The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
The Open University as a distance teaching organisation uses email communication as the main method of communication with students. Emails can be sent to students studying modules from a wide variety of sources within the university, but there is little oversight or understanding of the individual student experience in terms of receiving the communications. Views differ on the effectiveness of email communication to students, but a quite widely held belief is that students can be overwhelmed and confused by the number of emails they receive which could lead to disengagement with the module.
This project investigated both the quantitative and qualitative value of the email communications sent to students on 3 first year undergraduate STEM modules:
Quantitative analysis of the number and type of emails sent to students studying only one module (S142, SDK125 or U116) over 31 weeks revealed an average and maximum number of email communications per student on each module. For S142: average 38, maximum 59, SDK125: average 67, maximum 82, U116: average 45, maximum 83.
Qualitative analysis from interviews undertaken with 40 students from each module to find out how they felt about the number and type of communications they were receiving revealed that students appreciated email as the main form of communication from the university, although they underestimated quite significantly the number of emails they receive.
Although this project focused on the volume of emails, interviews with students revealed that students' value communications from their tutors most highly and there are varied attitudes to email from other sources.