citations of titles kills discussion rather than contributing to it.

6) The above guidelines are not meant to discourage humor, good-natured ribbing or even satirical or cynical comments.

7) They are also NOT meant to discourage people from continuing to espouse or question a view even though it may be difficult to say very precisely what it is that appeals to them or troubles them about that view. There is a difference between ignoring reasons given against your views, and saying something seems wrong to you about those reasons though you cannot quite put your finger on what it is. The latter is a perfectly acceptable position, and may stimulate further discussion.

8) If there is a topic raised you do not like or that you have tired of, you may ask for it to be discussed (further) off-list by those interested in it, but generally it is unfair to try to insist others do that. The generally more accepted practice is simply to delete those e-mail messages (postings or "posts") you are not personally interested in. The philosophy of the Internet so far has been mostly to have as much free speech as possible, letting those who do not care for what is being said to ignore it, rather than to censor it. The guidelines here are about civility, not about topic selection.

9) If someone requests information that is likely to result in a large number of responses of interest only to them (for example, they ask for some information), then it is better to respond to them off-list, so that there are not a large number of messages appearing to everyone that all say roughly the same thing. Conversely, if you ask for such information, it is usually a good idea to suggest people send their responses directly to you instead of to the list.

10) Please sign your messages with your name and e-mail address so that those whose e-mail services strip the headers will know who has written the post and where to respond privately if they wish."