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Students and Their Email Habits

Laptop opened in dark room

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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3 Tools for Facilitating Discussion Outside of Class: Piazza, Basecamp, and Slack

Written By: Emily Crawford

Getting students to participate in class discussions can be difficult. Encouraging discussion outside of the classroom can be even more challenging. Luckily, there are an increasing number of applications out there that can conveniently facilitate discussion outside of the classroom in a streamlined, easy to use way. Here are our three top picks and how they compare!


Piazza is a “free online gathering place” offers excellent tools for both basic discussion and more complex collaboration, including  trackable edits from both students and instructors. It uses a wiki-style framework, which means that students and instructors can edit one another’s posts. This feature may or may not be relevant  for basic discussions, but it can be great for collaboration and providing group feedback on a specific project or document.

Students and instructors can post a “Note,” a “Question,” or a “Poll/In-Class Response,” all of which can be edited by classmates and instructors. A “note” is a simple post, like a comment on a forum. A “question” prompts a response, or “answer” post, which can come from any student or instructor. Anyone can post a “follow-up discussion” to any note, question, or poll. piazza

The former two tend to be used most frequently. For basic discussion, the edit function is not really necessary, but it’s good to keep in mind that it exists.

Overall, Piazza is easy to set-up – it lives in your browser, and doesn’t require a download. There are some extraneous features which add clutter to the interface, but overall if you’re looking for a forum-style discussion platform with additional editing features for collaboration, Piazza is generally a great option.

Overall grade: B+


Basecamp was originally created with professional teams in mind for managing project workflows, but teachers have found it incredibly helpful as well, and are eligible for free accounts (unlike for-profit users).  If you’re visually-minded, Basecamp has a lot of features that make for a pleasant and streamlined experience, like a timeline on the course homepage that tracks all activity since you created your “Basecamp,” or course homepage.basecamp

This web app is themed around a the metaphor of a mountain expedition, with the main discussion forum for a class labeled as the “campfire.” It also offers a  message board, which has the potential for multiple comment threads, unlike the main “Campfire” forum. Users can create a “To-Do List,” which lets you set goals and assign tasks, a schedule, “Automatic Check-ins,” and a “Docs and Files” section where people can upload documents or create new ones directly in Basecamp.

It’s aesthetically pleasing, but the cutesy icons and expedition-themed names for functions may not be for all tastes. Because of its diverse features, Basecamp can function as a substitute for Blackboard, but students may miss the ability to easily track grades.
Overall, Basecamp has a lot of great functionality and is ideal for a class with a more project- centric structure, and is great for group work because of  its orientation towards teams.

Overall grade: A-


Slack is a great all-purpose platform for discussion, collaboration, and general communication with students outside the of classroom.  While the app  has the framework and look of a instant messenger app, it has the potential to do so much more. With diverse features, this free application accessible from your computer, tablet, or phone gives users  the ability to easily attach all types of media to any message.slack

Slack has all of the functionality of any messenger app (like Gchat), plus the ability to attach images, files, links, long-form content that you type into Slack itself, or even snippets of web code, should that be your area. It offers a  great alternative to email between class members and professors alike, as you can easily set up mobile alerts to your phone, should you want respond to students on the go. Students can also message each other or create private group chats for team work. For discussions, you can create “Channels,” or content threads, to which multiple students and instructors can contribute. These comments can easily be tracked, if you require participation outside of class.

Slack is ideal for any class with a class participation component, especially for subject matter that may require sharing content like screenshots, other images, or even web code.

Overall grade: A

All three options are completely free for educators, but offer paid deluxe versions for large class sizes. Unfortunately, none of these applications can synchronize their functions with official grades. Slack, like Basecamp, can substitute for Blackboard in that it facilitates assignment submissions, discussion, and collaboration. Piazza offers much of the same functionality, but is less mobile-convenient and less team-oriented.

Slack is our current favorite, but all three of these applications are great options for facilitating discussion and collaboration outside of your classroom.


Emily Crawford in an Advanced Learning Technologies Consultant in CTRL.

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AU’s Green Teaching Certificate Program on Track to Break Record

Written by: Anna Olsson

When the Green Teaching Program first launched in the late summer of 2008, 35 AU professors answered a short list of questions about commitments they would make to teach sustainably that fall. Since then, the program has grown and changed significantly, but its core purpose remains the same: To provide incentives for faculty to teach sustainably, while creating a greater awareness of the effects of education on the environment among both professors and students.

This year, the Green Teaching Program is on track to break its all-time record of the number of faculty certified in a single year (151), and it will likely also pass the milestone of certifying its 500th individual Green Teacher. The concrete implications of the program for campus sustainability are significant. Take for example the one action of not printing your course syllabus, and providing it in electronic form only: Assuming that about 80% of the faculty who have earned 1,184 certificates over the last 8 years opted to make their syllabi electronic, and assuming that each faculty member taught an average of 3 courses in an academic year, with an average of 25 students per course, and with syllabi of an average length of 10 pages, this one action alone has saved over 710,000 sheets of paper. That’s a small forest (85 trees, to be precise, according to the calculations by the non-profit organization And this is only the estimated impact of one of the 54 actions faculty can opt to commit to in the current version of the Green Teaching Certificate application.

Faculty can collect points for a variety of actions reducing the use of paper by moving towards using course materials, assignments, and exams in an electronic format; reducing the use of energy and reducing pollution by using energy efficient equipment, making a habit of turning off equipment not in use, scheduling office hours on the day of class, and biking or carpooling to campus; as well as other measures such as allowing Green Teaching Program staff to post a Green Teaching score card on Blackboard course pages, listing the commitments made, for students to see, using reusable food and beverage containers, and talking to department staff about purchasing recycled materials and supplies.

And it doesn’t stop there. The Green Teaching Program has been recognized beyond AU, in the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll as one of the reasons for AU’s high score in sustainability ratings of colleges and universities. In addition, six universities across the United States have replicated the program on their own campuses. And so, what started as a small initiative by a few AU faculty and students who wanted to be more conscientious about their use of resources has multiplied into a movement transcending the AU campus, that gives the phrase “think globally, act locally” a whole new meaning.

You can learn more about AU’s Green Teaching Program at


Green Teacher of the Year Award 2015

Green Teaching Logo

Written by: Erica Dixon

Green Teacher 2015Professor Rachel Louise Snyder (Department of Literature, CAS), is the winner of the 2015 Green Teacher of the Year Award! Professor Snyder has been a certified green professor since joining the university in 2009, and has initiated measures to reduce the use of paper ranging from having all student assignments be turned in electronically, to turning paper newsletters into online magazines.

Recently, Professor Snyder answered questions for CTRL about being a green teacher, and why it matters.

Q: Why is being a green teacher important to you?
A: Being environmentally conscious is just a way of life for me. I was really thrilled to come to AU and see that it was part of the institutional philosophy as well. To me, there’s a betterment to the world, of course, in some small measure, but it’s really about living deliberately and thoughtfully.

Q: What is your favorite part of bringing green teaching into your classroom?
A: It makes it much easier to be portable! I only have to carry around my tiny laptop and I have all my class papers and lectures and handouts at my fingertips! But I also feel it’s my responsibility to be a role model. I don’t want those students who see me to look at my generation and see no one who cared enough to make even the smallest of sacrifices for the world they’ll inherit.

Q: How have your students responded to the green teaching initiatives you’ve brought into the class?
A: They’ve been positive. And in fairness, they get so much more feedback from me than they would if I was handwriting everything. They’ve grown up in front of screens. It is utterly and completely their way of life.

Q: What advice would you give other teachers that are looking to “go green”?
A: I would say that I have yet to meet anyone who regrets taking some responsibility for their part in making the world or the campus a better place in this measure. We have to adapt to all sorts of things throughout the course of our lives. Going paperless, at least some of the time, is hardly much of a sacrifice.

Learn more about AU’s Green Teaching Program HERE.
Like the Green Teaching Program on Facebook!

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Google Drive: Docs, and Spreadsheets, and So Much More!

Google Drive Logos

Written by: Evan Sanderson

Google Drive isn’t just a great way to organize your personal documents and spreadsheets; it can be an extremely effective tool for the classroom as well! Drive includes a document editor, a spreadsheet creator, a form aggregator, as well as several other tools. Each of these tools synch to the cloud and can be accessed anywhere you have an internet connection (and through any device).

Want to have students submit a paper to an online drive? Need a way of collecting student information? Have an spreadsheet that needs editing, but you don’t have your personal laptop on you? Google Drive can help with all of those issues and more!

To learn more, watch CTRL’s video on Google Drive here:

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WordPress: Making Blog Building Easy

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

Let’s reveal a little secret–all those fancy blogs you look at aren’t really that hard make. In fact, a good deal of the Internet is built on the WordPress platform. WordPress is a website building platform that is easy to use and elegant in design.

With WordPress, you can create pages, post updates, and manage comments. Visitors can post comments and share your posts through social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. And best of all? It’s basic functionality is free to use!

To learn more, watch the CTRL instructional video on WordPress here:

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Anki: The intelligent way to memorize

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The Monthly App-etizer is CTRL’s regular feature where we talk about the latest app, software, and tools that could make teaching (and life) a little easier.

ankiThey say the best way to get information glued to memory is to revisit it consistently until it becomes a regular part of daily thought. At least, that is what practitioners of spaced repetition believe to encourage long-term retention of important concepts, key terms, and even a 2nd language.

anki3Create a new flashcard deck for all your subjects

Enter Anki—an intuitive app designed to make memorization less time consuming and as painless as possible. Much like standard flashcards and digital study apps like Quizlet, Anki allows you to create customized flashcard decks. You can store your cards in several decks based on topics, and even embed audio clips, images, videos, scientific notation, and language characters (e.g. Chinese, Sanskrit, etc.)

anki2What makes Anki special is the way it allows users to review their flashcards. Its algorithm separates the easy cards from the ones you struggle with the most. Every time you review your flashcards, Anki spaces your cards out, allowing you to review the difficult concepts more often and, over time, cement it to your long-term memory. You could even review your progress over time.anki4

For all its usefulness, Anki does have a few drawbacks. Getting started with the platform and a creating new flashcard deck may not be as intuitive. It may also not be the prettiest flashcard app you could find in the market. But, it is free and downloadable across all platforms (iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Linux, etc.), allowing for easy access to your flashcards from virtually any device. And, no matter how many flashcards you have in your deck, you could bet that it will operate fast and with limited error.

Download Anki here:

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Prezi: Put A Little Zing In Your Lecture

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Written by: Evan Sanderson

If placing slide after slide is starting to give you nightmares, we may just have the answer to your PowerPoint fatigue. Introducing Prezi ( a virtual canvas that allows you to deliver content in an interesting, new way. Instead of moving on a linear track (a la PowerPoint), Prezi allows user to zoom around between different pieces of content.

The idea behind this is to incorporate multimedia content in a more engaging manner. Not only does Prezi allow you to think outside the box when it comes to presentations, it also gives out free academic accounts for students and faculty. Just use your AU email address to register!

To learn more, watch CTRL’s video on Prezi here:

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Google Forms: Making Your Life Easier, One Form at a Time

Google Forms Icons

Written by: Evan Sanderson

You’re standing in front of class, passing around a sign in sheet, and thinking: There’s got to be a better way to gather my students emails. Or maybe you’ve just taught a particularly tricky concept, and you want to make sure your students have grasped (most of) it. Wouldn’t it be easy to have a system that designs and administers the form for you?

Google thought it would be, and that’s why the came up with Google Forms. Accessible through Google Drive, Google Forms allows users to design and administer “forms”. Pedagogically speaking, forms can take the shape of quizzes or polls, and Forms will even collate and organize the data for you.

To learn more, watch the CTRL instructional video on Google Forms here:

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An Inspiring Ann Ferren Conference to Start Off 2015

Written by: Anna Olsson

afc15-1CTRL’s largest event of the year–the Ann Ferren Conference on Teaching, Research, and Learning–took place on Friday, January 9th, 2015. This year’s conference – the 26th of its kind – saw the second highest attendance ever, with 460 faculty, staff and graduate students coming together for a day of learning, sharing best practices, collaborating, and networking. The conference program, which was put together by a faculty planning committee, consisted of 50 faculty-lead sessions on topics such as using Open Educational Resources for your courses; faculty and students as public speakers; internship mentoring; innovative examples from online teaching; how students can learn science by doing science; gaining media exposure for your scholarship; what it means to teach critical thinking; and respecting and cultivating diversity in the classroom.

CTRL Staff handing out nametags and conference folders at registration

One of the highlights of this year’s conference was the luncheon plenary speech by Michael S. Roth, President of Wesleyan University, who captivated the audience with an engaging speech drawing on his new book Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. You can watch a video-recording of the plenary speech in its entirety below.


The high attendance number was not the only testimony of the success of this year’s conference. Feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, including these comments:

“It was absolutely wonderful! I was happy with how interactive the sessions were. I also enjoyed learning about the different programs and hearing the student perspectives.”

“Just great. I felt it was a day of inspiration and connection.”

“As a new faculty member I found the sessions extremely informative and helpful.”

“I thought this was an amazing conference, with so many wonderful suggestions in the courses. I plan to consolidate my notes into an action plan going forward relative to improving my teaching (especially active teaching) abilities.”

The key to this success lies most of all in the number of people involved in making AFC2015 happen.

This includes the already mentioned faculty on the Conference Planning Committee, who met several times in the year prior to the conference to review session proposals and build a diverse and solid program. Another set of key contributors were the Teaching and Learning Resources Group Consultants, who spent months tirelessly nailing down the logistics and details that would make the conference work on the day of, and who turned it into their full-time job the week preceding the conference to work down the list of final preparations.

Teaching and Learning Resources Group Consultants Bill, Cat, Erica, and Evan, preparing for the Ann Ferren Conference

This year almost 130 presenters provided another key component of the success of the conference: the content of the conference sessions, above all the variety of sessions, which by one attendee was characterized as “the greatest strength of the program this year.” Finally, on the day of the conference CTRL relied on over 20 staff members who all helped provide the best possible conference experience for everyone involved. This was an inspiring and exciting day for us as well, and we can’t wait to do it all over again in 2016. We will see you then!

To learn more about the Ann Ferren Conference, visit this page. To watch conference session video recordings, visit the CTRL YouTube channel.