Email Not Elite

Although not as bad as, say, the office environment, email in higher education is losing its value. It’s not uncommon to hear of students who check their email every two minutes BUT you ask them about any specific email, they will be hard pressed to remember much. Students are glancing at and deleting a majority of their email mostly because the quality of information gleaned from email is low and there are so many emails coming in. It’s not that there is a lot of spam, most email comes from on-campus but the interests of the emails are so varied. Some students have taken to ignoring their email boxes entirely because, believe it or not, it’s possible to train friends and contacts to reach through alternate means.

As part of PALANA Intercultural House here at Middlebury, I am working to reduce the number of event emails that go out. An individual email for each event that happens on campus? With 150+ student clubs, 5 commons worth of activties, and academic symposia, there are hundreds of things going on, each one getting their own email.
What’s most effective? Facebook messages? Should teachers have Facebook profiles? Should admin be blasting text messages to your cell phone (hint: that happens in China already…)? Should student organizations be instant messaging you about their meetings? I think it’s inevitable that these boundaries will be crossed as people find new ways of reaching others. I certainly would be willing to do anything it takes to sell whatever event I’m putting on or encourage people to participate.

Email is not going away, it’s just becoming like the mass mailer that most people throw out (recycle if you live in California or Vermont). The cost is so low, that people will continue to send emails even if the response is low. The smart ones among us will find new ways to reach the student population. For now I won’t put all my money of Real Simple Syndication (RSS) because there is somewhat of a technical barrier still there, and I won’t bet on text messages either because the cost per message is still high at $0.10-0.15 even if everyone has a cellphone.

So here’s my advice: send one less email everyday.

Chronicle of Higher Ed: Email is for Old People