Reader Poll: After hours emails

Jan 27 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

I find I can have wild swings in the number of undegraduate emails I receive from one semester to the next. Often the vast majority that clamor into my inbox are from a fairly restricted pool of students in my class and the difference between two Emailers and six is pronounced. There is almost always at least one student who will email whenever they happen to have a question and as someone who likes to keep the reigns on their unread messages, my temptation is to just fire back a quick response. However, that can lead students to the false impression that I am available to them at all times and I have had a few (not many) complain that they didn't hear back from me as fast as they expected. Increasingly I find myself moving to a only-during-typical-working-hours approach. I'm curious if that is typical or not.

12 responses so far

  • Alex says:

    From a purely convenience perspective, it's often easier to just fire off a quick response either right then or when I have a moment, to get that task off my plate. However, if it becomes apparent that a student is a persistent emailer, I will impose a time delay just to avoid training them that I'm available at all hours.

  • Lindsay says:

    Having had both extreme policies, I've noticed that students complain less and are much more respectful of my time if I answer emails quickly, but still restrict when I reply to regular business hours. I generally answer twice a day: around 9 am and around 4:30 or 5. Any emails I got outside of regular hours, like on weekends, got put in a student email folder and marked as unread so I wouldn't forget.

  • Chris Cramer says:

    I use a (free) software package called Piazza into which I enroll all students, and I encourage them (strongly) to contact me in that manner. They can do so publicly, or anonymously (but with question visible to other students), or even privately (although then the difference from a private email is nil). I can set Piazza so that I get a summary of all posts every n hours, thereby reducing the drip, drip, drip feeling of individual emails. In addition, in a larger, active class, it may be that other students will be able to provide helpful answers prior to my getting to the question -- or, at very least the public back-and-forth ensures broad dissemination of an accurate message once I weigh in. Of course, many faculty may use analogous course-management system software (like Moodle) that is institutionally supported -- I like Piazza because it's very easy for me to use entirely on my own. But, my ultimate point is that forum-like software can help reduce the overhead associated with zillions of individual, and potentially redundant, emails.

  • EcoNerd says:

    My answer applies to undergraduate students - Graduate students get email responses largely based on urgency, regardless of time. Not sure whether this is a good thing or not.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Yeah, I'm not talking about grad students here. That's a different relationship with different expectations.

    And my class isn't so large that I get bombarded, so using regular email works fine for me.

  • Alex says:

    Oh, the other thing I do is that for questions of the "How do I solve this homework problem?" sort, I generally post a hint on the course's Blackboard site, so that everybody gets the benefit of the hint. Besides being fair to everyone (they all get the same info and hints), it means that I don't have to answer 50 different "How do I solve this problem?" emails.

  • TheGrinch says:

    At the beginning of every course, I explicitly tell my students that they can expect a response from me within 24 hours on working days. I have stuck with that, and so far I have not heard complaints about it fortunately. That gives me a flexibility to answer the emails any time I want in a day. Sometimes if I am too tired after a good day full of research activities, I don't mind addressing students emails for 15 min in the evening.

  • attheslac says:

    I have text in my syllabus stating that they can expect an answer within 24 hours. typically, if i can do it in < 3 min AND the question is well written, I do it as soon as I see it.

    My syllabus also includes text encouraging students to write an email that reads like a mail (not a text) to a geezer like me, and that succinctly asks the question. "The quality of my response increases with the quality of your question" or some such. It's helped thus far in that the emails take less time to reply to and I don't fall behind as much.

  • Mac says:

    In order to not have things hanging I tend to answer e-mails when I get them, even late at night. I am starting to consider changing that though because it think I am training them to expect it and to feel short changed if they don't get these responses. After having more than one student ask in my 8am class ask "did you get my e-mail" and then when we establish that they sent it at or after midnight act surprised that 'no, I did not see that e-mail yet', I think they need my help in their professional development. I now have a statement in my syllabus that they should allow 48 hours for a reply (although they almost always get a reply quicker) and I don't reply after 7pm. I am thinking of doing delay send on e-mails so they get responses within normal working hours because I don't want to reinforce the idea that they can ask things last minute and get a reply or that everyone is on-call for them. We'll see, I am a softie.

  • Profdrmommy says:

    Syllabus says I will respond within 48 hours & not on weekends. It's nearly always within 24 hrs. I stick to business hours most of the time.

  • fusilier says:

    I teach at a community college, so I reply strictly during office hours. That's the big advantage of e-mails, after all - they are asynchronous.

    Of course, half the time, emails to me are posted around 10pm, so ....

    James 2:24

  • profguy says:

    I answer emails within reasonable time (yeah probably 24 hrs) if a) it is something easily answerable by email, or b) to set up an appointment to see me in person and c) not a "how do I do this homework problem" question. For the last I basically tell them to come to office hours (mine or the TAs). There is too much moral hazard in answering homework technique questions by email - the lazy ones will then just send me email as soon as they hit the first problem they don't immediately know how to do.

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