March 11, 2009
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I’ve just spent the better part of the last three days answering student emails. I’m responsible for some large courses this term and, due to the last-minute finalisation of my teaching schedule, my name is also attached in various ways to courses I’m not teaching, so I’m the proximate target for several hundred students trying to get their term organised and off to a smooth start. At a staff meeting yesterday, one of my staff members teased me that I’ve taught half the catalogue in my time here, so students reasonably think they can contact me about any course on offer… ;-P
Student emails have cycles. One of the things that always strikes me about mails at the beginning of the term, is how many of them operate under the clear assumption that the only thing I do, is whatever I would do in relation to that particular student – that I teach only one course (and so the course doesn’t need to be specified) or that I only teach (so it should be obvious the mail relates to me as a teacher, rather than to me in various other roles). I spend hours sending out requests for additional information: who are you? what class are you taking? are you already registered? what are the details of your registration? This step then doubles the interaction, since they’ll reply, and I then need to respond to that. Sometimes we have to go round the bend again, if their response isn’t particularly forthcoming…
I’ve spent so much time on this, this term, that I’m seriously considering putting an auto-responder in place next term, that advises anyone who emails that I will need specific information before I can help them. This would prove mildly embarrassing when it responds to colleagues who are emailing for other reasons. But at this time of year, colleagues are perhaps 2% of my incoming email traffic – and presumably they can judge that I’m not demanding extra information from them before I’ll reply… ;-P
I’ve occasionally considered writing into my course guide that certain kinds of emails should never be sent. These are the ones that come later in the term: the ones that ask “Did I miss anything important today?” If the first type of mail causes me to want to go into Taylorist, assembly-line, auto-response mode, this second kind brings out my anarchistic tendencies – I’m always tempted to reply, “Well, there was a pop quiz worth half the course mark…”
But all this aside: I think mainly I’m just sort of shell-shocked at the quantity of email traffic generated while I am teaching. My inbox fills up – exceeds its capacity and starts bouncing messages – if I don’t log in and trim it every few hours… I type extremely quickly, but it still takes immense amounts of working time to slog through the backlog. There must be some better way of managing this… What do other people do?