Student Requests for Email Feedback

Because of email and the Web, it's never been easier for students to test their learning with others interested in the same topic. This is not to say that students should be shooting off email indiscriminantly, filling up busy people's mailboxes. But if you've ever (and I hope you have) been on the receiving end of some online support, info, or encouragement from a "friend" you've never met except via email, then you know how powerful that can be. So let's discuss a few suggestions to preserve this Golden Age of email a few years longer.

No "Can you tell me everything / anything..." emails
Who, let alone a busy person, could respond to the kind of emails students tend to write initially? It's a little bit insulting for two reasons: 1) it makes the expert do all the work while the student asked one little question. 2) If someone's an expert, how could they boil it down to one email response (he or she may have written a book, movie, or Web site on the topic!).

Send hypotheses and ask for opinions, not facts
A better solution is to have the students do all the work and then send their final, best thinking to someone for feedback. Use the students' expertise as a calling card. When someone receives a thoughtful and effortful request for a little feedback, people are more likely to respond. Ask for opinions, as facts can be gained from other sources. Expert opinions are precious.

How to find real world feedback?
Although there are pages to Ask an Expert, the real power of the Web is that behind every Web page is at least one real person. And they are usually pretty passionate or they wouldn't be posting a Web page. So try "looking behind" Web pages. Email addresses are often listed at the bottom of pages. By having students seek out their own "experts," they must think about who to ask, learn about that person's work, etc. Also, when students find their own, you're not sending entire classes to spam one poor soul's mailbox. This is the strategy used in Searching for China 2.0. It's also a nice idea to ask someone if they would be willing to help out before actually sending the request for feedback (and NEVER send unannounced attachments with email messages).

Another way to access "experts" is through listservs and newsgroups. Some people have been very successful using these with their students, but there's some pretty heavy overhead involved: lurking long enough to see if the list or group has anything to say about your topic (never post without lurking for a little while or expect to be flamed). Also, the decorum (or lack) of some newsgroups is legendary and just the kind of thing to fuel justifiable parent outrage.

A safer bet is to hook up with another school or classroom. Registries like Web 66 can give you a geographical reason to look at some school's Web page. Then you can learn more by surfing their site. Once you break the ice and find someone to get feedback from, you might want to maintain the relationship and do some collaborative projects / WebQuests together.

Don't forget the local
Real world feedback does not have to come from the Web. It's fairly easy and sidesteps scheduling problems, but student work can be given authentic and legitimate assessment through such local options as presentations, debates, and exhibitions to local experts, peers, cross age students, and parents.

© 1999 - 2008 Web-and-Flow and Tom March