I got a chuckle out of this story from the New York Times. As email has made professors more approachable, many academic elitists are complaining that electronic communication has made them too accessible. They fear the breakdown of ‘traditional’ boundaries which keep students at a healthy distance.
I’m guessing the same expressions of fear took place during the advent of the telephone.
While I don’t begrudge any professor who dislikes receiving too many email messages of light weight value, I do think a struggle exists within the world of academia as it collides with technology. In today’s virtual world, it is becoming harder and harder for universities to separate the teacher from the student. It’s a delicate balancing act. Visit nearly any university website and you’ll find most are designed to provide a wealth of information for the prospective student as well as those who are already enrolled. If they are competing for student dollars, and most viable schools are, they must accommodate a vast array of technology needs. That means students who own notebook computers must be able to connect to the university network, and thus, the Internet, from multiple points on and off campus. This connectedness implies a certain amount of accessibility to university resources, and professors fall into that category.
Regardless of academia’s varying ability to accept and conform to a world of electronic communication, the real issue is a lack of respect for the permanence of bits and bytes. Email sent from the account of an enrolled student belongs to the institution. It isn’t a private means of communication and messages can easily be forwarded to unlimited recipients. Moreover, email can be archived and used, perhaps in negative ways, against students as they pursue career opportunities. I would argue that most in this 18 to 23–year old demographic remain ignorant of these facts, and they become more vulnerable with each .edu email they send.
And that timebomb ticks on.
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