Three Strategies for Reducing E-mail-Related Stress

Rows of mailboxes

In a recent Technology Fellows meeting, the conversation turned to the topic of e-mail.  Faculty in the room expressed frustration with the burden imposed by ever-increasing e-mail inboxes.  For many, messages from students, administrators, committees, and peers pile up and create a crowded inbox, with hundreds of unread or unfiled e-mails.  Here are a few strategies I use to help manage the e-mail burden.

  1. Bundle your e-mail. Bundling is simply the idea of grouping similar kinds of e-mails together to be dealt with at the same time. First, survey your inbox, quickly organizing your unread or skimmed messages into types (“bundles”). You can individualize your bundle structures:  Leo Garofolo uses a system that balances importance with urgency. I tend to group e-mails based on tasks, for example, answering all scheduling e-mails at once, or all student e-mails at the same time. Gmail’s Inbox can facilitate bundling, but it’s not yet available for Google educational software. Instead, you can set up your own e-mail folders (Scheduling, Students, Committee Work, etc.) and drag unread or skimmed e-mail into these folders. Open a folder when you have a few moments and process all of the e-mails in the folder together.
  2. Set expectations. Setting clear boundaries can limit the intrusive nature of e-mail.  This requires some consideration of your preferences. What would your ideal relationship with e-mail look like? When and how often would you like to check and process e-mail?  What kind of turn-around time is reasonable given daily demands on your time? What about weekends and scheduled breaks? Come to your own conclusions about the role of e-mail in your day. Consider stating these guidelines in your course syllabus to help students understand when they can expect you to respond to their messages (or suggest they take advantage of the liberal arts environment and come to office hours instead). Use an automatic responder during vacations or times of intense work to clearly communicate your e-mail practices.
  3. Schedule your e-mails with Boomerang. Scheduling your e-mail can help you adhere to your own e-mail best practices. If you have time to process e-mail outside of your normal e-mail hours but don’t want students to see that you’re sending messages at 2AM, you can write your response but use an e-mail scheduling app to deliver the e-mail at a later date. I use the free Gmail extension Boomerang.

Summer, with its decreased e-mail load, can be a great time to re-think your relationship with e-mail.  In the end, though, ProfHacker’s Natalie Houston may have the best advice for those overwhelmed with e-mail:  Ten Things to Do Instead of Checking E-mail.

Image credit: Got Mail??? flickr photo by katerha shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Camp Teach & Learn Workshops and Discussions

As always, the sessions at Camp Teach & Learn look to be exciting and inspiring. We (Instructional Technology) are helping to organize the following workshops and discussions. When not facilitating one of these, we will be attending other sessions. We look forward to seeing you there!

Improving Quality and Saving Time: Scaffolding Techniques for Digital Assignments from the Technology Fellows
Wednesday 25th May: 10:45 AM to 12:30 PM

Scaffolding is a pedagogical strategy in which instructional supports are provided to students as needed early in learning, then gradually removed as students develop proficiency. Over the past three years, Technology Fellows have learned that creating scaffolded assignments is critical for technology-enhanced assignments. In this session we share examples of scaffolded assignments, discuss how we have used this strategy in our own courses, and help you discover practical ways to apply this technique.

Discussants include Virginia Anderson, Anthony Graesch, Suzuko Knott, Hisae Kobayashi, Laura Little, Jessica McCullough, & Emily Morash

Social Media for Teaching & Learning: Case Studies
Thursday 26 May, from 8:30 AM to 10:15 AM

What can social media do to improve your students’ learning and help you better meet the goals of your course? Faculty at the College have been experimenting with incorporating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms into their pedagogy. At this session we will hear from several faculty members who used social media for a variety of goals: engaging with content outside of class, connecting with experts, practicing new languages, continuing classroom discussion, and connecting course content with current events, among others. We will hear about the challenges and successes in using social media to accomplish specific pedagogical goals.

Discussants include Luis Gonzalez, Anthony Graesch, Hisae Kobayashi, Laura Little, Karolin Machtans, & Marc Zimmer

Accessibility for All: Simple Technology Tools & Strategies to Help Every Student
Thursday 26 May, from 10:30 AM to Noon

Just because students aren’t registered with the Office of Accessibility doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from some of the tools and techniques that are used to make course materials more accessible. In this hands-on session we will look at simple tools and strategies you and your students can use to improve learning. Specific topics include making lengthy digital documents (like a syllabus) navigable, using closed-captioning with audio and video materials, creating machine-readable materials, utilizing screen readers for PDF documents, and activating accessibility features in Moodle, Google Drive, and iOS devices.

Interactive workshop facilitated by Diane Creede, Lillian Liebenthal, Jessica McCullough, & Melissa Shafner.


Bringing together technology and experiential learning

I am always learning from my students. One day in my “Food and the Senses” class, students showed me a “Tasty” video (time-lapse videos of tasty dishes being cooked). I was immediately intrigued and hungry. Once the rumbling in my stomach subsided, I started to imagine the ways in which I could use a similar video technique to engage students in my other courses in thinking about food production. Maybe these videos could even improve food literacy, something that is a common issue on a residential campus. This was clearly a technology students were already engaging with and found appealing. However, the kicker is how to move from the passive gaze, what has contentiously been called ‘food porn’, to an active engagement with growing, cooking and eating food?


My Technology Fellow challenge this summer is going to be figuring out a way to bring technology and experiential learning together. How can I leverage technology to deepen my students’ engagement in experiential learning and in understanding the culture of food? In addition, I hope to find ways to use technology to engage students in thinking about questions of skill and the enculturation of skilled work in cases where class size does not permit hands-on activities. This is where time-lapse films come in.

For my “Worlds of Food” course this fall, I will film cooks from different cultural backgrounds making dishes to show how embodied cultural knowledge plays out in the kitchen. Anthropologist David Sutton use of visual media to understand socially and culturally embodied knowledge and the use of kitchen tools influenced this idea. Beyond the kitchen, videos could show the use of tools and practices in food production around the globe. These films will be screened in class and posted on the course Moodle site to prompt further discussion of the course materials. After reading Michelle D. Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology as part of the Technology Fellows program, I am eager to introduce videos in to my courses in order to offer students a new medium for understanding cultural practices. Videos posted on Moodle will allow students to revisit techniques at their own speed and facilitate different learning styles. Through these visual examples, students will have time to offer a deep analysis of concepts introduced in class. Although ethnographic films are a stalwart of anthropology classes, these videos will offer focused examples related specifically to food practices. Once I get the hang of this new tool, I would like to explore the possibility of having students produce video clips as part of their class assignments.

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Learning Architecture with Quizlet

Quiz #1 Study Set for AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture.
Quiz #1 Study Set for AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture.

One aspect of my Tech Fellows project has involved using in two of my courses, AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture and AHI 277: 20th Century Architecture and Design. Students in both of these classes take periodic “slide quizzes” in which I give them a list of 20 or so buildings to learn, memorize, and identify. In the past, the students were responsible for making flashcards of images and architectural drawings and memorizing the identification information. This was always a bit of a challenge for students, as they needed to take images from the pdfs of my powerpoints posted on Moodle and then print the images to make flashcards. I always saw this as a bit daunting of a task, but it seemed somewhat easier than the way I had to make flashcards in college, which involved photocopying images from books.

During Tempel Summer Institute last year, I decided to re-think the resources I provided for students to study for these quizzes. With the help of Laura Little, I found that would be a great solution. What I found most advantageous about the website was that I could give the students the images I wanted them to learn, which meant that more emphasis could be placed on plans and sections, which students struggled with the most in the past. is available for free to teachers and students. I opted to sign up for a one year-subscription, which enabled me to upload images to my study sets and view student progress. Using Quizlet is very simple and I have additionally found that many students are using the website for other courses or are creating study sets for their own use. Another feature of Quizlet is their mobile app, which allows students to study on their phones and tablets.

Having used this website for two courses this year, I have found that students’ quiz grades are higher, there has been less anxiety over studying for the quizzes, and I am able to track students’ progress. I have also been able to achieve one of my main pedagogical aims for the courses – having students gain greater fluency with reading architectural plans, sections, and elevations.

Here are a couple of images of my study sets for AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture:

Midterm Exam Terms for AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture. For this study set, I was able to provide images that supplemental the definition of each term.
Midterm Exam Terms for AHI/ARC 103 CC: Building Culture. For this study set, I was
able to provide images that supplemental the definition of each term.


One of my favorite features of is the “scatter” feature. This tool allows students to match terms or building identification with their definition or associate images. Students have commented on how helpful this feature is in the initial stages of studying.
One of my favorite features of is the “scatter” feature. This tool allows
students to match terms or building identification with their definition or associate
images. Students have commented on how helpful this feature is in the initial stages of studying.


Sharing stories, building community

Workshop presenters Ashley Hanson, Caroline Park, Laura Little, Ariella Rotramel, Joyce Bennett, and Hisae Kobayashi at SCSU.

Last Friday and Saturday Southern Connecticut State University held its 22nd Women’s Studies Conference, and a delegation from Connecticut College was there to represent! The conference theme – #FeministIn(ter)ventions: Women, Community, Technology – provided a perfect opportunity to share some of the technology-rich courses and projects that have been undertaken at the College, and to hear from colleagues about the successes and challenges of such ventures. At our roundtable workshop/discussion, we described the practices we collectively endorse and the activities we’ve been a part of, highlighting the collaborative spirit that developed among this mixed group of faculty, librarians, and instructional technologists as we prepared for the conference itself. Some of the projects we talked about have been the subject of Engage blog posts, including Hisae Kobayashi’s Twitter project, Ariella Rotramel’s Wikipedia project, and the various tele- and web conferencing activities we support, including Joyce Benett’s organization of a personalized Yucatec Maya course for a student. Caroline Park spoke about feminist music technology, bringing up gendered and racialized technical jargon in the context of creative art and sound projects, and the ongoing process of critically navigating that dynamic in the classroom and outside of it. Guided by Ashley Hanson, participants and presenters alike had a chance to role up their sleeves to do some mind mapping, which provided rich material for our discussion, and exciting ideas for the future. Feel free to check out our slides if you have time.

Endorsing as we do collaborative projects and approaches, we were somewhat disheartened to learn from one of our workshop participants that they are not so easily implemented in the K-12 environment as they are in higher education. Library Media Specialist Jill Woychowski enlightened us about filtering practices in federally funded schools that limit not just access to potentially harmful web sites, but also to ones that enable collaborative projects or contain content related to many common Gender and Women’s Studies topics. This conversation led us to wonder, as a group, about the impact on students as they transition to college and their development of critical metaliteracy skills. What do you think? Should students be sheltered from the “real world” of the Internet? How does a lack of access to collaborative platforms and to the contested territories of the public sphere affect our students’ ability to do research and to co-construct knowledge at the college level?

Refugees in Germany: Bringing Global Perspectives into the Classroom

One of the areas that I’m going to explore as a Technology Fellow is the use of videoconferencing tools in my course on the situation of the refugees in Europe (GER/GIS/GWS 262). This course explores the refugee crisis in Europe with a special focus on the case of Germany, where more than one million refugees and migrants arrived in 2015 alone. The course is cross-listed with German Studies, Global Islamic Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies and has a FLAC section in German attached to it.

During the first half of the semester, students got an overview of the situation of the refugees in Europe: the different routes taken by the refugees; the role of the smugglers; abuse, exploitation, and human rights violations along the way; gender issues; European refugee and asylum policies; the Common European Asylum System and the distribution of refugees among the EU member states; the lack of solidarity among the EU member states; Europe’s reception system and conditions; restrictive policies such as fence-building and push-backs; and anti-foreigner rhetoric and xenophobia in several European countries.

During the second half of the semester, we are focusing on the case of Germany, the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications in Europe. We started with an overview of Germany’s history of migration before exploring the current public debates in Germany.

One of the highlights of the semester is the international collaboration with local organizations, schools, NGOs, and refugees from Germany who join us live via videoconferencing.

GER 262 students interview Nele Brüser, Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein
GER 262 students interview Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein

Our first videoconference took place right before spring break. After learning about the role of the central reception centers for refugees in Germany and the first (legal) steps refugees have to take in Germany, the students – in pairs – prepared the interview questions for Nele Brüser, Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein. The role of the weekly student assistant was then to collect and organize the interview questions and to email them to our German partners in advance – as well as to follow up with them afterwards.

The first videoconference exceeded all our expectations: after introducing themselves in German(!), the students and Nele Brüser had a very lively, engaged, and thoughtful discussion about her work and the situation of the refugees at the reception center Neumünster. In their written reflections, the students highlighted how much they had enjoyed the first-hand exchange, how “real“ the refugee situation now felt for them and how much they appreciated Nele Brüser’s dedication and honesty. The feedback we got from Germany after the videoconference was equally enthusiastic.

Both the students and I are very excited about meeting our remaining interview partners via Skype: we are going to talk to a refugee from Afghanistan and his German “tandem partner,” and in the remaining weeks of the semester, we will be joined by a teacher who teaches German to refugee children at a high school in Hamburg, three social workers whose projects focus on the special situation of young male and female refugees respectively, and a music teacher who works on integrating refugee and migrant children and teaching them the German language through different music projects.

Virtual Classroom Connections

Students videoconferencing with alumni
Slavic studies students connect with alumni via Zoom.

This post was written by Laura Little and Jessica McCullough.

More and more CC faculty are using web conferencing or teleconferencing tools to bring experts into their classes, to connect students to a different culture or language, and to broaden course offerings. To facilitate these connections, the instructional technology team has worked with many technologies: Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and a host of others. You can see how these tools stack up against each other in this chart.

We really like Zoom. It is easy to use, for both organizers and participants, only requiring a small software download. You don’t have to establish reciprocal relationships with Zoom; “hosts” send invitations to “guests” via email instead of linking accounts, as you have to with Skype. The audio and video quality of Zoom, in our experience, is much higher than other programs we tried, and it easily accommodates multiple participants. It includes a number of useful features, such as screen and file sharing, on-screen annotation, instant messaging. You can also easily record sessions. If you attended our virtual workshop in January you saw some of these features in action. You also may have read Hisae Kobayashi’s post about using it with Japanese students. 


Though you can easily get set up with Zoom on your own, there is a 40-minute limit to meetings with a free account. Instructional Technology has purchased 20 educational licenses, allowing you to host longer meetings. To request one of these licenses, contact Laura Little.

Although we favor Zoom and are happy to get you started with it, there may be good reasons to stick with what you or your virtual guest already knows. If either side is doing a “virtual visit” for the first time, but feels comfortable using, say, Skype, you can reduce the number of unknowns (and associated anxiety) by using that as your connection platform.

As we work with faculty to connect to other people and places, the Instructional Technology team is gradually developing best practices. We’d be glad to share these with you to make sure that your visit is a success. If you’re not sure who to contact, start with your Instructional Technology liaison.

Learning Language and Culture through Interviews


Students speaking with Spanish guest speaker

Among the different things related with technology that I have implemented in my classes in the last years, interviews that students in my SPA 250, Spain: A journey through history and culture conducted via Skype with people in Spain has been one of the most successful and popular.

The original idea was to interview three different people in Spain. I hoped to connect with someone related with Spanish politics, with a person in higher education, and somebody connected with social movements in Spain. The goal was to provide my students with a first hand glimpse of the most important issues in contemporary Spain.

“The interviews with the people in Spain were the most stimulating because they gave us an opportunity to connect face to face with the country we are studying.” – student evaluation

I was able to secure the participation of Jose Luis Blanco Moreno, socialist mayor of my native town. A few weeks later we chatted with Carlos Martinez Soria, the equivalent to the Dean of the College at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca. Unfortunately, even though I was in touch with one of the leaders of a feminist organization, scheduling problems prevented a meeting with her. Our class met Wednesdays and Fridays 2:45-4:00, which unfortunately meant the interviews took place at 9:00 PM in Spain.

Preparing for Skype interview
Preparing for Skype interview.

In order to maximize the outcomes of the activity, I created a Google Doc in which each student added a question that we would ask later. Before each interview we spent time reviewing the questions, correcting them for grammar, and assigning students questions to ask. In both cases this worked very well and we were able to keep the conversation to about one hour.

“My favorite activity was video chatting with various Spanish professionals.” – student evaluation

I was a little bit worried about the possibility of technical issues, but in both cases the connections worked very well. I borrowed a web conferencing kit from Mike Dreimiller in the DSCC in order to improve the audio and video quality. My students, our guests, and I were very pleased with the activity. My class was held in the new Dilley Room, which is well suited for this type of activity.

“… the Skype interviews with Spanish leaders really helped with my comprehension and listening skills in a language other than my own.” – student evaluation

Based on the positive response of my students, I intend to expand this activity next semester by having up to 4 guest speakers in my class. I can’t wait to see my students using their language and cultural skills with “real” people, because, as one them mentioned in the evaluations, “Connecting with outside sources in Spain challenge students to utilize Spanish as well as seek distinct perspectives from the country in comparison to the U.S.”

How to Make the Most of iOS: Speak Screen & Selection

Recently the Instructional Technology team hired a student assistant, Kristen Szuman. Kristen is a sophomore interested in art, politics, and loves animals. We asked Kristen to use and document the many accessibility features available on iOS devices. This is her first, of, we hope, several, blog post about useful technology tools.

Screenshot of Speak Selection on iPhone

Accessibility seldom gets the attention it deserves. Most of us go about our day without wondering how accessible an iPhone or iPad  is to the blind or the deaf, to those with autism or motor dysfunction, or how accessible the apps these devices run are. Yet, there are people who care deeply about accessibility; those who need iPhones and iPads to be ever-more accessible, of course, and those working to make these devices more accessible. Among technology companies, Apple not only implements accessibility features, but promotes and prioritizes them, and this starts in a very top-down fashion. Apple has built in many accessibility services, some intended strictly for accessibility and some seemingly everyday functions that can be used for accessibility needs as well. In addition, several app developers have also developed additional software in order to bolster Apple’s accessibility capabilities.

Speech Menu on iOS

Speak Selection and Speak Screen are two of those features which Apple has built in and which can be used both by people with accessibility needs or by those who just wish to utilize features that make screen reading easier. Speak Selection and Speak Screen are both able to read on-screen text. With Speak Selection enabled, the user must highlight the text first whereas Speak Selection will read the entire screen’s contents. Typically, an individual with low vision would use one of these accessibility features. Individuals who experience fatigue while reading, or those who would rather have text read to them than have to zoom into text to read, benefit from Speak Selection and Speak Screen. In general, the two accessibility features are very similar in function. Speak Selection and Speak Screen can be activated on any page that displays selectable text- so any webpage in Safari or other browsers, iBooks, Kindle, and some other apps.

To use either feature, you can find documentation available in Google Drive or watch one of the many videos available on YouTube.