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Teaching/Coaching: Using E-mail to Create a Classroom Community

Dr. Joanne Margaret Hynes-Dusel

For the last two semesters, I've used e-mail as a form of extended office hours for three of my collegiate physical education classes.

When I introduced my students to e-mail, I had hoped, at the very least, they would become comfortable with this new technology and at the most, use it with their own students when they found a full-time teaching position.

Unexpected Benefit of E-mail

By the end of each semester, most students did become proficient with e-mail, but beyond this new skill, came an unexpected benefit—they began to reveal their distinct identities. Freshman in particular need to make connections with the school if they are going to succeed. Many of these students found that e-mail made me more available to them through these “extended electronic office hours.”  For example:

“. . . I was just thinking back to when we conducted interviews with one of our other professors, and it made me wonder about a few things: how did you get into teaching physical education and did you always want to teach physical education? Oh, and thanks for everything.”

“. . . I just wanted to let you know that I wasn't in class today because my grandfather is very ill. I had to go to the hospital early this morning to see him. I have had a terrible time with this, but I am giving it my all so that I can finish the semester. I will be in class on Thursday.”

These postings focused on my students' genuine concerns: What is more important, my grandfather or my attendance? One student thanked me “for everything.” E-mail encouraged students to display feelings in an acceptable way—it provided a non- threatening way to establish a personal connection with an adult.

Facilitates Class Discussion

E-mail facilitated class discussion. Classes seemed more lively compared to the days I didn't use it. The students were more involved and connected to the course material and I sometimes continued on e-mail where the class left off. For example, I wrote to one student, commenting on her courage in class:

“Thanks for being so brave this afternoon, bringing up a very sensitive subject. Any time we open up a dialogue, we are taking a risk, but those are important risks to take. . . if we don't talk (or write) about our differences, we won't be able to find out how alike we really are.”

The student wrote back:

“Thanks for your support on speaking out in class. I was afraid I may have upset a few students who feel...”
Conclusion

Through e-mail, we're able to break down the traditional hierarchy between teacher and student and explore ideas and relationships together online. That holds true for elementary, middle and high school physical educators and their students as well as for university professors.

Most of the articles on e-mail focus on the opportunities it affords for improving technology use. They ignore an equally important element: the opportunity for students to extend their identities, connect with the school and communicate with their instructor.

Contributor:  Dr. Joanne Margaret Hynes-Dusel is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Towson University in Maryland.


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