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Students and Their Email Habits

Written By: Nikki Lane

Over the past 4-5 years, popular news outlets have featured stories highlighting the communication challenges facing those of us educating the next generation — especially their ability (or lack thereof) to communicate appropriately using the currently accepted form of business and formal communication: email.

Commonly cited issues:

  • Students aren’t reading some of our emails.
  • Students are texting and otherwise social media-ing during class time.
  • To some students, school = email; and unfortunately, school = boring. Therefore, through the transitive property, email = boring.
  • Some students legitimately have never used email in the way that you expect them to. Some may not know how to write letters (therefore may be unclear about what to put in the subject line, or how to address you, and all of that makes it such that they don’t want to interact with email at all).

What the research says:

  • According to a 2016 study conducted at Bowling Green State University cited by, increased use of social media and text messaging are not the reason students aren’t reading your emails. In fact, students who are more active on social media are more likely to regularly check their email.
  • The same study indicates that students tend to fall into two different categories when it came to social media use: “instant communicators” and “content curators.” In other words, the first group tended to use platforms primarily to communicate instantly with one another, while the second group tended to use social media to create/collect content from a wide variety of sources.
  • Common sense rules of email for many students are that most email is junk, you can read it or not; respond to it or not; or simply delete it, rarely with consequence. The fact that email is not an instant means of communicating in a world with numerous possibilities for instant communication means that some students tend to favor forms of communication such as text messages and certain social media platforms where there is an expectation that you 1) know the person to whom you are sending the message, 2) are expected to reply, and 3) are expected to reply near instantly.
  • Faculty members often have unrealistic expectations for students concerning email. Students are not adept at using email just because they have some familiarity with using their smart phone to download an app that will then download all their music for them on their phone. “We have this perception that because students are fluent with things like smartphones and downloading music that they are born with chips embedded in them that make them technology wizards,” says Eric Stoller, a social media and communications consultant in education in the New York Times. “They are no better at managing e-mail than anyone else.”
  • According to a study conducted by Reynol Junco at Purdue on students’ computer use, the students he recruited for the experiment spent about 123 minutes a day on their computers, and the only thing they used less than their email was a search engine. While information may be at our students’ fingertips, they are not as adept as we assume they are at actually locating that information.
  • As Keith M. Parsons, professor of history and philosophy, says in a Huffington Post op-ed from 2015, “if Facebook is your favorite book, you have a problem.”
  • Most students appear to be getting messages from their professors. According to the study conducted at Bowling Green, 85% of students are highly likely to read emails coming from their professors. Those emails that they are less likely to read come from academic advisers, the university, and academic departments. The same study found:

More than one-third of students (39%) said they don’t always read emails from academic advisers.

More than half (54%) of students said the same about emails from the university or from academic departments.

72% of students said that they avoided emails from student organizations all together.

  • According to Radicati Group’s Email Statistics Report 2015-2019, the average user sends/receives 99 emails per day. Further, according to a March 2016 report by Litmus, most emails (54%) are opened on mobile devices with desktop representing only 19%.

Here are our top 6 tips for sending “better” emails, emails that will cut through the noise to get to students and that take into account all of the above research:

tip chart

If you’d like to schedule a time to visit CTRL and learn about useful alternatives to email, then sign up today for a one-on-one consultation.

Nikki Lane in an Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

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