E-mail in class grows as an instructional tool

E-mail in class grows as an instructional tool

(N.Y.) A 5,800-student district on the state’s western border plans to open the school year with a new communication tool in place for its older pupils – their own school email accounts.

When classes resume Sept. 8, middle and high school students at Lancaster Central School District will be able to create their own district-based email accounts to communicate with teachers, collaborate with peers or seek information from college and career professionals.

“Based on student request, we are opening a gateway to an enhanced level of communication and will become one of the first school districts in Western New York to give all students in grades seven through 12 their own email accounts,” district superintendent Michael Vallely wrote for an editorial published late last week in the Lancaster Bee.

Lancaster students, Vallely noted, have expressed to him their desire to learn how to maintain an email account for success in college and the workforce.

“By providing student email accounts,” he stated, “we are giving students a tool that will have an immediate impact on their academic lives.”

School-affiliated student email accounts, while not a new concept, appear to be springing up in more and more K-12 districts across the country as they transition to teaching new curriculum and administering computer-aided tests based on Common Core State Standards. The Common Core’s focus on college- and career-preparedness naturally lends itself to the use of modern technology, to deliver instruction as well as drive student learning.

A cursory check of the Internet revealed a lengthy list of districts – from Roseville, Calif. to Tolland, Conn. – that rolled out school-based student email accounts for the first time just last fall.

In addition to being able to use their district-issued email accounts to pose questions to teachers or reach out to each other about assignments and activities, students are learning proper use of the digital communication tool still used most often in the workplace.

“While text messaging is expedient, e-mail will help students become accustomed to a more formal model of communicating complex ideas,” Vallely wrote in his opinion piece. “Access to district-issued email is particularly vital to students who are seeking to secure internship opportunities or follow up on networking connections made with professionals who are linked to our academies.”

In a letter that went out to Tolland High School parents and students last fall, principal Dominique Fox said student email accounts were being offered because of the “wealth of educational resources available online” that require use of a district-affiliated email account.

“Some of these include Office365, Google Docs, Prezi, Diigo and more,” Fox wrote. “We are also hoping that these accounts will allow us to facilitate additional communication in and outside the classroom setting.”

Policies vary around how and when students may use their in-house email accounts, but many also contain introductory language reminding staff and students that use of district technology is a privilege requiring responsible and ethical use.   

Some local educational agencies allow access only during school hours while the pupil is using a district-owned computer or other digital device. In other places, students can log in to their account from anywhere at any time using any device.

Either way, most LEAs take maximum security precautions to prevent not only outsider access but student misuse as well.

At St. Charles East High School in St. Charles, Ill., students may access their email accounts at any time using a computer or mobile device and are encouraged on the school website to use them “for their official school business – to email teachers, to sign up for online educational tools, and to keep themselves organized using the calendar.”

The online notice also warns students that their accounts are restricted to receiving emails only from within the school and other approved sites, and that the information is monitored.

“Software is being used to 'flag' emails containing inappropriate attachments and language,” officials wrote.

Policies also generally contain a list of “unacceptable uses” of electronic mail and possible consequences of not following the guidelines.

Lancaster policy states that student email may not be used for unlawful activities, commercial purposes, personal financial gain, false identity in email communications, misrepresentation of the Lancaster Central School District, distribution of electronic chain letters or unsolicited mass communications and disruption, corruption or obstruction of electronic email communications.