Friday, August 29, 2014

Don't email me? Welcome to my bunker, and pull up a chair

This article at Slate (originally from IHE)  describes the experience of a professor at Salem State who banned student emails.

The good news is that more students came to her office as a result and her evals went up, so I guess if it works for you, you ought to keep doing it.

But are professors really "assaulted" by email?  That's a pretty strong verb.
Duvall’s frustration is shared by many in academe -- or anyone with an email account -- from faculty members beset by questions they have answered both in class and in writing to students inundated by university email blasts. This spring, when Duvall taught at the University of South Carolina at Aiken, she adopted a new email policy to cut down on emails from students telling her they would be late, or would miss class, or would have leave early, or any of the countless others that could be handled face-to-face.
Instead of wasting class time on walking her students through an increasingly complicated flowchart diagram of when they could and could not email her, Duvall stopped the problem at its core: No emails -- unless you’re scheduling an in-person meeting
A flowchart for email, really?

I know that professors complain (in blogs, at CHE) about massive numbers of emails from students, but since we're dealing with a "my experience is data" topic anyway, I haven't experienced this. Students have usually been respectful and not asked pointless questions, unless my memory has erased those emails.

Wouldn't you rather have an email than have the student show up at your office, sneezing and coughing and shedding used Kleenex into your wastebasket,  to tell you she's not going to be in class? Or am I the only recipient of these "see, I am really, really sick and not lying" visits?

Don't you think if a student emails you to say she'll be late or absent that it shows some attempt to be engaged with the class or respectful of your expectations that she'd be there?  Yes, it's better if they stop after class to tell you that they'll be absent, and most of them do that anyway.

If there's some special circumstance or absence, like a sports team event, wouldn't you rather have it in an email where you can document it instead of relying on your memory?

I'm all for more in-person interaction with students, but this would, for me, be a sealing wax policy too far.  What do you all think?


pat said...

I'm with you. Emails from students are about 5% of my email load, and are the most important and useful of the lot.

Besides, I have control over when I read my email. If I'm too busy to be timely with it, I can set an 'out of office' message to let students know I'm not ignoring them and will respond later.

However, I sympathize with someone who wants more students to come to the office and have face-to-face conversations. This just isn't the method I'd use for it, especially since I work on a commuter campus and coming to my office might be a real hardship on some occasions.

Anonymous said...

I also prefer to have notes about absences, etc. in writing; with a large class, I'm not always going to remember who said they were going to be gone for which athletic trip if all the information is verbal. Maybe this person has a better memory than I do.

Anonymous said...

I want everything by email, please. Except homework questions-- those go on the blackboard page or during office hours.

Bardiac said...

The emails about stuff that's on the syllabus I could do without. But most of my emails from students are related to illness or life issues, and are effective for what they need to do. (The emails about how their child is ill and they have to stay home, but they've got the email of a classmate and will get notes. Who doesn't appreciate that as a courtesy? I mean, it's not a huge thing for me, but it's a courtesy and I appreciate it as such.)

Contingent Cassandra said...

Even with a significant number of hybrid and online sections in my course load, I don't find myself inundated with emails, either, and find that most of the ones I receive ask reasonable questions. The exceptions usually seem to come more from anxiety than laziness; some students seem to feel the need, especially at the beginning of the semester, to have everything re-explained to them individually. Usually if I do so a few times, consciously answering a bit more slowly and a bit more briefly over time, such missives trail off, and the student does fine. The problem usually seems to be unfamiliarity with online learning, and/or confusion because my upper-level writing-in-the-disciplines course is significantly different both from other English courses they've taken and from freshman comp.

I do write very detailed (ridiculously detailed, some would say, I'm sure) assignments, prompts, etc., and do provide some guidance to students for how to communicate with me about absences (basically, as they would communicate with a boss: basic information, but not your life story/TMI, with emphasis on explaining how long you'll be out, whether you'll be able to do some work during that time, and by when you expect to be able to catch up).

heu mihi said...

I had a semester or two of extremely high-maintenance emailing from a lot of students (e.g., a 6 pm email asking for a meeting, followed by a 7 am email asking if I'd received the first email, etc.), so, for about a year, I adopted a minimal email policy: Email me if you're going to miss class or something, but if you have a question about the class or an assignment, come to my office or talk to me before/after class. It worked fine, and my stress level declined. It also eliminated the endless back-and-forth about paper topics that could be addressed better in a five-minute conversation.

Since then, I've dropped the policy, but student email has remained manageable--I suspect that it was just a weird demographic coincidence that I had a lot of high-maintenance students at once.

Right now, I'm teaching developmental comp, and the students are emailing me with a *lot* of what I would consider to be very basic questions, but I think that it's important that (for the first couple of weeks, anyway) I reply and try to help them out, even if the information is available elsewhere.

Janice said...

I hate it when students email me their assignments as it is repeatedly noted in the syllabus NOT to do that.

Other email? No problem for the most part and often quite helpful to answer quick questions or solve problems while they're small.

undine said...

pat--It's the control over your time that is so important, I think. Via email, you can be in touch more, too.

Anonymous--I agree. My mind starts to go blank when they come up after class and start telling me which days they will be gone for sports.

nicoleandmaggie--sounds like a good distinction.

Bardiac--that's what struck me about the "no email" post. Professors complain and complain about student civility and courtesy, and then when the students do something right by notifying about absences, as a courtesy, they complain about that, too. I don't get it.

Contingent Cassandra--I think online is harder for that very reason: they will have questions that you never thought of addressing.

heu mihi--I wonder why the high maintenance email blitz has eased off. Maybe they were being taught to do that kind of thing at the high school level? Interesting.

Janice--You're right--it's the fastest way to answer questions. Even if they wanted to do some form of chat (texting is out, because they don't have my cell number), that involves logging in, accepting them as a contact, etc.