The Power of Email


One of my favorite events is our Tech Fair.   Twice annually about 30 Wake Forest faculty members present a poster session about how they are using technology in their own teaching.   About one-third of our faculty attend.


I am always struck that the largest crowds usually gather around the simpler applications.  Faculty members are impressed by, but rarely inclined to adopt, applications that take years to build.   They are looking for effective applications that can be quickly replicated or modified.


The creative use of email is an excellent starting point.   By supporting prompt feedback, collaboration, interactive learning, preview and review, and customization; email can capture the educational advantages inherent in the Internet.   Email is a simple and familiar means of capturing the best attributes of Internet learning activity.


Email is the killer application of the Internet!   Soon we can expect the U.S. to follow the example of Costa Rica by providing every citizen with a free email address   Last year the Investor’s Business Daily, citing a study by Ferris Research, reported that the overall benefit to a typical business in terms of increased productivity is $9000 per employee.   The average employee gains 326 hours per year by spending less time composing, addressing, postal machining, faxing, opening, and filing snail mail.   After reducing this gain by 100 hours (handling non-productive email, maintaining email address books, etc.), the net gain of 225 hours is valued at $9000.  


The popularity and power of email resides in its low marginal cost, universality, and ease of use.   In an earlier column titled “Low Hanging Fruit” I promoted e-mail as a “low cost-high benefit” way to encourage mid- and late-adopters to use technology in their teaching.   Because e-mail is already a part of our daily routine, the use of e-mail in teaching is a very, very short reach. 


And the benefits are substantial.   Feedback can be timely and frequent.  Messages can be customized.  Responses already written to Student A can, if appropriate, be sent to Student B or to the entire class.  Shy and disabled students can be empowered.   Faculty can respond to students even outside office hours.  Both professor and student can compose and read messages at times that are most convenient for them.  Student team projects can be facilitated.  Communication can start before the class first convenes and continue long after the final exam.  Archived conversations can be indexed, searched, and recalled for review and restudy.  Course related e-mails can be “pushed” to the e-mail boxes that students and faculty often visit, and thereby reliance upon a person going to the course site is not necessary.


From my teaching and reading it may be helpful to share a few e-mailing tips.  I hope you’ll add to the list via an e-mail to



As computing becomes ubiquitous on all campuses and throughout our cultures, we can expect e-mail usage to soar.  Watch out postal services around the world!