Is E-Mail Obsolete for Communicating with Students?

For most students, e-mail is boring, and the majority of students do not bother to check their e-mail regularly. Courtney Rubin writes in The New York Times that the students prefer social media and mobile phones to receive announcements from their colleges and universities, which is changing the way institutions interact with their students.

A couple of years ago, Cedrick May at the University of Texas at Arlington learned that the students did not check their e-mail regularly, if at all. He noticed that, to the students, e-mail was antiquated.

"Some of them didn't even seem to know they had a college e-mail account," Dr. May said. Nor were these wide-eyed freshmen. "This is considered a junior-level class, so they'd been around," he said. That is when he added to his course syllabuses: "Students must check e-mail daily." Dr. May said the university now recommends similar wording.

Many students consider their school e-mail accounts so irrelevant that they give their parents the passwords to take a look. At the University of Southern California, Nina Eliasoph's Sociology 250 syllabus reads: "You must check e-mail DAILY every weekday," with boldface for emphasis.

Morgan Judge, a sophomore at Fordham University in New York, said it was "cool" last semester when a professor announced that students could text him. Then she received one from him: "Check your e-mail for an update on the assignment."

"E-mail has never really been a fun thing to use," said Ms. Judge, 19. "It's always like, ‘This is something you have to do.' School is a boring thing. E-mail is a boring thing. It goes together."

An experiment done by Reynol Junco, an associate professor of library science at Purdue, earlier this year showed that students use e-mail just six minutes a day. Dr. Junco, who promised participants a $10 Amazon gift card, persuaded students to download a program letting him track their computer habits.

During the semester, students spent an average of 123 minutes a day on a computer. They spent 31 minutes on social networking. The only thing they spent less time on than e-mail: hunting for content via search engines (four minutes).

Kenneth C. Green, founder of the Campus Computing Project, said that use of the school e-mail account may be slightly higher at elite universities.

Scott Simpson, 22, a recent Yale graduate, agreed. "When I was a freshman I used it a lot because I felt really cool having my name at Yale dot edu," he said. Brittney Carver, 20, a junior at the University of Iowa, said she checks her e-mail once a day, more if she's expecting something. Before college, she used e-mail mostly for buying concert tickets. She said she would never use it if she could avoid it.

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