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Summaries of Articles on Using Class Email

Gail Hawisher and Charles Morton, " Electronic Mail and the Writing Instructor," College English 55.6 (1993): 627-43.

1. Key Terms:

"a rhetoric of email" (p. 629): a "rhetoric" is a how-to manual, telling people how to arouse certain emotions in readers or achieve certain effects, all in language. So a "rhetoric of email" must be about how to use the medium of email to achieve particular effects: it will make us aware of various features of the medium and how to use them.
"flaming" (p. 631): "outrageous and often hurtful language transmitted as a part of the email message."

2. Main ideas:

There is bad news about teaching with email, and good news. First, the bad news: The authors describe how email writing works: it is on a continuum between spoken and written language (630); it is usually not subjected to "reflective scrutiny" (people whip it out, 630); people writing on the computer "lose the constraints and inhibitions that the imagined audience provides" (631) — they say things Online that they wouldn't say in person. Because email is so easy to generate, students and teachers participating in an email discussion group may be overwhelmed by the amount of writing they have to read (638). Now, the good news: The authors say that "flaming" is absent when a group must complete a project together using email (633). The authors day that gender, class, and race distinctions, as well as people's sense of their position or place within a group, disappear.

3. Questions:

Can professors do things to alter these conditions, to discourage flaming, for example? Do distinctions really disappear, or are there simply new criteria for distinguishing among people who meet Online?


Silva S. Karayan and Judith A. Crowe, "Student Perceptions of Electronic Discussion Groups," T.H.E. Journal 24.9 (1997): 69-71.

1. Key Terms:

"Electronic Discussion Group": electronic news groups and/ or email discussion groups (69).

2. Main ideas:

While class discussions suit those students who are impulsive learners, email discussion groups cater to all students, encouraging those who are impulsive to take time to reflect and insuring that the ideas of reflective students (who take longer to respond) are not lost (69). Email discussion groups foster a greater sense of community. Students participating in email discussion groups learn to write coherently. The authors post the results of a survey given to students who participated in email discussion groups: using email made students more likely to answer a question asked by a teacher or peer, to learn class content, to develop a positive relationship with the professor and peers, to participate more outside the normal class time, and to think more before answering questions. Using email did not make students more likely to be motivated to work hard or to attend class.

3. Questions:

Does more writing in itself teach students to write coherently, or do teachers need to offer writing instruction to those using email?


David C. Lewis, Janine A. Treves, and Andrew B. Shaindlin. "Making Sense of Academic Cyberspace: Case Study of an Electronic Classroom," College Teaching 45.3 (1997): 96-100.

1. Key Terms:

"lurkers": those members of email discussion groups who only read incoming mail and never post their own ideas (98).

2. Main ideas:

In teaching an online course, the instructors found that, as in class discussions, the same students participate while many others silently look on. While they found that "visual anonymity of the medium" promoted "lack of prejudice" on their students' part (97), they also found it difficult to keep discussion coherent: "e-mail discussion is multilayered and seemingly disparate, flowing at many different levels simultaneously" (97). Their students recommended that the professors send out a single question to all list participants before and after posting their lectures (99). They also recommended that professors "make time to achieve course consensus" on definitions and other matters. When the professors asked students to express their opinions on the subject matter (drugs in America), the list fell silent until someone wrote to say that students were reluctant to disagree with the professors' point of view (98).

3. Questions:

How can professors cultivate an atmosphere in class and Online that encourages students to disagree with them?


Laura Mandell, " Virtual Encounters: Using an Electronic Mailing List in the Literature Classroom," Profession 97: 126-132.

1. Key Terms:

word bodies (127): students appear in email as words, whereas they appear in class as bodies, clothes, hairstyles, etc.

2. Main ideas:

Email privileges articulate students and thus makes the intellectuals the class heroes (127). Grading email essays via email gives students the chance to respond to your comments quickly and easily, rather than by making an appointment, coming to your office, etc. (128) Email makes teachers' and students' ideas public in a way that increases the class sphere (129). Reading responses to the reading before teaching a class can help a teacher be more attuned to what students understand and what they need to learn.

3. Questions:

Isn't this essay a little Utopian in its approach to email? The author perhaps fails to take into account how alienating it is to write to a computer screen rather than to talk to people face-to-face.


Miika Marttunen, "Electronic Mail as a Pedagogical Delivery System: An Analysis of the Learning of Argumentation,"Research in Higher Education 38.3 (1997): 345-63.

1. Key Terms:

CMC = "Computer-mediated communication." "the seminar mode": the tutor selects discussion topics from the course contents and gives students content-related feedback "the discussion mode": based on the students' self-direction: students select discussion themes from the contents themselves (p. 348). "good argumentation" = the writer presents standpoints with supporting reasons which are relevant. "poor 1" = the writer does not present a position but rather merely a list of facts. "poor 2" = the writer does not support his or her standpoint. "good counterargumentation" = "the counterclaim was supported by relevant and sufficient reasons" (351).

2. Main argument:

Marttunen argues that students using an email discussion list improve their argumentative skills more than do students in a traditional classroom, and that the most improvement occurred when students were allowed to comment on whatever topics they wished, as opposed to answering questions posed by the teacher, for the following reasons: first, there are more arguments in counterargumentative messages ("[T]he level of argumentation was higher in the counterargumentative messages compared to those in which the writer had not attacked other people's standpoints," 358) and, second, there is more interaction and therefore more "counterargumentation" among students participating on email in "the discussion mode."

3. Questions:

Marttunen gave students instruction on how to make arguments once at the beginning of the semester. Mightn't their argumentative skills have improved even more if instruction were given all along, in responses to individual email postings? Marttunen says that students argue better with less interference in forming the topic from the professor. Couldn't that result have to with the class size (31 students), their age (23 years or older) and thus their relative motivation? Also, why is "the average level of argumentation in the students' messages was . . . quite poor" (359): why don't people construct better arguments?


Charles Moran, "We Write, But Do We Read?" Computers and Composition 8.3 (1991): 51-61.

Moran argues that being connected by a network doesn't necessarily encourage sociality: that is, we are all madly writing to each other, but it's not clear who is reading all this writing (52). Moran says that, if you read through exchanges on a list, it very rarely looks as though people are responding to each other rather than simply writing what they themselves think (53).


Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt, Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999).

1. Key Terms:

"the electronic personality" — people use CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) "to invent new personae" and "to recreate their own identities" (22). "conscious community" — the community not based on place (21) "created electronically through the initiation of and participation in discussion about goals, ethics, liabilities, and communication styles" (23).

2. Main ideas:

Personality — "[T]he introvert may have less difficulty entering the virtual community, whereas the extrovert, with a need to establish a sense of social presence, may have more trouble doing so" (22).
Community — There is a difference between establishing a "social community" online and a "learning community": in the former, "very little learning occurs." That's why it is important for the instructor to "gently guide participants who stray" away from "the learning goals that brought them together in the first place" (32).
Instruction: Guide students gently: When teaching Online, a teacher should post "goals, objectives, and expected outcomes"; he or she should give students "initial guidelines for participation, thoughts and questions to kick off discussion, and assignments to be completed collaboratively" (17).
Don't constrain students: "Imposed guidelines that are too rigid will constrain discussion, causing participants to worry about the nature of their posts rather than to simply post" (18).

3. Questions:

If the atmosphere in a class email discussion list is too free, doesn't it in fact mystify the actual power relations at work in any classroom, where a teacher in fact has control over the students' grades?

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