Email in a social media world

A little observation I wanted to share. Over the summer I went away for a few weeks and put my out-of-office message on.  At the same time I had a few students emailing me questions about assignments and I was surprised that some of them replied to my out-of-office as if it was a real email. It made me think about norms of communication.

Out of office messages are a common part of my working life – not much of anything gets done without email! But I know that email isn’t the main form of communication for my students. It’s conversation that is the norm. So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that any response is seen as a ‘live’ response.  That’s underlined by the number of emails that have no title or any of the usual ‘dear andy’ or ‘hi’ that you’d expect. They are the next line in an asynchronous conversation. In future, I know I’ll have to make it clearer that an out-of-office is an automated response not a status update.

Let’s be clear. I don’t think that’s a ‘problem’ with students not getting email or somehow not being good communicators. It just underlined for me that there is no normal any more.

There needs to be communication between me and the students but I don’t want to dictate what form it should take. At the same time, I can’t change some of what I do. We need to meet somewhere in the middle, but the landscape moves so fast finding a middle-ground feels more challenging.

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