Student emails

I don’t know about others, but I find most student emails both time consuming and unhelpful. They are time consuming because when you craft a reply you are only helping one student with one question (so you may have to answer the same question for another student on a different day). And they are unhelpful because students tend to treat email as a bit of a crutch and ask questions before they really think too much about the answer. The problem and one potential solution is discussed here.

Personally, I ban all course content related email (and refuse to reply to it). So, a student can email to say that they have to miss classes due to illness or can seek an extension etc, but cannot email simply to ask a question about course content. All such questions must be asked either in class or through a Q and A on-line forum on the course webpage (hosted on Moodle). Even there, I encourage and incentivise students to answer each other’s questions (with my promise to monitor the forum at least twice a week and tweak answers where necessary). Many people consider running an on-line Q and A forum time consuming, but personally I find the time I save on emails more than makes up for the extra work.

Does anyone still reply individually to student emails asking questions about course content? What other strategies do people put in place?

Lyria Bennett Moses

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3 thoughts on “Student emails

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  1. Lyria
    couldn’t agree more. And there’s another wonderful benefit of FAQ pages on Moodle etc.. That is, once you’ve done it in one semester, you can save it and repost it next semester (technically that might mean tranferring it to a word document or a wiki). The number of questions drop – and your responses can be – ‘see FAQ question 7’ etc..
    I’m fine with students emailing me the questions – I just post the answers, if not personal. on the FAQ. Its not only about not wasting time – its also about fairness to students. Any response on content should be shared with all your students, not just one.
    It also means that you can justify not running that ‘revision’ class in the last week when no-one’s looked at the materials

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  2. Thanks Lyria. I agree with your general policy. I have been telling students who email me with content questions to ask them on the course Discussion Board (we use Blackboard) and gradually they are getting the message. The downside is that there may well be some who are too shy to ask their question where it will be seen by other students. But I think on the whole the policy is a sensible one.

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