Tool Review: Boomerang

Do you use G-mail as your main e-mail account? I do. Currently, I also have an account with my university, but Emory does not provide perpetual alumni access, so I prefer to use Gmail to avoid the possibility of having to switch accounts in the future. (Although, that still could happen…but right now Gmail doesn’t seem to me to have major, viable competitors.)

For the last few months, I’ve been using a Gmail plug in called Boomerang. This was one of the tools I was introduced to during the Digital Humanities Winter Institute. The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) team uses this Gmail add-on as one of many tools for managing their grant projects. In particular, they use it to schedule e-mails to re-send automatically. I like the idea that you can send an e-mail with the expectation that someone you’re working with might like to take a cursory glance and then encounter the e-mail again in a few weeks. I could see scheduling e-mails and automated reminders for my students to help them to think about class projects ahead of time. I like to strike a balance between reminding students of deadlines and allowing them to manage their assignments themselves. With reminder e-mails, students would have an opportunity to think about an assignment several times with a fairly low investment of time from me. I suspect this might have the added benefit of reminding students to keep in touch with me and ask questions about assignments through e-mail rather than by talking to me after class. I prefer to use the time before and after class to answer questions directly related to the class discussion instead of housekeeping questions. With e-mail, it’s easier for me to review the syllabus — and, when relevant, the student’s past assignments. The more that students feel comfortable reaching out through e-mail or other forms of media, the more that they’ll keep my class in mind and prioritize assignments.

Another great feature of Boomerang is that it allows you to schedule e-mails to be sent at a future time/date. It’s always bothered me that Gmail doesn’t have this feature built in. For many years now, my best working time has been late at night. However, I prefer to send professional e-mails during normal business hours. For one thing, I feel that people are sometimes conditioned to belive that quality work can only occur 9-5. While I disagree, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to communicate effectively with people who work on a more traditional schedule out of preference and/or necessity. Additionally, this feature of Boomerang allows me to schedule an e-mail to appear around the time that the recipient is most likely to be able to deal with it. I can send an e-mail to a student an hour prior to when I know they’re having a meeting with their peer writing group, for example.

Boomerang also allows you to request a reminder if an e-mail hasn’t received a response in a certain amount of time. This is particularly useful for sending e-mails related to scheduling meetings. When I teach, I prefer to meet with students individually prior to major writing assignments. Using Boomerang, I can schedule the meetings right in Gmail and ask Boomerang to e-mail me if I don’t hear back by a certain deadline. This would help me to keep track of which students might be asking for a last-minute meeting and to decide ahead of time how to deal with this in my scheduling.

In general, I find that students are pretty good about answering e-mails. It seems to be a low threshold form of communication where students feel comfortable. I know my students also seem to respond to the fact that I answer e-mails quickly myself. It’s generally the fastest way to reach me. With Boomerang, I feel like I have more tools to help me keep track of these important conversations, moving more management work outside of class time so that I’m not dealing with a rush before or after class of students who’ve been needing to talk to me since the last in-perosn meeting. Based on Emory’s policies, I would need to be sure not to answer any e-mails about grades from my Gmail account, which I could solve by using a linked account.

You can find Boomerang at: http://www.boomeranggmail.com/ Do you think Boomerang would be useful for you?

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