I’m going to jump right into this post… It will take a couple of twists and turns, so hold on to your handrails. First, so honored to share this #STNT review that will only be available publicly by Teachers College Record (Columbia University) for a limited time before it goes password-protected. Message me for an exam copy of #STNT if your college would like one!
Now, an inspiring update about the student who was upset over abrupt e-mails from the professor:
I appreciate your response. I feel reassured that I had a right to my feelings.
I took your advice and contacted the professor. I worded the e-mail as you recommended and I couldn’t believe the response. The prof apologized for sounding so abrupt and for making me feel like I couldn’t ask questions. The prof admitted that there are so many e-mails to answer and, at times, the responses can become unintentionally short and curt. The professor did not mean for me to become discouraged.
I feel 100% better. Thank you for helping me work through this.
A happy customer! But now we turn around and we have a very dissatisfied customer:
I am in a lecture/lab course that is taught by a number of instructors. We are receiving numerous e-mail correspondences that are very negative in tone. There are statements, such as “Do not e-mail individually about course issues” (instead post to the discussion forum), “We are not starting off the semester very well”, “We are being flooded with e-mails. We are not going to respond to these e-mails. You must read the discussion board.”
Now I have a real question on an assignment. I am an A-student and receiving a 100% in this course, despite the negativity and an extremely disorganized course. I asked a question on the discussion board and the response I received was, ‘Refer to the assignment’. Now the problem is that e-mails and the discussion board are only checked on Mondays and Thursdays, and we’ve essentially been told that individual e-mails will be ignored. So, I can’t get a response back in enough time to effectively do this work.
By the way, I looked at the syllabus for another way to make contact. There is a phone number, but no office hours.
What should I do?”
What is going on out there? When I was a teaching assistant, granted, I didn’t use a course management system because WebCT was just starting out (okay, did I just totally date myself here?). Still, I don’t think that I could leave students hanging for days on end and offer such limited means of communication.
Here is my advice and I’d love your perspective. I feel for this student. I think about students for whom this is their first college experience, or students who were used to the more “protected” environment of a community college. Or rock-star Honors students made to feel badly when they have one question, or floundering students who suffer in silence. This is happening out there and it saddens me. There are more student questions in my queue to share with you, wonderful audience… I won’t be coming back to my own content probably until after the first of the year.
Students. Are. Struggling.
Anyway, my suggestions:
I am so sorry that you are having to deal with this and bravo to you for thriving under some challenging circumstances. It sounds like you are going to come out ahead no matter what.
Seems like there are multiple issues at work here. First of all, your course sounds like it is being taught by graduate/teaching assistants with a professor supervising, I’m guessing? I don’t think you are going to be able to address the tone issue until the end of the term. It sounds like these e-mails/announcements are going out to your class and whoever is sending them is just trying to stay afloat and manage the load of what might be hundreds of students. We don’t know what type of experience the person writing the notes has as an instructor, or how they are being supervised to interact with students. Warmth and friendliness in online messages falls into the “nice to have” category, but it isn’t a requirement, sadly. This is something I would address in a student evaluation, in a letter to the division/department chair, or even in a meeting with the latter, but once the term is done.
Now let’s talk about the lack of access to your instructor(s). This is a basic right for you as a student–not just on a discussion board. Someone has to have office hours, at least one of those folks teaching that course is contractually required to, unless your college has very, very different rules than others. Try that phone number. Ask whomever answers when any of your instructors/professors listed on that syllabus are live in an office and where. This will tell you when you can track them down, if necessary.
Now let’s tackle the assignment: You should not have to post a personal question about your paper on a discussion forum. That should be a confidential matter.
The course “rules” say don’t send an e-mail, but I would start there so you have something documented (and you can make the phone call). Say, “I understand that we are only supposed to ask questions on the discussion board. I am an excellent student, as indicated by my average in this course so far. I clearly follow directions and have done everything asked to this point in the class. I have questions about my individual assignment that I should not have to post on a discussion forum. Questions about my work or my grades are a private matter and something that should remain between instructor and student, so I hope you will speak with me/correspond with me directly. (Then list your questions very specifically).
Since this assignment is due very soon, would you consider adjusting your response policy and answer this e-mail sooner than Mondays and Thursdays (unless it happens to be Sunday or Wednesday) so I can put your recommendations in place immediately? I understand that instructors must receive numerous questions that students can answer themselves and you are trying to prevent that. In my case, I am only contacting you after I’ve tried every possible way to find this information myself. I’m trying to maintain my solid grade standing in this course. If you’d prefer that I call you or visit you during office hours (which I could not find on the syllabus), I am glad to do that.”
Again, it sounds like you are going to find your way, regardless, but you do have rights in this situation. Sure, you are supposed to teach yourself some material in college… but not everything. I wish you all the best, and will consider it a huge win if you can get the Monday-Thursday policy wiggled on any level.
(Really? Mondays and Thursdays? If I only answered e-mails two days a week, I would have 1,000 e-mails… I’d have to lock up in a hotel room just to answer them all! I can’t even imagine.)