The academic life – student emails

Here’s an interesting blog post about dealing with emails from students.

It seems to me that these days students aren’t as keen on using email as they used to be a few years ago (especially from their official university account) which may mean that they’re using it reluctantly and are unsure of the right tone to use.I have had a small number of emails from students over the years that I found rather rude (I mean blunt rather than abusive), but I try to give the sender the benefit of the doubt because it is easy to sound abrupt in an email without meaning to.

My advice in such cases is not to reply at first, in case you respond in a way that escalates things. Take some time to chill about it, and then reply to the factual matters without rising to what you might interpret as provocation.

I would also recommend not checking your email outside of working hours if you can help it. It took me a long time to get to the habit of not reading work emails at the weekend or late at night, except in very special circumstances, but there’s no reason why students (or colleagues, for that matter) should expect you to be available 24 hours a day.

Finally, make full use of the `Out of Office’ feature on your email application. I found that particularly important when I was working part-time to remind senders that were times when I was working, and times when I wasn’t.

I’m sure readers have other tips….if so please share them!

University Blog

When I began any lecturing career in 1980, in the days before the internet or even mobile phones, it would have been totally impossible for a student to reach me outside of normal working hours. By the time my active teaching came to an end (in 2000), I was beginning to get both emails and phone calls into the night; though this was still a relatively rare thing, and almost always the students were polite when they reached me.

It became clear to me how much had changed when a colleague from another institution contacted me recently to ask me for advice, as he was seriously stressed with the number of student emails he was receiving; in particular because many of these were, he claimed, insistent in nature. He showed me some of the offending messages, and indeed it might almost be said that a small number of them adopted…

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4 Responses to “The academic life – student emails”

  1. telescoper Says:

    I’m told students communicate between one another using `snapchat’. Whatever that is.

  2. Simon Kemp Says:

    I find it hard to get the students to use email, or at least get anything practical from its use. For example I usually ask for the emails of students at the start of the semester, and then a few weeks later may email them some lecture notes in pdf. I then ask them if they received them, they say no, and upon checking the email address they gave me they say, ah I have a new email address now, I must have given you the old one. Umm….

    On the other hand, I now get rather pleased if students offer me their seat on the bus, and glare at them if they don’t. Coming home after a late class which ends at 9pm, I’m usually the oldest person on the bus anyway!

  3. When running the undergraduate labs at Manchester, I dealt with 600 students, and received many emails from students at all times of day or night, and found that my colleagues (lab manager, and up to 6 academic staff and 20 teaching assistants) were also receiving the same emails. We copied our replies to each other so that we knew someone was dealing with the query, greatly amplifying the number of messages. To solve the email volume, we designed a google form for student queries. This filled columns in a spreadsheet, enabling us to track each query and when the action was completed. However, the presence of the form meant that students were more likely to contact us, most of all requesting to have their lab reports re-marked, (because they “deserved” more marks) , and the requests came last thing at night, around midnight, or first thing in the morning.

    As the academic lead, I spent 2 or 3 hours each weekend clearing the backlog of queries, and it was unmanagable, so we shut down the form, and the number of queries reduced by 50%. During termtime I typically handled over 1,000 queries, and invited students interact with academic staff and teaching assistants in the lab, for solving problems, feedback, advice, and to tackle student quarrels and disputes. It was strange that students would rather write emails, than communicate in person.

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