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Inbox Assignment 

Envelope icon with unread message icon with paper plane on a yellow background Mailing by email. 3d render illustration.Summary: Transform your teaching with Inbox Assignments! Engage students and boost learning outcomes through real-world email scenarios. Explore this innovative approach now.

Date of publishing: August 16, 2023

How’s your email inbox looking today? This can be a stressful question! We each have different ways of addressing projects but the reality is that email often plays a huge role in how we manage our to-do list. How do we prepare students for this career reality? Simulating a project via an inbox is a way to make a case study more authentic  

Case-based learning helps students address a complex problem. Students often work in small teams each with a different role to bring a specific perspective to the problem. With adding the inbox messages, the task because more experiential and gives the students actions to ‘do’. When we want students to develop process-oriented skills, they need practice and feedback on how well they are doing it. This fits into the experiential learning framework : to know and do in context with reflection and feedback. When students work with the inbox as an information processing tool, they are practicing an authentic skill which requires communicating effectively while leveraging technology and problem solving. This helps prepare them for working with community and industry partners in the future. 

Here is a template operating procedure for an inbox assignment: 

  • Set students into groups using Canvas or another group messaging tool. 
  • Share the project assessment criteria with students so they know how they will be marked. 
  • Help students establish group norms and roles 
  • Email students the problem, from the perspective of the client. 
  • Have students work through assumptions, problems, background information and other considerations specific to the case. 
  • Encourage students to respond to the client with questions and to seek out more information.  
    • This is also an opportunity to consider their communication style. Would you email a client five times in one day? Would you use familiar language or disciplinary jargon? This is a great time to provide feedback to students. 
  • As students ask clarifying questions and use other resources, you can also disrupt the complexity of the problem by adding or removing information.  
    • Think of this as a messy clump of string – the educator can choose to add more knots, identify existing knots, or unravel some tricky knots. This will require you using your discretion to the needs of the group. It is good to anticipate some of the possible ‘knots’ and solutions before starting the case study.  
    • Email attachments with prepared information such as tables, data, articles as students respond or at pre-schedule release times/dates. 
    • Use different email addresses or subject lines to represent different key players in the problem. 
  • Have students reflect at specific stages on: 
    • Their role and how it contributes to the problem-solving.  
    • What they know now or can do now that they didn’t before. 


These steps should help you think through how to lay out a case study leveraging the power of an Internet stalwart more effectively. Next, consider having students work on a project for an actual client, such as through the project options for classes on micro-internship platform Riipen.   


By Lori Bradford, with support from Aditi Garg 

Please reach out to Lori or Aditi if you’d like to learn more about an inbox assignment. 

This resource is shared by Aditi Garg at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL), University of Saskatchewan, under a CC BY-NC-SA license

Key words:

#Active Learning
#Authentic Tasks
#Course Design

Photo by Unsplash+ In collaboration with Getty Images

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