In my experience, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest indicators of the digital divide is how often and how (un)comfortably students use email.
Show me a urban ninth grader of color who has an email account and checks email more than once a week, and I’ll show you a college-bound student.
(One condition: The student’s inbox must include messages other than hundreds of MySpace notifications.)
At my school, the opposite is true. The majority of my students, particularly those who struggle academically, look at me weird when I tell them to check their email.
I worry about the email gap because it correlates with academic achievement, job opportunities, and college acceptance rates.
Part of the problem, of course, is access. Students without computers at home have less chance of having an email account.
But at my school, despite racial and socioeconomic demographics, most students have Internet at home. So what’s the real problem?
Email is passe
In my opinion, for my students, email is passe. When you have a cell phone, Facebook, texting and instant messaging, the medium has become too slow for my never-at-home students.
Although shocking to 30-somethings like me, it’s entirely possible that my students have never heard of email because it’s too old.
In addition, email is just too formal for my students. There’s a big blank page where you can write real sentences and paragraphs. It’s like a block paragraph formal business letter. Might as well write an essay.
That’s the point, though. Email has become the standard communication method of dominant culture, business culture, college-educated culture, and that’s precisely why I need to teach email to my students.
In previous years, I made sure all my students had an email account on Yahoo. Then last year, when we moved to Google Apps, all students got a professional, slick-sounding account at our domain. I could rest assured that students would represent themselves well on a resume.
But despite those advances, students still are not using their email accounts very much except to notify their friends that they’ve shared a Google Doc.
Therefore, I must do a better job this year at incorporating email into my curriculum. And it can’t be how I’ve done it before. I have to figure out ways to engage my students and encourage them to use email. I need to figure out why email would be useful to my students, why they would care. I’ll keep you posted about my attempts, and please let me know if you have ideas.