The Last Days of E-mail

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that college students are generally abandoning e-mail as the lingua franca of modern written communication. Students, the report says, would rather communicate with their friends and classmates via text messages and other instant methods, as opposed to e-mail which could take a few hours.

Harcum College, a two-year intitution in Philadelphia, decided to contact students where they live, MySpace. The university now maintains a page on the popular social networking site. The Harcum site is less than academic, but the campus’s public relations department says that it needs to be to say hip. Besides, one representative pointed out, “It’s not the official Harcum Web page.”

This issue has recently hit home here at Montana State, where the university switched to an automatically-assigned e-mail address for all its students–a policy that has raised more than a few hackles among veteran students like myself who lost their years’-old e-mail addresses.

The new system requires students to log in through a portal site that tries to ensure that students get important announcements. The poral deployment coincides with the university’s decision to switch to paperless billing. All notices about student accounts are now sent through the assigned e-mail system.

The hopes for portal systems, according to the CHE article, is that students will be able to find all the university resources they need in a single, easy to use place; but the MSU system lags behind the needs. It is not adequately integrated with the course registration system or the university Web site, deficiencies that irk some users (again, like me).

The move away from e-mail seems excessive. Colleges are so eager to communicate with their students that they will go to any lengths just to get messages across. But should a university go after students wherever they communicate just to get messages across? I think not, for a few reasons.

Students will continue to exploit new technologies when they become available, and some of those technologies will not become standardized. If universities chase their students onto the newest fad sites, then administrators might find that their attempted become quickly outdated as the fad dies. The college will spend more time playing catch up than actually sticking to a proven standard of communication.

E-mail is the most appropriate and professional means of communication on the Internet, and I believe universities should stick to it. If a few students miss the messages, then that is their bad luck. Colleges must make it clear at the beginning of the term that students must check their university-recognized e-mail regularly or face problems. That should be all the disclaimer students need–I think this falls under the category of learning life experiences, part of the process of educating these young adults.

Perhaps this stand is closed-minded, but I think academia must move slowly if it is to do the best job it can educating America’s students. If universities jump at every technological opportunity, they will quickly find that they have wasted a good deal of time and money.

2 thoughts on “The Last Days of E-mail

  1. My own experience as a faculty member at Kent State supports what the Chronicle is reporting. I frequently use email to communicate with my students, and often find messages bouncing back because inboxes are “over quota.” Many students who DO use email in their social networks use a noncampus account such as Hotmail or Yahoo, so the administration can’t get messages to them.

    Wireless networks on campus do make email more instantaneous, but it’s more common to find a student text messaging in the middle of a boring lecture than fielding email on the laptop while pretending to take notes. Of course that’s just what people tell me. I don’t do boring lectures!

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