Saturday 17 April
The Pros and Cons of E-mail
May Mikati (American University of Beirut, Lebanon)
- Track: Computer SIG.
- Style: Talk.
- Focus: experienced and inexperienced audience; secondary and adult teaching.
Report by Geoff Taylor, Computer SIG Committee member
May looked at the advantages and disadvantages of uses of email in educational contexts.
- Mentoring email is useful for communications between mentors/mentees
- Building relationships between universities and school students, e.g. the PLUS program (Positive Links between University and Schools) in Australia, with aboriginals
- Parent/teacher relations can be improved by use of email, as pupils may not be best carriers of messages/information
- Mentoring of teachers for example, a program of mentoring novice teachers by experienced teachers in Minnesota, USA
- Electronic office hours email extends the contact opportunities between tutors and students. In addition, email permits or even encourages:
- Instant feedback
- Reduced inhibition
- Native/non-native speaker communication can be facilitated by email
- Changing cultural stereotypes and providing a more comprehensive world view facilitated by improved opportunities for international communication
Areas of concern
- Native/non-native speaker communication tends to be an imbalance in levels of negotiation skills between native and non-native speakers, favouring the native speaker
- Some teachers’ feeling of isolation due to lack of face-to-face contact
- Many students’ favourite professors shun distance education and ‘excessive’ use of email
- Impulsive behaviour/inappropriate communications
- By students May gave a personal example of a student who had made up a ridiculous excuse for not completing an assignment on time
- By teachers May gave an example of a teacher who had to apologise after sending a message to a learner that included rude/abusive content, and another of a teacher who was fired for a similar offence
- Insufficient social cues for impression formation lack of face-to-face contact can make it difficult to form impressions of correspondents who one has never met
- Conflict escalation conflicts can escalate more easily than in face-to-face communication, due to lack of body language and distancing
- Cultural differences in communication these can lead to misinterpretations and potential problems, e.g. Western culture is more text-based, whereas Japanese culture is more non-verbal, perhaps putting Japanese correspondents at a disadvantage
- Students’ confusion due to hybrid codes of social behaviour on the Net, e.g. those relating to home, study, work and entertainment, e.g. the prevalence of spam (junk email) and other email mixed in with serious messages may result in students deleting important messages from their teacher or classmates
This was a well-prepared talk that addressed an important theme: the danger of over-using technological solutions.
May presented the information clearly, though no specific references were given to studies mentioned at the time. (More detailed information will be given in an article in the forthcoming issue of the Computer SIG newsletter.)
Time was given for discussion at the end of the presentation, but there did not seem to be any one general consensus of opinion, though this was not a fault of the presenter. Personally, I have to say that in so far as email is a medium of communication, I feel that discussing the pros and cons of its use is a bit like discussing the pros and cons of the use of pen and paper or the telephone: I suspect that such discussions are bound to be inconclusive and choices (such as whether to use email and to what degree) are bound to be subjective.