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 https://flickr.com/photos/katerha/7372776674 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Social Media in Academia: Instagram for Engaging with Students Outside Class

During an in-class discussion early in the semester, I made an offhand comment suggesting that the course should have its own hashtag.  I was surprised to notice several students nodding vigorously in agreement.  Sparked by this unexpected response, I decided to create an academic Instagram account.

KGRInsta1Since my pedagogy invites students to work directly with actual artworks in what I call “art history labs,” I decided that my Instagram feed would feature photographs of artworks from the Connecticut College campus art collection and my department’s Wetmore Print Collection.  Several times a week, I post images of artworks we will be studying in class, images of campus sculptures, or photographs I have taken while setting up labs.  I also regularly post photos of campus spaces (Shain Library, for example, or other professors’ offices or research spaces), shots of field trips, and images related to my research and to current events on campus.   One student observed, “Instagram is contributing immensely to my learning in art history by making the material present outside of the classroom context. Seeing images that we are studying in class pop up on my phone has incorporated art history into my daily life, making it more approachable and keeping it on my mind throughout the day.”

While I don’t require my students to follow my Instagram account, participating does have some benefits.  Some of the posted artworks appear on exams, and I sometimes refer to an Instagram post in class.  During the semester, I created several hashtags:  #conncollcampusart and #wetmoreprintcollection for Connecticut College’s artwork collections, and hashtags for this semester’s courses:  #ahi261, #ahi246.  Over time, students have begun to use these hashtags and contribute their own images to this fledgling community.  

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In addition, I think of following feeds and liking images as teaching tools.  I intentionally make connections relevant to course content and to my research as one way to help students engage with the contemporary art world in a curated way.  As one student noted, “Instagram provides a new platform for sharing and engaging in thoughtful conversations about art outside of the classroom. With a simple click of a ‘like’ the interest surrounding a piece of art becomes visible to all participating.”  My feed currently has a small but active following of students and staff at Connecticut College, as well as a few global artists, gallery owners, arts foundations, and museum staff who extend my feed well beyond the college.

While Instagram appears to be a natural fit for contemporary art history, I think this platform could be productive for faculty across the disciplines.  Faculty might share images from fieldwork, labs, or even photographs of a chalkboard with a complex data or problem set.  If you are considering Instagram, here are some guidelines I have developed for my own feed:

  • To assuage any student concerns about sharing their own images with me, I clearly state in class that I do not follow or even look at student Instagram accounts unless expressly invited to do so.
  • In response to the Connecticut College social media policy, I avoid posting photos of students.
  • To respect photographic rights, I limit my posting of artworks to those owned by the College or those publically displayed at museums.  When posting anything that might be construed as someone’s property or private space, I ask for permission and tag the photo with the person’s Instagram username.
  • Finally, using social media for pedagogical purposes does create yet another task on my to-do list.  However, I maintain this Instagram feed because I enjoy taking photographs, creating visual dialogues, and communicating through images.  If you are considering incorporating Instagram or other social media into your classes, you might start by identifying a platform that you are already using and finding fulfilling in other areas of your life.

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Intentional uses of Social Media in Academia

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This post begins a short series on uses of social media in academia. The following post was co-authored by Karen Gonzalez Rice and Anthony Graesch, with help from Jessica McCullough.

Social media can be used to share, co-create, critically evaluate, and discuss ideas, all of which fall squarely within the spectrum of goals shared by communities in higher education.  Unfortunately, discussions concerning the applications of social media in higher education often focus only on the highly visible and adverse outcomes, including instances in which user-generated content violates community norms and/or undermines the integrity, jeopardizes the safety, or does harm to others.  Although it is imperative that we thoroughly examine such instances, it’s also important that we explore and discuss the applications of social media to our pedagogical and intellectual goals.

As faculty co-directors of the Technology Fellows Program, we are concerned that recent events, sparked by a colleague’s posts on a public Facebook page, might discourage faculty from experimenting with social media as a pedagogical tool.  Alongside our colleagues in Instructional Technology, we see compelling evidence  that social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be used to forge and sustain meaningful connections with students, alumni, and broader communities within and beyond institutions of higher education.  In this post and in a series of posts in the coming weeks, we highlight a diverse set of intentional, productive uses of social media in Connecticut College faculty pedagogies.  In these examples, faculty draw on the unique possibilities of social media to facilitate dialogue among students, maintain meaningful connections with far-flung alumni, foster communities based on particular scholarly interests, and draw attention to ways that disciplinary methods and ideas participate in current events beyond the classroom.

Ann Marie Davis uses a private Facebook group as a venue for students in a first-year seminar to build community by sharing co-curricular experiences and connecting these experiences with course themes.

Ana Campos Holland promotes and celebrates achievements in student-faculty collaborative research projects with the campus community and broader world using Facebook.

Karen Gonzalez Rice uses Instagram to supplement course content, connect objects in the Connecticut College art collections with the topics of the course, provide insight into her research process, and build dialogue beyond the classroom.

The Department of Anthropology connects with students and alumni through public Facebook and Twitter accounts, with frequent news of student and alumni accomplishments, department events, and student activities abroad.

Look for details of these and other uses of social media in continued posts.  In the meantime, the following resources can help you begin to think through the practicalities and implications of integrating social media into your pedagogy:

Use Evernote to Create a Clean pdf of Your Moodle Syllabus

This semester, I followed Anthony Graesch’s advice and moved my syllabus entirely online. For all the reasons he outlined in his post, the shift from a paper-and-Moodle syllabus to a Moodle-only syllabus has been successful, and I’ll continue to do this in all of my classes in the future.

However, this week I encountered a problem: how could I share the syllabus beyond the course? The simplest solution—right-clicking on the Moodle page and printing to a pdf—created a difficult-to-read document cluttered with Moodle’s navigation bar, calendar, and other widgets.

If you’re an Evernote user, you can use this three-step process to select only the parts of the Moodle page you want to include, and then save your syllabus as a pdf.

  1. Navigate to your Moodle page and turn editing off. This is a quick but important step that makes all the difference in the next part of the process.
  2. Use the Evernote Web Clipper to select the middle section of the Moodle page. Control the selected area with the up and down arrow keys. This can be fiddly, but turning Moodle editing off helps the Web Clipper recognize the middle section as a continuous space. Save to one of your Evernote folders.
    Evernote Syllabus Figure 1
  3. The final step of this process depends on your operating system.
    For Mac users, simply open the note in Evernote and click on Annotate to save the entire note as a pdf. For PC users, this option is not available, so we’ll take advantage of the minimal design of the Evernote web application. Log into Evernote.com and open your note. Click the full screen arrows to expand the note, and right click to print as a pdf.
    Evernote Syllabus Figure 2

Now you can contribute a clean pdf of your syllabus to your tenure file, share with colleagues, or simply add it to your archive.

Digitally Record Comments on Student Projects for Faster and More Focused Feedback

gonzalez-riceKaren Gonzalez Rice, Assistant Professor of Art History and Technology Fellow, talks about her use of recording audio feedback on student work. To help solve the ongoing challenging of providing timely and detailed feedback to students, Karen started recording her comments and emailing them to students. You can hear about Karen’s process and the overwhelmingly positive feedback she received from students in a three-minute audio recording she made for us.

https://soundcloud.com/jcwlibrarian/digitally-recorded-comments-karen-gonzalez-rice

Karen Gonzalez Rice on Evernote

Assistant Professor and Evernote enthusiast Karen Gonzalez Rice shares ideas for using that multifaceted tool with attendees of the recent Teaching with Technology workshop Productivity Tools to Make Work and Life Easier. Thanks, Karen, for this ringing endorsement & for taking the time to make this video!

You can access the Evernote notebook we explored in the workshop at:

https://www.evernote.com/pub/0lauralittle0/evernote