March 18, 2014
Tips for managing email from students: How to be responsive and maintain your sanity
Students are more likely to interact with instructors outside of class by sending an email than by visiting an instructor during office hours. Prompt responses to student emails create a sense of “connectedness” between students and faculty, contribute to the quality of engagement with the course, and can indirectly improve student learning and retention.
We all appreciate prompt responses to our email messages. But with a huge volume of mail in our queue, how can we respond effectively to student email messages and protect our time for other important activities?
Respond promptly to messages from your students. You need not respond immediately. Try to respond within a reasonable period of time (24-48 hours).
Tell your students how quickly they can expect a response on the first day of class and in your syllabus. Honor this promise. They might expect prompter responses from their friends, but you can and should set reasonable expectations and limits on how quickly students can expect you to respond. Communicate email policies clearly. Plan to communicate them more than once, e.g., repeat them near assignment deadlines and test administrations.
Set up a filter in email to direct mail from students to a designated folder. A good filter prevents messages from getting lost in your email queue.
Identify a key phrase (best to pick one that is easy for students to remember) that you used when you set up your filter. For example, if you set up a filter so that all mail with EXP4407 in the subject line goes to your EXP4407 class folder, students must always include this in their subject line or risk having their message buried and neglected. Tell your students what they must include in the subject line to ensure their message is filtered properly. As tech-savy as we think our students might be, they might be unaware of filters for email and the need to put a key word in the subject line to ensure their message is directed properly. Consider this a “teachable moment” for practical real-world communication skills.
Use this strategy to sort your email from other key sources. You can filter emails from your department chair or a colleague you collaborate with on a research project by filtering mail based on their email address.
Remind students to sign the email with their full name. Student accounts and private email addresses are cryptic. As with strategic use of the subject line, full identification of the sender is an email skill that students might still be learning.
Identify a time when you will respond to student email. If you think about responses to student email as a replacement for conversations during office hours, consider setting aside a designated time when you respond to email from students. De-clutter your inbox by creating a filter for student messages, which you can then locate, read, and respond to during your designated time. This strategy also works well for managing the flow of messages from a topical listserve. Isolate these messages in a folder with a filter and read them when you have time.
April 15, 2008
How can you engage busy students who don’t have time to come visit you during your office hours? Consider holding “virtual office hours.” You can create “virtual office hours” by identifying and posting specific days and times when you will be logged onto an online instant messenger service (AOL, Yahoo, etc.) or will host an Elluminate session. Instructors who hold virtual office hours commonly create a user name for the IM account that is unique to their name, course, department, or area of expertise. Unique account names make it easy for students to remember and find the account. They also make it easy for you to separate a course account from other accounts. If you host an Elluminate session, each session must be created as a unique event and the link for this session must be sent to students in advance. Use virtual office hours to answer student questions or consult on class projects. If you use Elluminate, you can post a problem or a course assignment on a common workspace. Multiple students can simultaneously discuss, edit, or make comments on the work during a session.
Remember to control your time! Holding virtual office hours does not mean that you must be available to your students electronically 24/7. Just as you clearly identify when you will be present in your physical office and promise to answer the phone or talk to students who appear at your door, you should clearly establish the specific days and times when students can expect that you will be logged into your instant message account, respond to e-mail, or have an Elluminate session in operation.
Thanks in part to Susan L. Brown (Philosophy, Religious Studies, & Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Lucia Bushway (Mathematics & Statistics) for these examples of virtual office hours. Contact ATC for more information on how to use Elluminate to create a virtual office hour or group study session.
November 20, 2007
Keep a jar of candy in your office for students who come to visit. This will also lure your colleagues and improve departmental collegiality! (Health Hint: Unless you have wonderful willpower, stock a candy that you won’t be tempted to eat yourself.)
November 14, 2007
Keep your appointments with students. Students at UWF frequently must make special efforts to drive to campus to meet with instructors and advisors. Some students need to take time off work or hire a sitter for their children to make appointments.
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