Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A few more thoughts on email

A little more netiquette

Sometimes we copy just too many people into an email. It might be because we’re taking a short-cut. It will save writing another one later. Or it could be because we’re covering our backs. We want our line manager to know we’ve had this conversation. Students might copy us in as well with a similar motivation.
Then, of course, there are the congratulations. Yes, good to reply all to these but delete them straight away afterwards though you might want to keep any directed to yourself – keep a folder called Nice Emails. That can really cheer you up on gloomy days.
However, we need to be careful. Copying to every man and his dog can cause confusion and fill lots of mail boxes.
One simple trick makes it much easier:
Address the people who really need to see it, and cc others who might find it useful.
Seriously consider whether cc’ing a line manager is necessary. If the matter is serious you can keep the trail and pass it on later. Give the colleague / student a chance to get it right first. There will be exceptions, of course.  
If you’re only cc’ed, you probably don’t need to reply nor even keep the email.  
What about bcc? It can be useful if addressing a mixed readership of students and staff but sometimes it can even seem rude. You’re holding all of the secrets and keeping them from other people in the group. Should you be sending to a group if those people don’t trust each other anyway? Creating a proper mailing list gets round this nicely.
Yes, recently I got involved in a complex exchange that was copied in to so many people that I became increasingly confused about who I was talking to and didn’t recognise a (deserved) apology when it arrived.   


What to keep and what to throw away

Get rid of the huge attachments. You can take them off the email and save the email if you want to but why would you want to for Student Support Plans or Attendance Letters? Just save the attachment. However, sensitive information shouldn’t be kept on local drives. Of course, our remote F drives fill up quickly as well.
Student Support Plans are kept on the V drive so it may be a matter of noting a name and referring to the V drive from time to time.
Copies of attendance letters go into student files anyway. Look them up when you need to write a reference.   

Promptness of reply

Three working days? Easy – the routines I’ve described elsewhere on this blog usually allow emails to be answered within 24-48 hours. Normally. There are exceptions:
·         When we’re busy marking
·         If we work 0.3 or 0.5 FTE – we can’t quite make it in the three working days and stay sane. But we’re probably getting fewer emails anyway. Train people to know that you can only answer Tuesday and Thursday or whenever. I only answer Monday to Friday anyway. Usually.    
·         When we’re ill ( hey we are human, you know)
·         When we’re away at a conference.  
The out of office tool comes in useful here. Keep people informed. When I’m marking I tend to prioritise students and colleagues with urgent matters. However, it’s also worth considering:
·         If the information is available elsewhere, pointing the student to it. (Blackboard, Blackboard, Blackboard – we have a VLE, we may as well use it)
·         Building up the culture of a visit in office hours being worth pages of emails.
·         Taking a sweep through the building, including the canteen, a couple of times a day and making a point of talking to any students or colleagues you see.     
·         If three people ask you the same question, putting an announcement containing the answer on Blackboard.  

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher

It was such a great privilege to run this again and it is certainly one of the highlights of my job. This conference is about the young adult novel and attracts a mixed audience:
  • Academics
  • Writers
  • Educationalists
 Some delegates happen to be all three at once and many, myself included, are members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI)

Once again Melvin Burgess talked about his work and provided the “pushing boundaries” talk.  My own research establishes that young adult novels frequently push boundaries. Junk, My Life as a Bitch and Doing It are good examples.

Sara Grant, a long-term member of SCBWI, one of the founders of the Undiscovered Voices anthology, gave the “flying higher” talk.  She had the after lunch slot but kept us on our toes by making us create a story. It was good to see Sara again. She and I have history: we used to meet regularly to share work and critique in the back room of the Sherlock Holmes hotel on Baker Street. In fact, when I started reading Dark Parties, I recognised a scene. This was from the very last critique session we held before I came up north.

The second half of the morning was taken up with some in-depth critiquing. Three SCBWI groups met together. Melvin and Cornerstones / independent editor and author Debz-Hobbs Wyatt led a joint critique session with four people who had submitted some work. Sara saw another four one-to-one. 

Whilst the critiques were going on, the academics and those not involved in critiquing discussed a possible manifesto for the Young Adult Novel. We debated the following questions:

Questions to consider

1.       Who are the gatekeepers?
2.       What are the ingredients?
3.       What are the characters like in the stories?
4.       What type of stories are / should, be being produced?
5.       Is the young adult novel relatively new or has it always been there?
6.       What is its relationship between it and teen novel and new adult novels?
7.       Is the young adult novel always a story of growth?
8.       Is the upbeat ending from children’s books still there?
9.       What sort of bonds are there between reader and narrator in YA literature?
10.   Why do adolescents read fiction? Do they read fiction? Which ones?
11.   Is there a need for the novel to teach? Be moral? Have something to say?
12.   What about issues?
13.   What about diversity? Is it there? Should it be there? What else might be done? 
14.   Is it making use of new technologies?
15.   How do young people consume story?
16.   What are the pressures and constraints?
17.   What about the car chase?
18.   Could computer games count as young adult fiction?
19.   How does the tendency to push boundaries affect its relationship to the book-publishing industry?
20.   Which role does the young adult novel take in the life of the young adult?

The manifesto

What do we mean by young adult and young adult novel?
How should we look after young adult novels?
What are they?
What must they, should they and could they include?
What is their relationship to young adults, educationalists and the publishing industry?

I’m hoping to collate our findings for an article in The Conversation. The debate can continue. Please add comments here, use the contact form or contact me via the University of Salford.  

Nikki Heath, the librarian from Werneth School, gave us some insights into how teenagers are encouraged to read and about what they are currently reading.

My own session was about the value of networking and how readers and writers can support themselves. I mentioned SCBWI, Golden Egg, CWIG, Booktrust, Armadillo Magazine, Books for Keeps and Carousel.  

The final session was a round table / panel discussion about the current state of the young adult novel. This involved Melvin, Sarah, Debz, Nikki and Vanessa Harbour, senior lecturer form the University of Winchester and also involved with the Golden Egg Academy, and Rachel McIntyre, published SCBWI member. We established that 55% of readers are not in fact young adults. However, young adults do read young adult books and they want their voices to be heard. They should be truly represented there. There is a move away now form fantasy, dystopia and near future towards current real life. The happy ending is not expected.

Of course, the conversation continued over dinner.
A really pleasing conference. I just might do it again next year ….. Of course I will.