Technological Development & E-mail Alter Faculty-Student Communication

In an era when online technology is the main form of communication, PA has embraced e-mail as a means to improve student life and existing relationships between faculty and students. Although some faculty initially disliked e-mail, now the general consensus among faculty is that e-mail should be welcomed and is an effective tool for communication between students as long as faculties create boundaries and guidelines for students. As Instructor in Math William Scott said, “The ease at which one can communicate by email is a blessing and a curse.” For most teachers at PA, e-mail is a much-appreciated communication tool for individual students as well as for entire classes. Teachers often use e-mail to assign homework to students or remind them of a lecture the class must attend. According to Instructor in History and Social Science Edwin Quattlebaum, e-mail has increased teachers’ awareness about the activities of students and has helped to expand their understanding of students. E-mail is the common method for students to schedule personal time. According to The Blue Book, students may ask for personal time each term for one period from their classes and sports. However, students must ask at least one day in advance of the class. Teachers are often bombarded with e-mails requesting personal time less than 24 hours before class. Some teachers think it is unacceptable to discuss and schedule personal time via e-mail. On students’ negligent behavior when scheduling personal time by e-mail, Dr. Quattlebaum said, “[Personal time] can erode a teacher’s authority…it is certainly not what was intended.” On the other end of the spectrum concerning the scheduling of personal time, Chair of the English Department Jonathan Stableford thinks that e-mail is more convenient. Students at Phillips Academy also use e-mail to their advantage when asking for extensions on papers or tests. On the topic of paper extensions and its effectiveness through e-mail, Mr. Stableford said, “Each teacher should establish clear rules with his class. [If] the class accepts the teacher’s authority, e-mail can be very useful for late submissions.” E-mail is relatively new technology; however, it is clear that PA has benefited from it. Most teachers believe that e-mail has improved communication within the school to a slight degree. Dr. Quattlebaum said, “A bigger factor that contributes [to the improvement of communication at PA] is human nature. If people are good communicators, they are good before and after [e-mail was created].” According to Mr. Scott, e-mail is a helpful way to communicate with his classes but he was thankful that he had served as Cluster Dean before e-mail arrived at the Academy. In his opinion, he was grateful that when he needed to communicate with a student, he could go to the dorm and speak to the student in person. Although e-mail has become the dominant form of communication at PA, teachers are in favor of face-to-face conversations as they are often more meaningful and personal. E-mail has made the faculty at PA more approachable. Some teachers are concerned that the increased use of e-mail, combined with their more casual relationships with faculty, has allowed students to say uncharacteristic, and sometimes inappropriate things, to teachers. Mr. Stableford said, “I think we are constantly defining what is appropriate and what is not with students.” According to Dr. Quattlebaum, for communication through e-mail to remain a blessing it is clear that faculty must “set guidelines and limits for email. E-mail won’t erode a teacher’s authority if teachers are foresighted enough to set limits.” At PA, students receive e-mails from the administration, faculty, and students on topics ranging from the coming weeks’ All-School Meeting or the next day’s homework assignment.