E-mail mistakes as a window onto digital literacy in higher education

An hour ago I received an accidental Teams invite which was (I think) sent to every working e-mail address at my former department. This immediately prompted a whole series of reply all messages, ranging from confusion through to a request to be removed from the mailing list. Each of these in turn was sent to the department wide forwarding address which means that a single mistake with a calendar has led to hundreds of people receiving 8 e-mails in the last hour which they otherwise wouldn’t have received. For any one person the distraction that might have resulted from this is relatively trivial but it’s a non-trivial interruption at an organisational level which would have been so easy to avoid.

I don’t mean this post as an attack on people who’ve done this. However it does leave me worrying that the level of digital literacy remains relatively low even with regards to a technology like e-mail that’s been around for decades. Examples like this are frequently encountered, such as the person tersely e-mailing “stop sending me these messages” to a mailing list they signed up to. It’s a problem which I suspect many imagined would simply resolve itself with time. Yet the evidence suggests this hasn’t been the case and the interaction of new platforms like Teams with the familiar structures of e-mail has only complicated things further.

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