Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

How can we help staff to learn about the new email package?

Rhondda Tilbrook
Educational Development Unit
Edith Cowan University
Edith Cowan University has been through a major strategic planning process during the last twelve months. One outcome was the implementation of a standard computing environment for both hardware and software across the university. Until mid 1998 several programs had been used by staff for electronic mail - email. A number of problems had arisen due to incompatibility between the programs especially when sending attached files. After much consultation it was decided that one package, Novell Groupwise was to become the official package for electronic messaging. This program covers a range of options from simple email through to full groupware functions of shared document management and group scheduling. The Educational Development Unit was assigned the task of providing training for all staff, academic and general, in use of the package. This raised a number of dilemmas for the Unit. Could it be assumed that all staff would want/need to learn all the features of the program? How much would prior use of email influence training needs? What is the best way to teach staff about the program? How much should we be teaching staff about the use of the package? How do we coordinate the training with the installation of the new software?

Introduction

A major strategic planning process has been undertaken at Edith Cowan University (ECU) during the last twelve months which resulted in development of the ECU Strategic Plan. The area of Communications and Information was covered extensively and "the key strategic direction for communications and information technology is the development of a common system infrastructure support for major business functions, a user driven data access model for all its information systems and common agreed standards for administrative infrastructure in communications and information technology." (ECU, p. 32). One area in which there was no standardisation and a diversity of programs was being used by ECU staff was electronic mail - email. In order to find out more about staff needs with respect to email a survey on email usage within the university was conducted in late 1997. Eight different email programs were identified as currently being used by staff with 48% of respondents using Pegasus.

Email has been used as a means of communication by both academic and general staff within ECU for several years. It is used as a means of communication with colleagues within ECU and at other universities and for communication with students. Academics working in disciplinary isolation have found email useful especially as it facilitates collaboration with distant colleagues. One advantage of email is that it enables quick communication and it has been found to be useful for administrative work. Some staff have used email as a means of circulating electronic documents but problems have arisen due to incompatibility of computer platforms and software. In the ECU survey on email usage one of the major complaints was inability of reliably receiving and reading attachments from a variety of sources.

Current uses of email

Applebee, Bruce, Clayton, Pascoe & Sharpe (1998) surveyed a sample of 1054 academics from all Australian universities in 1997 on their use of the Internet. Five hundred and thirty-nine staff (51.3%) responded and of those the highest proportion of respondents used email on a daily basis to communicate with colleagues on the same university campus. The academics found email useful or very useful for administration (91%); research (87.7%); communicating with colleagues as part of the teaching process (84%); personal use (83%); publication (65.4%); communicating with students as part of the teaching process (57.3%) and community service/contribution to profession or industry (54.2%). It could be assumed that these figures are representative of academics at all universities and indicate the main uses of email by academic staff at ECU.

Since July 1997 email has become a major means of communication within the ECU community with university wide messages from the Vice Chancellor about the strategic plan, new staff appointments, major projects, awards to staff, contract positions and invitations to functions within the university. As the management team has expanded the new members have also embraced the concept of email as the major form of communication. A number of announcements to staff are now only sent as electronic messages. If staffwant to keep up-to-date with developments within the university they need to be able to access their email. According to Hooff (cited in Applebee et al., 1997, p.8) "The more geographically dispersed an organisation is, the more it will be able to improve its internal communication through email use". At ECU where staff are located on four metropolitan campuses and at Bunbury email should be used more extensively as a quick and effective means of communication.

The Educational Development Unit (EDU) at ECU provides encouragement and support for academic staff with their teaching and assessment strategies. The Unit has found that an email message sent university-wide is an effective method for advertising workshops and services and increasing staff awareness and attendance. After each email which has been sent by EDU there has been a large number of responses for the advertised event. One of the replies to the ECU survey summarised the current situation well; "I find that although e-mail is now being more utilised within the University, there are still a lot of people reluctant to use e-mail to its potential. Many people don't read their messages, therefore don't reply to them. A lot of paper work currently floating within the University could be reduced." To ensure the use of email within the university keeps growing the difficulties of using email and the reluctance of some staff need to be overcome.

GroupWise - the new email package

After an extensive evaluation process the Novell program GroupWise was selected as the official ECU email package. The Groupwise program will be made available to all staff for their office and home computers. The major benefits to staff of having one package are that a university address book will be established, sending and receiving of attachments will be simplified and the package contains more features than the currently used email programs. The package will be rolled out and installed on computers in a phased operation to ensure everything is functioning properly for one area before the next stage is commenced.

In the ECU survey, staff indicated some of the features of an email package which they thought were important: the ability to format email content; support for a variety of attached documents; ability to open attached documents from within the email program; remote access to all their email from their home computer; customised or personal address books and mukiple books; and HTML/URL support within email. GroupWise provides all these features. As well as simple electronic messaging the package contains full groupware functionality including the sending and receiving of appointments and tasks, calendars, document management and workflow.

Training

The Educational Development Unit was given the task of providing training in the use of Groupwise. Three hundred and sixteen staff completed the ECU survey on email usage. This is approximately ten percent of the entire staff at ECU. The responses provide an indication of what requirements staff have for email usage and which of the features of a comprehensive program such as GroupWise they may be interested in using. However the results do not provide any information on which features of the program staff would need to be trained to use.

A few respondents to the survey made comments on training as follows:

Some ongoing/advanced training would be very helpful, especially related to email message management;

Good notes to explain how to use these facilities;

Some of my "don't know" responses result from not knowing how one could use some of these features, especially if other staff in the programme area are not able/interested in developing communications by electronic means. Some of these responses result from not knowing the benefits of these other features. Training and user support will be critical if introducing new email programmes/software;

If we change, make sure that the people providing the new package provide training to a good proportion of users as part of the deal!!!!!

Training in all aspects of packages on demand would allow rational use of facilities.

Applebee et al. (1998) reported in their literature survey that academics often mention the need for training on use of the Internet. Jacobs (cited in Applebee et al., 1998, p. 9) found that academic researchers do not use Internet resources to their full potential and the addition of some skill or knowledge could have increased their effective use of the Internet. Two factors which cause limited use are lack of training and lack of time for learning properly and for using the resource, such as an email package, well.

The need to be able to help staff learn effectively about the new package in a limited time frame raises a number of dilemmas for the Educational Development Unit as they plan the training program.

Staff need to be made aware of all the features of the new program and then they can decide how many they will use. What is the most effective way of providing all staff with an overview of the contents of the package?

No data is available on how many staff are currently using email within ECU and the skill level of staff. It is possible that there are some staff who have not been using any email package. Will they need to learn the basic features of email? Will staff who are currently using email want training or could they be provided with notes on the basic features of GroupWise and they could teach themselves?

Forty eight percent of the respondents to the ECU survey were currently using Pegasus as their email package. This is a basic program which allows sending, replying to and forwarding of email messages. No formatting of text is available. Will instruction in features such as formatting, use of attachments, use of address books and remote access be needed?

It is probable that groups of staff will want to use the advanced features of GroupWise but the majority will not be interested in using them. Should these features be covered in training for all staff or should they be part of a separate workshop to be done after the staff member has been using GroupWise for a period of time? If a separate workshop is organised and the number of potential users is unknown how many workshops should be scheduled?

Staff will not be able to remember everything which is covered in a training workshop. Should course materials be provided and what format should be used - online or hard-copy? Should the materials be made available to staff who do not attend a training session?

It is planned to have GroupWise installed university wide within six months. How will staff learn about GroupWise if they miss the initial training sessions? Should an ongoing program of training be arranged to enable new staff to learn about GroupWise?

All staff, including sessional, will be given the package. How do we ensure that the sessional staff are notified about the training and are able to use GroupWise effectively?

The Educational Development Unit has been providing one-on-one assistance to staff with the use of their computer and software. There will be some staff who will want this type of help with learning GroupWise. As it is an expensive method of teaching should staff only be able to have this help after they have attended a training workshop?

As staff/students learn more effectively when they are active participants in the process they will learn how to use a package such as GroupWise better if the instruction is hands-on. they need to be able to use the different features of the package as the training session progresses. Is it possible to have GroupWise made available in computing laboratories on each campus so hands-on classes can be conducted? Are there enough computers available for training sessions on each campus? Are there sufficient instructors to conduct sessions in the time the program is being rolled out at one location? How many staff will actually want hands-on training in the basic features of GroupWise?

Once staff have learnt about GroupWise they will want to be able to use it on their own computers. How can the training be coordinated to fit in with the roll out of the package onto the computers?

Conclusion

The Educational Development has been set a daunting task of providing the training for the new email package and ensuring that staff are able to learn about GroupWise. A number of dilemmas have been raised as the process of planning and providing the training has been considered. All the dilemmas need to be considered to ensure that staff are provided with as much opportunity as possible to learn how to use the package properly and that they will be able to use the package and continue the learning process on their own computer. The success of the project of installing the new email package may be judged on the number of staff who are using GroupWise and their level of satisfaction. Both of these will be dependent on how well the dilemmas are solved and how well staff are able to use the package.

References

Applebee, A., Bruce, H., Clayton, P., Pascoe, C. & Sharpe, E. (1998). Academics on Line: A nationwide quantitative study of Australian academic use of the Internet. Adelaide: Auslib Press.

Edith Cowan University. (1998). The Edith Cowan University Strategic Plan 1998-2002. Perth, Western Australia: Author.

Please cite as: Tilbrook, R. (1999). How can we help staff to learn about the new email package? In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 443-446. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/tilbrook.html


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