Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Using Email to Encourage Communication Among Students and Staff
Originator John Stainfield
Department Department of Geographical Sciences, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1752 233069
Fax +44 (0)1752 233054

At the University of Plymouth, a small-scale experiment in using email and a local Web has recently been completed by John Stainfield in the Department of Geographical Sciences. The idea was to encourage greater communication among staff and students in a third- year module on 'Agriculture and Environment'. Believing that good communication is the key to effective learning, and faced by reduced interaction due (among other things) to the modularisation and semesterisation of courses, John turned to communication technology for a solution.

The main focus of attention on this course was the seminar, which often failed to engage student enthusiasm. In order to improve student participation and commitment, John introduced the use of email facilities as a means of encouraging regular communication between himself and the students, and also as a means of encouraging increased communication amongst students engaged on preparing collaborative coursework. The Web was also used to post course-related materials, for ready access by all students taking the module, and students were also expected to post their individual materials on the email noticeboard so they could be used by other students in the group as part of a group project. In terms of improving staff-to-student communication, the innovation was a considerable success, though it has added a daily half hour of email answering to the tutor's workload. (One payoff is that knocking on the door by students has virtually dried up.) However, as far as inter-student communication is concerned, the benefits have been far less noticeable. Students still have considerable reservations about sharing their work.

This last point is an important one, because it suggests that introducing technology, even for the very best motives, may not always deliver the hoped for - and expected - benefits. Part of the problem in this case has been the baggage of past behaviour that students bring to their final-year studies. But part of the problem is also due to the fact that the communications facilities used by these students were local to the department, and whenever students found material relevant to their project outside the department (for example, in the library), they were loathe to return to the department in order to log onto its network and share the information with others in their group. This problem will hopefully be solved by transferring the email accounts onto the university-wide network.


Stainfield, J. (1997) Using IT to manage a third year module, Active Learning, 6, pp.30-34


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This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Teaching and Learning Geography with Information and Communication Technologies"

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