Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘email

I have been using web-based email applications exclusively for the last seven years as an education consultant. I did not have a choice as I no longer had access to corporate or exchange-based email like MS Outlook.

But I recently moved back to a dedicated email application, Mail on macOS Monterey, because it promised greater privacy and security. For example, one setting allows me to deactivate the tracking dots or images that some senders include in their email.

Another benefit of using a standalone email application is that I can receive and send email from separate accounts in one spot. Most online email apps also support this function, but I have found this to be unreliable at times.

For example, one parter I work with requires me to change my password regularly. Every time I do this, I update the password on my online email app. However, email does not get through and it can take weeks before I notice.

There is one feature I miss from an online email client like Gmail. It is the ability to schedule the sending of emails. I can carefully compose messages in advance and time them for release later. This used to be a Gmail add-on, but it eventually became a core feature.

So every now and then I return to Gmail to schedule emails. Monterey promises to have Mail extensions, but I have yet to see a scheduler. All in good time I suppose.

It is easy for me to ignore messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, and even email.

I have not posted on Facebook for years. I refuse to feed it data for its questionable algorithms. I use Facebook like a passport — for the rare occasion I need to prove my identity.

My byline in WhatsApp is “I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you” and I share a link to what I think is WhatsApp-tiquette. I leave groups or mute individuals that are noisy or pointless.

My WhatsApp byline.

Both Facebook and WhatsApp are full of navel gazing and misinformation even if I know the people there. These platforms become too porous when those same people share information without filters or critical thought.

Then there is email which is essential for work. On that I set strict filtering rules. One particularly effective strategy is filtering out email with too many recipients in the TO or CC header.

If this means I miss a few messages, then so be it. If there are that many people on a single email, it was probably not important or directed at me. It is also the best way to avoid spam.

It is not just easy to ignore messages on Facebook, WhatsApp, and email. I find it to be essential. Just as we self-quarantine to keep our bodies safe from the current pandemic, I ignore noise, misinformation, and disinformation during the concurrent “infodemic”.

I am not the first to point this out and I doubt I will be the last. The legal disclaimers or warnings that are automatically added to the end of organisational emails are ridiculous and unenforceable.

Here is one example:

This message and any files transmitted with it may be privileged and/or confidential and are intended only for the use of the addressee. If you are not the intended recipient, you shall not disseminate, copy or use this message for any purpose. If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately by return email and delete the original message. Thank you.

Simply adding it to the end of an email message does not absolve the sender of carelessness, stupidity, or responsibility. It tries to put the onus on the recipient while not being able to ensure their compliance.

So why do it? My guess is that someone started doing it and lemmings followed. If you are not convinced, read some corporate email and count the number of gentle reminders, kind assistance, or revert backs. It is lazy language disease that spread with use.

Just because something is high-sounding or threatening does not make it legally-binding. It is a lazy way to look effective but not actually be effective.

Last week I received email from GeBIZ to complete a survey (PDF file) and then either email the file or fax it.

Gebiz email requesting for survey returns.

The message and instructions begged these questions:

Perhaps someone conspired to rile GeBIZ users up so much that they would provide feedback to demand for more efficient and effective practices.

An online version of the form is both more efficient and effective.

  • Its submission is immediate as is a confirmation of receipt.
  • There is no need for people to compile data from two different sources into one.
  • The data can be automatically collated and analysed without first being inputted manually from the emailed PDFs or faxes, thereby reducing human error.

If this is what happens to a survey, I dare not imagine how other processes might be compromised.

As an educator, I cannot help but wonder what messages actions like these send to the larger system. Are these indicators of push-backs on progress?

I do not think that my concern is unwarranted. While mainstream school teachers are not quite affected Internet restrictions, there are already restrictions on services like Dropbox and mobile services.

If plans are only as good as their implementation, why does “smart talk, dumb walk” persist?

Policies crafted by leaders shape the work environment and culture. If higher-ups associate the Internet, social media, or anything “e” as dangerous or wasting time, they will enact policies that reinforce such hang-ups and nurture a culture based on fear.

Consider this scenario. Imagine I propose that school personnel decide on whether they spend money only on a textbook collection or Chromebooks. The books do not raise an eyebrow, but the response to Chromebooks is “Yes, but…”.

As different as schools are now compared to a generation ago, values and practices today are arguably still entrenched in the past. Ask teachers if they integrate technology and it is still common to hear phrases like “technology to enhance”, “the basics are more important”, “we don’t want the kids to be distracted”, or “the exams are handwritten”.

Technology should not just enhance, it should enable learning. The basics have changed and are more complex and kids need to be empowered. Very little outside of conventional exams and schools is handwritten. Even GeBIZ asked for email replies.

Despite the smart talk and inspiring rhetoric, what actually makes a difference is the walk. It easy to say you want innovation in schools. It is more difficult to create conditions for change.

I very rarely use my blog to endorse an app, particularly one that is not directly related to educational technology.

But I am so impressed with Acompli for iOS that I think others should use it too. Android users can visit the Acompli website for updates.

Video source

The app is very accomplished for one that seems to be a mail app at first glance. It is also a sorting and scheduling app.

As an email app, it is better than the stock app in that you can sort email by what is unread, is flagged, or has file attachments. You can short swipe to archive email or long swipe to delete it. You can tap and hold items in the inbox for quick actions.


You can access your calendar (mine is GCal) straight from the app. Acompli handles schedule invites by letting you know if there are conflicts with existing appointments.

When you compose new email, you can also schedule an appointment, provide your location, and attach photos or other files.


Best of all, you get the app for nothing. It is free. This gives us the collective permission to wonder how the app company expects to monetize it, if its efforts are sustainable, or if some other larger fish will come along and gobble it up.

That aside, I should point out that I have not been asked to promote this app nor am I gaining anything from the company by extolling the affordances of Acompli.

The app seems to be very well thought out with a clear user-centric focus. The people behind it seemed to not just problem-solve but also problem-seek. And that is something we can all practice in our bid to be better than we were the day before.

This tweet popped up on my Twitter stream earlier this week.

Talk about overkill.

I wonder if the same person would like to monitor personal email for evidence of work too. After all, if staff should not be shopping at work, they should not be working during their personal time.

Such black and white dichotomies of thinking and acting are not just outdated, they are also harmful. They show a lack of understanding, currency, and concern. This could lead to an erosion of trust and morale.

Why enact policy when there can be guidelines? Why impose technical monitoring when there can be social systems of checks and measures?

I overheard this short conversation recently.

A: Do you feel insecure about not receiving email in your inbox?

B: I know what you mean. Yes. But I am more worried about email I am expecting, not email in general.

I harbour no such insecurities because I receive a ton of email every day from four main email accounts.

Ignoring the spam, there are notifications from every social medium I use, work-related email, and personal messages. I list them in the rough order of volume.

The volume of social media notifications is not to be sniffed at. While I deactivate the trivial options, I still get lots of notifications particularly for semestral teaching. I can get at least 100 such notifications each day, but these are easy to process and manage.

The worst email is the type from people who do not know how to use it in a socially responsible way. I am referring to things like replying to all when you should reply to one. Or trying to arrange a meeting (use Doodle or a calendaring tool!). Or using email to chat. Or receiving messages from people who want to show you how busy they are.

The better use of email might include things like preliminary introductions and follow-up summaries after phone calls or face-to-face meetings. Email is used to connect and to document. It is not a good social or scheduling tool. There are other tools and strategies for that.


Here is a non-example and an example of authentic learning.

I took a photo during a school visit of student work pasted on a board at the back of a classroom. Kids had been told to compose email on paper.

If you do not see a problem with that, you should not read any further because you do not understand what it means to create an authentic learning experience.

Anyone who argues that developing penmanship or practising grammar is the purpose of this exercise is missing the point. The point is learning with context and in context.

You should email to learn how to email. Having a dry run on paper is a terrible excuse in a modern classroom.

So what does an authentic email lesson look like? I share a quick, unplanned lesson I gave my son recently.


  1. A classmate sent my son an email with a few questions about project work.
  2. I told my son that he had to structure this email (greet, reply, sign off). In replying, he should learn to paragraph logically. The part numbered 2 and bound in green was his reply.
  3. A day later, my son received a reply but it was not immediately obvious what it was because it was typed at the bottom of the email (instead of the top) and indented with a previous reply.

This is how my son picked up a more authentic lesson on email writing, structure, and protocol using an iPad mini.

You learn to email with email. You learn the rules of email and writing, when you can break the rules, value systems (being nice), taking perspectives in the absence of visual and aural cues, and so much more.

When I asked the Twitter community at #edsg this question, I had an agenda.

I wanted to know if their concerns about email abuse were similar to mine. I had already drafted five golden rules for the Centre for e-Learning to abide by and was hoping to tweak it.

Why focus on lowly email? We have learnt how to use it technically, but I think we might not always know how to use it socially.

So here are my five golden rules for email (with some elaboration):

1. Do not rely on email as the default communication tool

  • When you can chat in person.
  • When you can use some other tool, e.g., Calendar, GDocs, Office Communicator, GHangout.

2. Follow up with concise, summative email after important chat/events

  • Documenting or evidence gathering, e.g., when details were discussed over the phone and not documented.
  • Getting feedback and responding to it.
  • Providing follow up by drawing attention to online resources, e.g., a playlist in our YouTube channel.

3. Refrain from sending long email or cc-ing

  • If your email response takes longer to write than a phone call, don’t email.
  • Do not cc everyone you can think of.

4. Think outside yourself

  • Pretend that your email can be read by someone you are not sending it to. What might they say?
  • Do not write the way you talk.
  • Think carefully before sending email to a person who is on leave, ill, taking care of a loved one, etc.
  • Ask yourself if your email exchange can add to our KM system. Email resides in your HDD, not in someone else’s. Act in a way that helps others.
  • Anticipate the other party’s needs: What questions can I answer even before the person asks me?
  • Be responsive: Reply promptly; reassure, clarify or direct action, take action, reassure again.

5. Check before you send

  • Never send in haste or anger
  • Spell and grammar check


Usage policy

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