You may be familiar with the term “listserv” and think it is a generic term for an e-mail list. However, “listserv” actually refers to a specific piece of software developed by L-Soft (www.lsoft.com) in 1988. The proper term is electronic mailing list, but as so often happens, a commercial name has found its way into general use to refer not just to a specific product but to encompass a range of products.
Electronic mailing lists allow e-mail to be sent to a number of subscribed users at the same time. Usually, software (like Listserv) is used to automate the sending and distribution of e-mails. Rather than subscribers directly e-mailing each other, messages are sent to a central address and distributed to everyone. This can help protect privacy and control content as well as attachments. Mailing lists can be set up as “announcement only” or they can be configured to allow participants to reply to each other, either via the list or off-list to individual e-mails.
Electronic mailing lists are a convenient way to participate in topic-specific discussions because the postings or messages come directly to your inbox; you don't have to go to a website or forum to participate. Most mailing lists allow you to choose whether you want to receive posts as individual e-mails or if you prefer a digest format, which means that all postings from each day are combined into one e-mail. Another useful feature of many mailing lists is the option to suspend your subscription so that if you are away on vacation or unable to access your e-mail, you will not receive any messages during your absence. Some mailing lists also offer an archive feature so that you can go to a website and search through past postings to retrieve information.
For a general overview of electronic mailing lists, see the National Adult Literacy Database's description: www.nald.ca/info/dgroup/dgroup.htm.
Electronic mailing lists can be a useful online training tool. They can be used as a standalone training device, or they can supplement training offered through another means. A facilitator could post training content in a message and distribute it through the list; in turn, participants could discuss the content via the mailing list. A literacy network could set up an electronic mailing list for students in its region or province and adult students could use the list as a way to practice reading, writing and computer skills.
Technology in Action
There are many electronic mailing lists available for literacy-related topics. A good place to find one that you might be interested in is by reviewing the list posted at the National Adult Literacy Database: www.nald.ca/info/dgroup/dgroup.htm#listsrvs.
The National Institute for Literacy in the United States hosts a number of literacy-related mailing lists: www.nifl.gov/lincs/discussions/discussions.html.
Additional Resources about Electronic Mailing Lists
NALD provides some basic information about electronic mailing lists and how to subscribe: www.nald.ca/info/dgroup/dgroup.htm#whatis.
For some helpful hints about how to use electronic mailing lists, see this posting from The Help Web: www.imagescape.com/helpweb/mail/lists.html.