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How would you like it? E-mail use is becoming a problem for teachers

By Sandra White - posted Wednesday, 29 January 2003

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 consequences.

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 the day.

What does this change mean for teachers? What worries them about the new technology?

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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About the Author

Sandra White is an organiser for the Independent Education Union of Australia.

Related Links
Catholic Education Commission Directory of Schools
Independent Education Union of Australia
'Schools on the net' StudentNet
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