The Radical University – Email Is the Enemy 2

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So I pushed out a post about trying to move away from email as the main form of communication with students and someone wrote me a nice message and I republish it here with their permission:

Why do you want to get away from that sort of direct communication with academics – isn’t that what students come to University for?

Actually it’s not – they don’t come to University for “direct communication”, they come to University for high value interactions (and many of these are with our professional service chums not academics). Now we could quibble about what high value is but let’s try and think about this for a bit and establish a few principles:

  • University represents a on-going version of the Eternal September problem – many of the queries that academics receive in email are transactional, repeatable and should never require an email. Bots are at the point where they can remove a lot of this traffic and are the best means to deal with it. This is not a high value interaction.
  • Many emails are about queries to do with assessments and aspects of individual modules. This might be a high value interaction but if so why isn’t taking place on the VLE where the rest of the class can benefit.
  • Many emails are simply misdirected – a significant number of emails that academic staff receive they simply don’t know the answer to nor are they qualified to answer. This is not a high value interaction because it’s directed at the wrong person and either delays that interaction or results in the wrong advice.

It’s the culminative impact of each of these that is the problem because they delay or displace the high value experience that students want to have with academics. It’s also problematical because it creates a situation where the more we respond to emails the more we create more emails – most of the time repeating information that already exists elsewhere.

For me a high value interaction in the sense of the time spent by the academic and the student together is – it actually requires the input of the academic.

It also means that something that is a high value interaction where a student is struggling or might need assistance with a complex problem is drown out by the noise. It means that a student who needs help waits three days rather than one for a response.

So no it’s not that I want to move away from interacting with students – I simply don’t want to waste their time or our time on activities that are largely transactional and can be undertaken better in other ways.

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