Instructor Use of E-mail to Supplement Class and Promote Internet
David Wiles, Eaps 760

     All students achieved e-mail exchange capability by the end of September. On September 29th the first of more than forty e-mail messages to be sent by the instructor throughout the rest of the fall semester was delivered to all students ( "760ers"). Taken as a two month effort, these messages pattern the use of e-mail to accomplish two instructional objectives; clarify or embellish upon class communications occurring during the three hour interactive class on Thursdays and, second, identifying "links" on the internet that could provide personal leads or supplemental information to the class.

A. Class Clarification:

     The first instructor e-mail was sent after the Thursday class reminding students that they would be expected to read "Step Three" for next week. It also emphasized the previous night discussion of distinctions between evolution and revolution captured in the writings of John McPhee( Basin and Range) . Stephen J. Gould's argument about punctuated equilibrium were referenced to understanding complex organization arrangements whether the history of the earth or the measurable meaning of human intelligence (Mismeasure of Man, revised and expanded edition).

     On October 7th, the second instructor e-mail identified individual students to be responsible for leading classroom discussions on Shafritz and Hyde readings and and tried to add to the earlier instructor comments about organizational complexity and social equity. Three days later, October 10th, there was further instructor musings about the special condtion of "self organization," citing Fritz Capra's Web of Life and Kenneth Boulding's "watershed eras"( The Image).

     On October 11th, individual e-mails were sent to seven students as personal critiques of their proposed technology paper. Another email was sent to all students noting that the instructor had a second AOL e-mail address to be used in sending Microsoft Word and/or WordPerfect files.

     On October 16th a second group of students were identified to lead individual S&H readings and, two days later, an extended discussion of 760 evaluation expectations were sent to all students. Special attention was given to reiterating the elimination of the second paper requirement presented in the syllabus and the instructor's expectation for no late papers without good reason. On October 21st a long e-mail about the comprehensive examination "booklist" ( see http://www.albany.edu/ ~dkw/ progress.html) replacement or alternative listing was sent along with advice as to what students should do to prepare for the management section of the examination.

     Besides the basic masters course texts (Eaps 660 uses Boone and Nutt) and clarification of biases reflected in the 760 web site, the following education texts, Education and the Cult of Efficiency by Raymond Callahan and Reflective Practitioner by Donald Schon were specifically recommended as critical background reading.

     On October 25th the instructor sent a "pot pourri" message noting that the technology journals were being compiled into a 760 web link about the "first third" of the class. Students were reminded to re-read Herbert Kaufman who had not been adequately covered in class step four discussions.

     On October 30th the instructor e-mail noted the Step five links and tried to relate these readings to the four schematics passed out in class. The schematics showed two views of "policy environment," one "production function" outline for reform and one "organizational chart" of curriculum reform relationships. On November 6th there was a notice about changes in America on Line pricing and calling attention to the web page additions of the Tweed link in step one and the "first third" journal link.

     On November 13th a two part email included the instructor's response to a critique of "being an Oswego student" done by the Albany's Marco Polo, Kelli. On November 18th the passing of a student's mother was noted so that cards and condolences could be sent.

B. Identifying Links:

     The first suggested internet link message was sent October 4th, noting the 21st Century Teacher initiative in the President's Technology Initiative. It became clear from the student response that links identified and sent by Netscape(3.0) would not be presented graphically or as a complete html file by America on Line.

     On October 10th a link about library resources available( www.clearinghouse.net) was sent. A week later, a link about the ability to make one's own web page. complete with actual sampler (www.teacher.net) was noted. On October 22 and 23rd links to several "virtual school" sites were sent ( Mexico, George Mason University) to each student. Students were also encouraged to visit other distance learning classes (World Lecture Hall, Global Net Academy). At the next class, one of the students asked how he would know the optional from the required e-mail link messages. The instructor promised to label each subsequent e-mail that was "required."

     On October 27th and 28th three links were sent; an America on Line file called Evil Pumpkin to demonstrate gif., an exhaustive listing of electronic interest groups interested in distance education and a link indicating the "dark side" of internet use. The last link advertised graduate term papers for sale under the title (House of Cheat).

     On November 5th, 6th and 7th three more links possibilities were sent; a Pacific Bell link to twelve on-going school experiments in the use of internet and web (called the Education First project), a thorough and exhaustive overview of the distance learning topic ( www.uidaho.edu) and a New York Times article about the internet being overloaded on election night.

     On November 13th the satelitte radar link for upstate New York was sent due to a major winter storm in the Oswego area. All commuting Oswego students were reminded that the final acid test of doctoral credibility was to keep safety first.

     On November 19th, 20th and 21st three more links were sent; a technical research report of the actual use of interactive classrooms and impact on teaching-learning, a technical report on the actual use patterns of four major web servers and a suggested bookmark to reference many search engines ( www.beaucoup.com).

     On November 25th, three links associated with Step six were sent; "it's a drucker" (about Peter Drucker), "the medium's massage" ( Tom Peters) and "teaming" ( Peters with Senge and Covey). On November 27th, the optional emails included another America on Line gif. file about Thanksgiving and an odd but intriguing link to "musical sands" in Japan and China's Gobi desert.

C. Student Spin Offs.

    The expanded use of e-mail by the instructor generated efforts by individual students that were especially noteworthy. Connie Spohn was the most active of the 760 group. She sent the instructor the links on the 21st Century Teacher ( as part of the announcement of the satelitte town meeting conducted by US Department of Education) and the TeacherNet software. Connie asl conducted an informal survey on "information overload" in 760 students ( see "last part of class" link for details) and initiated a "getting to know one another" sharing process. The "getting to know one another" was a student to student profiling shared with the entire mailing list. Nine students responded within a week and three more within two weeks.

     Kelli sent an email link to the instructor that provided a forum of exchange about the interactive classroom part of the distance experience and her feelings about the disadvantages of being a student at the remote or Oswego site. Gina sent a email to all offering to send the Juno software by file to any student that wanted it. While it would not have graphic access to the internet, the Juno software would be an e-mail option to those concerned about AOL pricing increase in December.

     Several other students ( Frank, Pat, Bill and Ted Smith) sent specific suggestions about the course (e.g., articles read, State Education Department memos about implementing ELA standards) during the semester.

D. Summary

     Certainly, there was extensive use of the e-mail to supplement interactive class activities and as a vehicle to suggest internet linking. While it is an invaluable instructor tool for integrating the interactive classroom experience on Thursday with the rest of the week some students felt the use contributed to their information overload and made the 760 class a "24 hour-7 day" experience.

     Another negative feature was that the use of e-mail contributed to the technological stratification among individual class members. At the end of the class the students that began with the most familiarity and best initial setups were the ones that contributed the most and got the most out of the e-mail use. Some students made great personal strides in technology development during the semester ( e.g., Bill, Undrakh, Jeff, Ron ) but some others continued to be plagued with inferior technology set ups (e.g., Daniel, April, Laura) throughout.

     Finally, it was the instructor's impression that the use of e-mail could mirror the general personality differences among students to a large extent. There are natural extroverts and people to tend toward introvert; there are those who have been socialized to learn an aggressive proactive style in contrast to those who have learned a more passive, reactive style. At the Albany site, Undrakh, Yong, Cheryl, April and Ron seemed to project the "quietest" student style. They would be closely followed by Bill and Laura. While it is harder for me to judge the Oswego students because the remote site tempered all their communication and participation, I would quess Ron was "quieter" than the other three.

     The guess would be that "quiet" personalities are more likely to be listeners (or lurkers) in email discussions, especially when coupled with uncertain or poor technology.

    The sum total of value attributed to the suggested exchanges about internet links remains an open question about all 760 students in the Fall l996 seminar. Certainly, the concept of having a "library" of sources available in contrast to a source or two of "solid content" is both a liberating and unnerving experience.