Technology that serves a real academic
purpose which is not achieved as well without it.
The World of (Group) E-Mail
Sample guidelines and information for those teachers and administrators
who might want to create their own various e-mail groups among students
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.
fostering greater learning and
a greater bond of community among groups of people,
such as students and faculty.
Plus, they foster really "authentic" writing,
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.)
write only when they choose
write only what is important to them to convey
read and respond to each other in ways that show
all the good value, and the very real logical and social/psychological
problems with verbal communication, giving everyone more reason and more
opportunity to improve their writing and their thinking.
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
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
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
"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:
1) attack the MOTIVATION or INTENTIONS of others
for their views
2) attack the CHARACTER of others
3) attack the INTELLIGENCE of others
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.
1) anyone who considers particular remarks to
be offensive will explain the nature of the offense privately OFF-LIST
to the person who made them.
2) that person will at least express regret that
he or she said something which was understood as hurtful or offensive though
they did not mean it that way, or
3) that person will apologize for being offensive.
Steps 2 and 3 above should be either private
matters or done on-list depending on which seems more appropriate.
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
Mistakes happen, however. That is one reason
why it is important not to write something you would regret having made
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