Open Mailing Lists

I’ve had a request for a post on the topic of free, open mailing lists (MLs). Many teachers are not members of organizations such as TESOL, for one reason or another, and so don’t have access to the MLs and online discussion groups provided by these organizations. MLs can be extremely useful–you get new ideas, colleagues to help you when you have a question, and sympathy when you have problems, without the cost of going to a conference or joining an organization. Everyone should join at least one or two MLs! So, here are some that don’t require any kind of paid membership–all are free. (This list does NOT include everything! If you know of a particularly good mailing list that isn’t included, please leave a comment.)

Many MLs function as discussion groups that allow for all members the ML to ask questions, give their opinions, etc.

One-way mailing lists are like newsletters: sent out for you to read, not as a forum for discussion. However, you can often respond or ask questions by e-mailing the author directly.

  • Tomorrow’s Professor, hosted at Stanford, sends out posts twice a week on a variety of general academic topics. Many posts relate specifically to American higher education, but others are relevant to any kind of educational or educational leadership situation. (They’ve recently added a Tomorrow’s Professor Blog where discussion can take place.)
  • World Wide Words is a newsletter-style ML about the history and usage of English. Not strictly relevant to teaching, but fun for language-lovers.

Mailing lists used to be more popular than they are now in these days of blogs and RSS, but not everyone is familiar with how they work. Here’s a little information to help you get started or improve your ML experience.

  • Discussion-group-type mailing lists work this way: You send an e-mail to the ML address. That triggers a small program which automatically sends the e-mail to everyone on the ML. You should be aware of each ML’s reply settings. With some lists, if you reply to a message, the “reply to” address is the one for the entire list. This is fine when you want everyone to read your answer, but sometimes you want to reply privately to the original writer. Make sure to use the original writer’s e-mail address in that case, so that you don’t send your cell phone number (etc.) to 4000 people! The opposite is true of other mailing lists: the default address on a reply is the original sender. That makes it difficult to continue discussions with everyone. Just be aware of what’s going on when you click “Reply,” and you’ll be fine (mostly–I’ve still managed to post some embarrassing, should-have-been-private messages to the entire CATESOL Board mailing list! Oops!).
  • If a ML has a searchable web-based archive, use it before asking questions–especially basic questions such as “Do any universities in Japan hire from overseas?” YahooGroups MLs usually have searchable archives, as do many others. Archives are also useful to check whether an ML is actually active or dead (or overrun with spam!), and to get a feel for the “culture” of each ML by reading older posts. Beware of MLs that mostly exist to promote a single website! MLs tend to have different formal or informal rules about things like quoting, self-promotion, etc. (When in doubt, be polite and apologetic, and you’ll be fine even if you make mistakes.)
  • Some mailing lists are moderated. This means that if you send a message to the ML, one of the owners or moderators must approve the message before it is sent to everyone. You may have to wait a while to see your message.
  • Too much of a good thing? If you’re getting too many messages, there are three things you can do. Most MLs have a “digest mode” that lets you get one big e-mail once a day/week/every 25 messages/etc. This can be a real life-saver, since you can skim the messages for the ones you’re interested in. Another strategy I suggest is getting a free Gmail e-mail account to use for your MLs, because Gmail automatically collects related subject lines into discussion threads. This doesn’t always work, but it usually makes things easier to follow for me. You can also easily use “filters” with most e-mail services, to automatically sort your ML messages into one “TESOL MLs” folder or something.





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