To send is no guarantee of (meaningful) receipt

I was chastised recently (and rightly so) for failure to respond to an e-mail sent by a colleague. It did set me thinking, however, about a possible analogy between e-mail and teaching. This may be old hat, so apologies if I’ve reinvented the round thing with tyres.

People tend to make the assumption when an e-mail has been sent that it has been received, but there may be several ways in which this doesn’t hold true.  Firstly, it may not have been delivered at all – wrongly addressed perhaps (there’s a new student same surname, same initial just started at Leicester and they’ve kindly forwarded mail misdirected to them, though they need not have done so). Secondly, there may be some technical glitch – machine failure, necessary disconnection of PC whilst moving house/office, etc. Thirdly, the message may have made it successfully to the mailbox, it may even have been opened, but not to the grey matter of the recipient.

It’s this third example of the lack of – meaningful – receipt that struck me as most analagous to teaching. We can stand at the front of a lecture theatre “sending off e-mails” of the finest quality in the form of our lecture content, but there is no guarantee that this content is being received. Even if the student is present, and has signed the register to prove it, the message we are sharing may not elicit the response that was intended/expected. There may just be too much going on in their mental mailbox for our nuggets to be deemed to have the worth we attached to them.

I’m still working on how the analogy stretches to the other versions – failure to turn up to a session would be in there, as an example of the second sort, I guess. Any suggestions?