Using the Internet for Your Home School Group (Part 1: Mass Email)

The Internet has revolutionized home schooling. As someone who grew up during the ‘90s (yes, I realize that makes some people feel old), I got to see the Internet evolve from little websites run by astronomers and computer geeks into a multi-billion-dollar institution. Once upon a time, reading about something meant going to the local library or cracking open an encyclopedia. Now we have Google, Wikipedia, eHow, Wikihow, and everything else in between. Yes, the Internet has fundamentally changed the amount of information we can access and how we access it.

In my experience, home schoolers are more tech-savvy than many everyday folks. Nevertheless, it seems worthwhile to write a series of articles about how home school groups can integrate the Internet in what they do. Today is a really basic concept: Email.

When I say “email,” I’m really talking about mass-email: Emailing large groups of people at a time.

When it comes to mass email, there are some really simple tools available for you. The first is called the “distribution list.”

Distribution lists are (drum roll, please) lists of people and their email addresses. You can use distribution lists to email groups of people quickly and easily.

Creating a distribution varies a little from program-to-program; I’m going to briefly highlight how to create lists in Microsoft Outlook and Gmail, because they are so popular.

Before I do that, though, let me go over a few prerequisites to creating distribution lists.

First things first: You need an email address. You can create a free address through any number of services out there—Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, your personal domain name—you name it. If you already have an email address you use, that will make things a lot easier. If not, go create one, and check back here when you’re done.

Secondly, you need to be able to access your email address and follow some basic instructions to figure out how distribution lists work. The process is pretty similar across the board, but I’m going to highlight Gmail and Outlook.

Alright, that said, here are step-by-step instructions for setting up a distribution list for your home school contacts in Microsoft Outlook:

Step 1.
Open Outlook. On the File menu, click New and Distribution List (Or press Control, Shift, and L at the same time). Click the image below for a full-size example.

Step 2.
A window should open up that will allow you to create a distribution list using either people already in your address book or people you want to enter manually. It should look something like this:

Step 3.
First things first: Your list needs a name. I’m going to call mine “Home School Support Group,” but you can name yours whatever you want.

Step 4.
Now its time to populate this list with the people we want to be able to email. To do this, you can add people from your address book or enter them manually.

To add them from your address book, click the “Select Members…” button. A window will open up that looks something like this:

Highlight the name(s) you want to add to the distribution list, and click the “Members” button with the arrow on it. This will add them to the list. When you are finished, press OK.

The Select Members window should close, bringing you back to the distribution list window, now with a few names on it. It will look something like this:

Now, to add people who are not in your address book. To do this, click the “Add New…” button. This will open a window that looks something like this:

Just fill out the form, and press OK.

Pressing OK will add this person to your list.

Step 5.
When you are done adding people to the list, press the “Save and Close” button below the File menu.

Your list is created and ready for use. The next time you want to email your home school BFFs (Best Friends Forever), all you have to do is select this distribution list instead of selecting multiple people from your address book or typing dozens of email addresses over and over again. You can also open and edit this list any time you want. It’s saved forever and ready for use whenever you need it.

Now to GMail…

Step 1.
Log into your Gmail account.

Step 2.
On the left hand side of the page, select “Contacts.” It should load a page like this:

Step 3.
Check the boxes next to the people you want to add to your list (Note: My example only has one person):

Step 4.
When you’ve decided who you want to add, click the box labeled “Groups.” A menu should drop down that looks like this:

Step 5.
Click “New Group…” A box will open up asking you to name your group. Name it, and press OK.

That’s it. You’re done. The process for creating distribution lists (aka “Groups”) is very similar in most email programs.

A final note about Mass Email.
While I doubt many home school groups would find this useful, there are mass email programs out there designed (for a fee) to help you send emails to hundreds or even thousands of recipients. Education Alliance uses a service called “Topica” to aid us in mass email, because our email list is 3,000+ addresses long, and emailing to it via Outlook or Gmail would likely cause our computers to crash or our internet provider to shut off our internet connection. If you’re mailing to a few dozen (or even a couple hundred) friends, distribution lists work just fine; if, however, you want to become the kingpin of local home school email dialogue, considering a mass email program might not be such a bad idea.

Next week, we will look at how Social Networking (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, etc.) can be useful for home schoolers.

Tell us what you think of this article, and share your suggestions with us. Leave us a comment below!

About David Cox

David is a former home school student. In 2007 he graduated from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, with a bachelors degree in Business Administration. He currently works as Education Alliance's primary IT employee, webmaster, and blogger. David and his wife live in Little Rock.
This entry was posted in Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.