Monday, November 28, 2011

Retrotech: Like Email . . . but On Paper.

As we approach the end of the semester, I started to realize that I had a lot of my Basic Writing students who needed me to check special assignments I had given them, double-check essay revisions, and so on. One of the great things about an online grade book is that the students can see everything. One of the downsides of an online grade book it that students can see everything (and some obsess about it). My general answer when they ask me to look at something during class is "Email it to me."

I have decided I hate email. Email is no longer e-mail but e-everything: memos, announcements, advertisements, chit-chat, rants and raves, and a plethora of other junk I would rather not deal with. So, asking students to "email me" is rather like asking them to add their work onto a pile of other things I would rather not deal with and that, therefore, might get lost.

I decided to go retro-tech. I bought a pack of bright pink index cards. Now, when a student has an issue that does not require my immediate attention (such as double-checking a grade or re-reading a blog entry or an "off topic" question) they grab a pink card and put their name on it with the relevant information and hand it to me. When I have a chance (in class or at home) I go through the stack and respond as needed.

I must admit that I felt immediately less stressed about checking my email for student requests and the students also felt that they did not have to "follow up" every few minutes to see if I had checked my email. The card was in the "pink stack" and they knew that I would get to it.

So, back to my motto: The right tool for the task and the teacher. Like many of our students I may be "over" email as a useful communication tool (for my class especially) and sometimes, going lo-tech for what should be a simple task is the best.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree that the tool must fit the task and make our lives easier, not harder.

  2. Email is the devil and Gmail is the pit that contains it.

  3. Email steals my life away sometimes. I like your retrotech idea!

  4. For some reason, this sparked an idea for a class activity - where students "write tweets" on the board and "text" each other on paper.

    You know, the art of passing notes in class is dead! Now students just text each other.

  5. I miss passing notes. And that is a great idea about Tweeting on the board! It makes it fun and is also a meta-activity.