prEmailing – The Origin Story

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You may have noticed that prior to each Circle of Innovation there are a few emails that come out, usually with videos, games or useful tips. You may also have wondered, why do we send them. Well, welcome to prEmailing – the origin story. Prior to the start of Circles, the team was reading quite a bit from a variety authors. One idea that stood out was the concept of Thin Slicing.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (2005), we learned that the term “thin-slicing” refers to the ability of individuals to make rapid, yet reliable judgments or decisions based on relatively modest amounts of information. Such an ability, Gladwell argues, testifies to the substantial amount of unconscious, instinctive knowledge that many people have acquired over the course of their lives and professional careers. A wonderful teaching example of this comes from the work of Ambady & Rosenthal (1993) On the basis of thirty second observations (three compiled ten second observations from the beginning, middle, and end of a class, 30 seconds total), complete strangers were found to be able to quite accurately predict the ratings of teachers by students who had interacted with them for an entire semester. That got us thinking. When students judge us on the first day of class, what impressions do we leave, and could we positively preempt prejudgment? It also got us thinking, since we were starting a new faculty development project, how could we get people to have a different first impression? How could we get people to see Circles as something a bit different. Some of you may recall the video we sent out prior to our first Circle. Since this video we have used a variety of tricks to peak interest and share learning.


Of course, prE-mailing students is something anyone can do. It can be done to engage students early in a semester, even before meeting them. Teachers can send a prE-mail anytime before the beginning of a course, but it is good to send one a week or so before a class is scheduled to begin. prE-mails can be used to:

  • Introduce Yourself (a video can add a personal touch in online and hybrid environments, but this can also be used in face-to-face classes)
  • Introduce the Course (Screencasts point out critical components of a course, even how to log-in)
  • Build Excitement for the Course (Sharing your excitement often buildsstudent interest)
  • Spark Curiosity in the Course (The Answer Is _____! It can be fun to give students the answer [and only the answer] to a question that will be asked on the first day. This helps to build curiosity for the first day).
  • Showcase the Course Texts and Syllabus (Some students get lost in the books store; pictures help) It is also good to give students the opportunity to read the syllabus before class starts.
  • Include an Introductory Survey (Learn key information about your students before day 1 so that you can Start Right).
  • The Sky Is Really the Limit….There is no Lid

Not sure what we mean by the Lid? That was also part of one of our first Circles.

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