Tuesday, May 25th, Nick Carbone stirred things up on the TechRhet discussion list when he shared a FoxNews article on the implications of the e-mail addresses people choose: Youve Got E-mail, but Will It Cost You a Job?
The discussion that followed touched on various ways to manage the problematic e-mail address choices that students sometimes make. Hoping to avoid sending e-mail to such addresses as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, some participants suggested such options as requiring students to use a school address and simply telling students that they must choose wisely if they wanted their e-mail read.
According to this line of thought, students should be told that poorly chosen e-mail addresses might not project the image they wanted, whether the choice is problematic because its sexual or simply cutesy. Its hard to be taken seriously when youre going by the name cutebunnyface. Its an issue of audience awareness, of ethos. And it can be a simple issue of practicality as wellmany of us delete e-mail unread thats sent from any suggestive or unusual address that we dont recognize.
Jeff Rice questioned the practice of insisting upon only certain addresses for student correspondence, explaining the choice should be recognized as an expression of individual expression and urging us to think about the possibilities for allowing students to explore building personas in the digital age. Rice contended that we shouldnt limit students e-mail monikers but let them play with the options of identity that cyberspace allows.
For the most part, the discussion has been fairly basic. Id argue thats the problem with it. The online discussion focuses on the Dos and the Do Nots, on either rules that students must or should follow or a laissez-faire approach that translates into a third "Do As You Please" category. Only one post really addressed how to do anything about the very real issue of audience awareness that the article brought up. Will Banks wondered whether we might make this sort of identity work relevant to our classes. Banks suggested the following possibility:
What if we required students to have at least three or four email addresses: one for school work with teachers, one for friends, one for family, one for their Internet play as some differently gendered, differently classed, differently raced individualand let them play with these a while. Then we brought them back for a meta-analysis of their emails, of tone and stance, of how they construct that self in these spaces . . . What might that do, to take email names seriously, perhaps even how those names construct the user?
Banks recognized that there were likely to be IRB objections, or at the very least concerns, about such an assignment. So how can we address these questions of audience awareness without running into trouble? First, focus on student-centered pedagogy rather than teacher-imposed (or workforce or university, etc.) rules and criteria. Students need to ask themselves questions similar to those Mike Valentine, of Website101, poses to the business in an Internet Marketing Focus article:
What matters is that students understand that Your email address speaks volumesnot that they abide by a series of rules that they have had no say in. Our students, members of the Internet class, should not fall into the categories of the Dos and Do Nots. What matters is not whether they do or do not follow some rule, but whether they can create meaningful guidelines of their own.
To nudge students along this path, we can show them examples user ids and e-mail addresses and ask them what conclusions they draw about the people who use them. We can talk about how the marketing notion of branding applies to the individual in cyberspace. We can look at the many explorations of naming in fiction and in cultural traditions; then, ask students to extend what they see to the naming tradition shown in e-mail addresses. We can explore the well-established practice of authorial pseudonyms and apply that idea to identities on the Internet. We can not provide students with list of rules; we can instead provide students with situations that let them create their own meaning. Its not paying attention to the Dos and Do Nots that will lead to success for our students. Its learning how to evaluate options and decide for themselves that matters.