Thursday 18 February 2016

Is Student Email Dead?

A recent conversation with a IT manager threw up some interesting facts.

This particular school planned to migrate student mailboxes from an aging on-premise Exchange server to a Microsoft Office365 tenancy. To find out whether they had any dormant accounts the team ran a report on mailbox usage.

The results provided a bit of a surprise.

Out of a total of 818 students only 153 had accessed their mailbox within the last 60 days.  The vast majority of the mailboxes only contained about 20-30 emails. Student to student mail traffic was almost non-existent and a significant proportion of the mailboxes had never been opened.

In other words, although email was seen by the leadership team as an important channel of communication, students didn’t actually use it.

In contrast, staff were heavy users and viewed the service as critical resource for administration and for contacting class groups – which seemed odd bearing in mind that student usage was so low.

So what's going on?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a small percentage of students diligently monitored their mailboxes and then relayed announcements through personal social media accounts. Once in that realm the information quickly disseminated to everybody.

Students who used the mail system gained kudos by having early access to the information. Others benefited through the convenience of using a modern messaging app on a personal mobile.

These youngsters are a resourceful bunch!

This raises a question:-  do student mailboxes still have role to play or should we be looking at a different approach?

After all maintaining a student email system can carry a overhead with respect to setup and configuration.
  • Do you allow external routing?
  • If so, how do you control spam and phishing?
  • Do you allow mail to route across year groups?
  • How do monitor bullying and inappropriate content?
  • Do you need to archive mail for governance purposes?
  • How do maintain the membership and control access to distribution groups?

And all this assumes you are using SaaS to host the mailboxes.

Please don’t tell me you’re still using a local mail server that consumes storage, server capacity, backup resource, requires an expensive support agreement, electricity to power the device and even more electricity cool it down. You’re reading the wrong blog. 
But whatever your situation there’s some good news.

You don’t have to worry about this for much longer because nobody under the age of eighteen uses email any more.That battle was won by Instant Messaging (IM) and social media about five years ago.
If you think this is an exaggeration, ask any teenager what their email address is and then catch their expression of pity.
So how can schools adapt to the new environment?

Perhaps by using SaaS services such as Schoology and Google Classroom that behave more like social media than traditional email. Both platforms incorporate messaging directly into the workflow between teacher and student rather than having it exist as a separate process.

With Google Classroom each class automatically creates a walled-garden for messaging called the ‘stream’ over which the teacher has direct control.

Students can share a message with the class stream as well as comment on messages, announcements, and assignments from the teacher and other students. The class organiser can control students access to the stream by setting permissions for individual students or for the whole class as well as viewing comments and messages that a student made and then deleted.

Google provides other methods of communication such as Comments that can build a discussion thread that’s tied directly to a piece of work and presented in familiar IM format.

Lastly the collaborative nature of Google docs and other similar platforms provides a vastly superior method to document distribution than the traditional game of “attachment ping-pong”.

Put it all together and effect is more like a moderated community group than a series of isolated mailboxes.

So is the student mailbox dead?

Probably not, but it should be given the last rites.

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