For better or worse, computers are accumulating in schools and will
continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, an unregulated and
ill-disciplined approach to the impact of e-mail communication on
workload, privacy, and personal and job security could have disastrous
The early ad hoc introduction of computer hardware, software and
systems into schools accompanied by much the same in policy and procedure,
and professional development and training, has changed. Major syllabus
review and the introduction of mandatory computer testing have pushed the
change. Parental and community expectations have assisted. Schools and
systems have responded to the demands with long-term strategic planning
and investment in infrastructure and staff training. Visit any one of a
large (and growing) number of school websites for evidence of this.
But while most schools have now addressed the need for acceptable-use
policies regarding the Internet and school intranet by students and staff,
there remains a disturbing gap in the area of e-mail communication between
staff and students/parents.
The great majority of non-government schools provide individual e-mail
addresses for their staff. Increasingly these are becoming available to
students and parents, often being published in school newsletters and on
the school website.
Some schools publish staff e-mail addresses on the Internet with
hyperlinks that open directly to an e-mail 'new message' screen, inviting
easy access beyond the school community. Also providing an easy target for
scammers of, for example, the 419 frauds (those unexpected large
'inheritances' that occur frequently from Nigeria) who have developed web
crawlers to discover just these types of e-mail address lists on the
Internet to target their victims.
Preliminary research conducted by the NSW Independent Education Union
(IEU) indicates that students and parents are increasingly using e-mail to
communicate with teachers to get work/homework explained, ask for
information and references, obtain lost handouts or assignment sheets,
obtain sport or excursion information, explain absences, raise pastoral
care concerns, submit assignments/homework, etc.
Within the school, e-mail is increasingly used for daily communication
of memos regarding news, events, timetable changes, exam/class
supervisions, faculty meetings, etc. What was once received in a
pigeonhole is now received via e-mail and printed off for reference during
What does this change mean for teachers? What worries them about the
On the whole, teachers see many advantages of e-mail communication for
their work. However, they are also aware of the problems; in particular
the looming workload problem. And this just at a time when they already
feel overwhelmed by a ballooning workload of administrative and
legislative tasks that take them away from their key role of teaching.
Look at one teacher's response:
"e-mail is too easy - once, parents thought they would take up
an issue but having to write or phone would mean that they often didn't
get round to it unless it really was serious - now they find it too easy
to send off an e-mail requesting teachers to follow up on quite minor
matters." (IEU preliminary survey, unpublished)
For example, a Year Co-ordinator reported they had spent two hours
tracking down and sorting out a complaint from a parent that an attendance
record for a Year 8 child was incorrectly given on the term report card
(three days absent had been given rather than two, the parent claimed).
The parent had e-mailed from her work address and requested a response
before the end of the working day. Two hours of unexpected work was quite
a burden to that teacher's day.
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