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No emails -- unless you’re scheduling an in-person meeting.
August 28, 2014 11:30 AM   Subscribe

I don't always ignore your emails, but when I do, it's because the answer is on your syllabus. "In my effort to teach students appropriate use of emails, my syllabus policies [had] ballooned to cover every conceivable scenario -- when to email, when not to, how to write the subject line -- and still I spent class time discussing the email policies and logged hours upon hours answering emails that defied the policies. In a fit of self-preservation, I decided: no more."

As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the experiment (by Spring-Serenity Duvall, assistant professor of communications at Salem College), was an unqualified success:
She reported spending less time filtering through "hundreds of brief, inconsequential emails," and noticed that students came to class better-prepared and wrote better papers. She allowed one exception to the rule -- students emailing her content relevant to the course. During her decadelong career as a college instructor, Duvall said, she has never received more phone calls and more student visits during her office hours. Students, in turn, gave the course better evaluations than previous cohorts, and rated Duvall’s concern for their progress and efforts to make herself accessible as "excellent."
posted by scody (71 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
All power to her, but why would someone log hour upon hour answering emails in defiance of the stated policy? My syllabi always just say that I won't answer emails that ask me things that are on the syllabus.
posted by Beardman at 11:34 AM on August 28


I'm sort of amused by this in light of the recent thread where a lot of folks were attesting that current college students can't be persuaded to check their email whatsoever and now have to be texted (!) by professors.
posted by threeants at 11:36 AM on August 28 [11 favorites]


Maybe a series of Vines...
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:38 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Why is she directing the students to email her at all? We direct all our students to post their questions to the class questions forum in our CMS. This way 1) every other student gets the benefit of the answer, 2) our profs are hopefully only answering each question once and 3) other students or TAs can chime in (usually faster) with answers--especially if they are already posted in the syllabus or somewhere that can be pointed to online.

Email should be reserved for personal matters, emergencies, or the like. Everything else course related should go through the class forums in the Content Management System (Moodle, blackboard, Sakai, whathaveyou...)
posted by ejazen at 11:39 AM on August 28 [4 favorites]


Why is she directing the students to email her at all?

Because that's the means by which they set up a personal meeting, which -- as she reports -- has been highly beneficial both to her and to her students.

Email should be reserved for personal matters, emergencies, or the like.

Sure. And it sounds like she'd spent years trying to get students to use it only for these matters. When that didn't work, she tried something else.
posted by scody at 11:43 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Everything else course related should go through the class forums in the Content Management System (Moodle, blackboard, Sakai, whathaveyou...)

I was in various higher education programs from 2001–2010 (small LAC and big research institutions), and I never had a class with a CMS. Is this a big thing now?
posted by stopgap at 11:49 AM on August 28


I find this weird. I encourage my students to contact me by email and they hardly ever do--and almost only about things that actually need a response. Is it just sheer perversity ("he said we should go ahead and email him, so screw that")? Some sort of regional cultural difference? I think female professors do tend to get more in the way of such communication than male profs--I think students think of male professors' time as more valuable than female professors' time, and feel there's a lower barrier to 'intimacy' with a woman than a man (meaning 'intimacy' simply in the sense of "this is somebody I can address inane questions to over email"--nothing more). But still, it is something I always find puzzling.
posted by yoink at 11:54 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Email (whether it comes through a buggy cumbersome course content management system or not) is still useful for coordinating and for minor things. Everything else should be talked about in person -it's better for the prof and it's better for the student, and a lot of nonsense gets filtered out. Prof. Duvall is onto something.
posted by Bwithh at 11:58 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


But, as a media scholar, I believe it is paramount that we make conscience decisions about our media use

[cringe]
posted by desjardins at 12:04 PM on August 28 [23 favorites]


I was in various higher education programs from 2001–2010 (small LAC and big research institutions), and I never had a class with a CMS. Is this a big thing now?

YES! I work at the largest University in my state and I would say that 90% of our classes actively use the CMS for sending information, collecting assignments, discussion forums, and much much more! Likewise for the other 2 large universities I previously worked at.

The forum and messaging functions have been a godsend to our faculty because they can easily send/post one message and all students will receive it or see it in some form (emails, digests, and/or just checking the forums). No more individual emails or listservs with incorrect addresses.

We also employ Google Apps and encourage students and professors to use the calendar and appointment setting features when coordinating meetings or office hour visits (one less thing to email back and forth about).
posted by ejazen at 12:04 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of amused by this in light of the recent thread where a lot of folks were attesting that current college students can't be persuaded to check their email whatsoever and now have to be texted (!) by professors.

As someone in that thread who sends class reminders and updates via text, I affirm both that: 1) Students will use email to send every pointless little request possible to me (like the guy this week who wanted me to take pictures of the front and back cover of the textbook and send them to him!) and 2) Not enough reliably check their email to make it an effective means of communication to the class. Those are not contradictory propositions. See also: my kids never answer the phone, but will call me when they need money.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:17 PM on August 28 [25 favorites]


(like the guy this week who wanted me to take pictures of the front and back cover of the textbook and send them to him!)

WTF?
posted by yoink at 12:23 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I don't really remember what email culture was like as an undergrad, but I think this comic is hilariously accurate regarding the grad student experience of professor emails.
posted by threeants at 12:25 PM on August 28 [11 favorites]


(like the guy this week who wanted me to take pictures of the front and back cover of the textbook and send them to him!)

isn't there a thing about not including people in your fetish without their consent
posted by threeants at 12:26 PM on August 28 [15 favorites]


WTF?

I am assuming he wanted to be sure he was getting the correct book and the author, title, edition number and ISBN in the syllabus weren't enough information. Also, he didn't want to ask another student to see theirs. Or go to the campus bookstore. Still mystified as to why both front and back covers were required, though.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:30 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


(To be sure, I told him to read the syllabus and ask the bookstore for help, and that I would not be emailing pictures of anything to anyone this semester.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:31 PM on August 28


Email should be reserved for personal matters, emergencies, or the like. Everything else course related should go through the class forums in the Content Management System (Moodle, blackboard, Sakai, whathaveyou...)

As a relatively new part time instructor -- as if. Blackboard, which is the CMS the university uses, is nearly opaque from the administrative side. Granted, I'm closer to oldhood than I'd like, but I've some experience setting up and using a variety of commercial CMSes (Drupal, Wordpress), and done a decent job of it. I'd really like to be able to use something like one of those CMSes to run the course.

Blackboard?

Maybe I'll figure out how to upload the syllabus during Winter Break.
posted by notyou at 12:35 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


hundreds of ... emails

So much for "the death of email" and "Kids These Days don't use email", eh?
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:35 PM on August 28


> I was in various higher education programs from 2001–2010 (small LAC and big research institutions), and I never had a class with a CMS. Is this a big thing now?

I used Sakai-based course management software beginning in 2004, at a large research institution. I've used it both as a student and as an instructor, and from the instructor's perspective it really does cut down on the email from students. In later years I was more likely to get texted than get email from a student, though.
posted by research monkey at 12:41 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I had to set up a policy this semester that I would not answer any emails after 5pm or on weekends. I've found that, as email has become more popular, my office hours are almost empty. So now I'm redirecting students to these office hours when the email is more than asking for clarification about a due date or a syllabus error. If you let me know you won't be in class, I don't respond to you. Thank you for letting me know, but you know to get the notes from a classmate, and you need to make sure you don't miss too many classes. If you need help with an essay, I will work with you in person, because I can't imagine that I am going to alleviate your confusion through text. If you have an emergency, we can talk over the phone about how to handle missed work. If you send me a draft and ask me what I think, I will direct you to one of the times I'm on the clock to do a major portion of my job.

I was told my a former dean that we were not allowed to set limits on email, but a) she's gone and b) I was finding myself teaching what amounted to twenty or so independent studies via email in addition to my five classes. Administrators are not the most sympathetic of people, in part because answering mass amount of emails is part of their job. But when I have about six hours a week that I've set aside for you to talk to me in person, you need to put forth the effort to use that time.

Student/professor email is just not tenable anymore, and until we set limits on how much students are entitled to our time, the actual classroom instruction is going to suffer as a result.
posted by bibliowench at 12:43 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'll figure out how to upload the syllabus during Winter Break.

Love how instructors and professors are the fastest group I know to talk themselves out of learning or being able to try any thing new! Spreading education to the masses, eh?

Do you not have an IT department or Instructional Technologist you could avail yourself of in your college or school? Alternatively, if you are so familiar with other CMS's, why not set up your own site for your class? You could set up your own WordPress and upload your syllabus there, for example. At my school, this would not be frowned upon, but encouraged. We want our profs to use technology they feel comfortable with, especially if it will make communication easier for them and the students!
posted by ejazen at 12:43 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Love how instructors and professors are the fastest group I know to talk themselves out of learning or being able to try any thing new! Spreading education to the masses, eh?

Well, if they'd quit changing the CMS every couple of years because a new vendor is offering cheaper prices, or if said CMS's would not keep revising unnecessary features, or if we weren't having to teach our students how to use this technology every semester, or if colleges weren't binding themselves to proprietary textbook/software packages that put as many barriers between students and content as necessary to make sure they got every dime out them they could, or maybe if colleges didn't reduce faculty positions for admin jobs that somehow add the the bureaucratic crap that we have to do on every-changing and byzantine software, or if the majority of classes weren't being taught by adjuncts who get paid serf wages because "all they have to do is teach," then I might not be wanting to put my fist through the monitor right now.
posted by bibliowench at 12:51 PM on August 28 [70 favorites]


Student/professor email is just not tenable anymore, and until we set limits on how much students are entitled to our time, the actual classroom instruction is going to suffer as a result.

A friend of mine was visiting me last year, and he had to spend a few hours on email every day while he was here -- the college where he teaches as an adjunct requires that ALL emails from students must be answered in less than 24 hours (penalties can apply to his compensation if students complain to administrators), even on weekends, holidays, and vacations. Exceptions to the 24-hour rule are pretty much limited to hospitalization and death of an immediate family member. Everyone else I know in academe (whether tenured or adjunct) is absolutely inundated with email from students, but his circumstances are the most draconian I've heard. It definitely fosters a sense of resentment between instructors and students.
posted by scody at 12:52 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


But in terms of time spent per student question, surely email is faster than students coming in and taking up your time meant for other things? I'm not complaining, I hate getting emails as well, but maybe the barrier is higher and so the questions are more meaningful.
posted by dhruva at 12:53 PM on August 28


re: the 24 hr rule

That's crazy. Really coddling the students.
posted by dhruva at 12:54 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


But in terms of time spent per student question, surely email is faster than students coming in and taking up your time meant for other things?

But office hours for students are specifically meant for student-teacher interactions -- i.e., it's time explicitly set aside from research, grading, preparation, etc.
posted by scody at 12:56 PM on August 28 [12 favorites]


I'm generally opposed to CMSs. My university uses Moodle, and it effectively walls the course off from the world:

The students lose access to the course site after the end of the semester, so it's impossible for them to review any material shared there or apply it to their later courses without special request. It completely prevents me from knowing what my colleagues are doing or how they're teaching because I don't have permission to view their sites.

For example, I'm teaching one of my department's core courses next semester, and I'd love to view the syllabi and content (notes, assignments, etc) from previous years. But that's all effectively gone. It's in the cold storage of the Moodle backups. The most recent syllabus I can find is ten years old, from the year before Moodle usage began.

So, all my course content goes right up on the web. The shallow, googlable web. As for discussion, I have to make special, separate arrangements. I have a Discourse for that, but it's unfortunate that I have to roll my own solution.

Also, Moodle is a usability nightmare.
posted by rlk at 12:56 PM on August 28 [13 favorites]


I get some "I did not understand what you said in class, can you tell me what you want for this paper?" emails that just . . . no. Ask me in class, or come to my office hours, but I've already given you spoken and written instructions, so I can't imagine an email is going to make things clearer. You're just asking me to re-teach my class over email, and I'm not going to do that anymore.

If they can articulate specific questions, I'll answer them, but so many of them are these open-ended, passive requests for information that they've had plenty of time to talk to me about in class or in my office.
posted by bibliowench at 12:58 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


specifically meant for student-teacher interactions -

Ah I see.
posted by dhruva at 1:00 PM on August 28


I had a student file a formal complaint with my dean when I failed to answer her e-mail within four hours. Four hours during which I was physically in the classroom teaching.

My dean called me in because there is a whole process once there's a formal complaint, and she was like, "Did you answer this student FOUR WHOLE HOURS after she e-mailed you?" "Yes, but I was --" "Don't worry about it." And my dean wrote "Complaint summary accurate; student expectations unreasonable" on the complaint form's resolution line.

I've had plenty of unreasonable student complaints about e-mail ("I e-mailed you at 2 a.m. and you didn't answer me before class started at 8 a.m., WHY ARE YOU NON RESPONSIVE?") but she was one of only two who escalated it to the dean and I'm still kinda mad.

(The other one was, I was in the emergency room with one of my children when a major deadline for a paper passed and I e-mailed the students that I was in the ER, all deadlines would be pushed back 48 hours, and I would get back to them as soon as I could but signal in the hospital was terrible; one of the students immediately complained to the dean about how I was "unavailable to students by e-mail and admitting she doesn't intend to answer until 48 hours have passed" or some shit along those lines. The dean, fortunately, told her to stuff it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:02 PM on August 28 [38 favorites]


Last comment, I promise (this is really hitting a nerve for me, obviously), but I cannot stress how much rules like the 24-hour one Scody mentioned overburden adjuncts. These are people who often have to teach up to ten sections a semester to pay rent and bills, who are told that their pathetic salaries are because they don't have to hold office hours or serve on committees, and who are often teaching at multiple campus just to get poverty wages, and we expect them to be on call 24/7? The situation was already morally bankrupt to begin with, and now colleges are just extracting more blood from them because no one has thought about all the added work that comes with this wonderful new technology. I stopped chairing in part because I couldn't stand enforcing rules like these to people I knew were barely scraping by even though they were working themselves harder than a full-timer like me did. I'm still complicit in the system though, and sometimes I wonder how much more I can justify working for an institution that takes this much advantage of this many people.

Then again, I don't know how to do anything else, and I sure as hell don't want to be an adjunct.
posted by bibliowench at 1:08 PM on August 28 [21 favorites]


I had a student file a formal complaint with my dean when I failed to answer her e-mail within four hours. Four hours during which I was physically in the classroom teaching.

Thank god I didn't go into academia. I might've killed a student for stupid, entitled shit like that.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


Thank god I didn't go into academia. I might've killed a student for stupid, entitled shit like that.

That's not just in academia, that's customers in general.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:13 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


Less than a week after my mother died, one of my father's students - in a professional school, mind you - emailed him to say, hey, I'm sorry to hear about your wife but I can't log in to the system to check our grades and I'm really bummed out because I want to see how I did on the test.

My father also said recently that his syllabi have gotten to be really long because students want *everything* on there and if he puts it on the syllabus, he can't point to it later when students ask why he didn't round up their B to a B+. And he had to start giving quizzes at the end of class because when he gave them at the beginning of class, students would leave after the quiz. I don't know how he has been putting up with students for 30+ years.
posted by kat518 at 2:15 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


> It completely prevents me from knowing what my colleagues are doing or how they're teaching because I don't have permission to view their sites. For example, I'm teaching one of my department's core courses next semester, and I'd love to view the syllabi and content (notes, assignments, etc) from previous years. But that's all effectively gone. It's in the cold storage of the Moodle backups.

Interesting - I'm curious if it's a technical or department culture issue. In my previous department, it was routine to give other instructors access to your course site if they requested, especially if they were going to be teaching the course next semester. This is really easy to do on a Sakai-based system.

As for online discussions, I have found students were more likely to participate in a walled-off space such as a course management system rather than something that's open to the entire web. I think they felt more comfortable saying things to the limited audience of their virtual classroom than the world at large.
posted by research monkey at 2:33 PM on August 28


I'm perfectly comfortable with Blackboard and haven't been phased by the changes it seems to roll out every year (or semester), but I inevitably have to remind whatever professor I'm TAing for how the system works and point out that none of the students saw their announcement because they didn't check the box that says "Send this announcement out by email," and while students may or may not check their email with any reliability, they CERTAINLY aren't checking Blackboard without any prompting.
posted by pemberkins at 2:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I'm sort of amused by this in light of the recent thread where a lot of folks were attesting that current college students can't be persuaded to check their email whatsoever and now have to be texted (!) by professors.

My experience has generally been that I will have one or two students that email very frequently, a handful more that send a deluge of questions right before every major deadline, and the remainder of the students may or may not acknowledge my existence in general.
posted by pemberkins at 2:46 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


she was one of only two who escalated it to the dean and I'm still kinda mad.

I'm kinda mad and it didn't even happen to me. What is wrong with people?
posted by grouse at 2:51 PM on August 28 [14 favorites]


This boggles my mind. I work with chronically homeless disabled adults. Mentally ill, physically ill, criminal histories, substance abuse problems, domestic violence situations, housing situation problems, food and benefit issues. And I'm only expected to work with my clients from 8 to 5. That's right. No more. After hours it's 911, crisis line or wait. And we have a 48 hour call back policy because many days we spend all day in the field.
College students can wait. It will be ok. I promise.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:55 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


That's not just in academia, that's customers in general.

Yeah, but when I worked retail, I didn't have customers demanding via email that I sell them cheese at 2 am! Or books! Their entitlements' impact on me when I punched out at the end of each shift. And from what I've read, I probably got paid better than an adjunct, too.
posted by rtha at 2:56 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Love how instructors and professors are the fastest group I know to talk themselves out of learning or being able to try any thing new! Spreading education to the masses, eh?

It's worth mentioning that the thread is about a non-technological problem which had a non-technological solution, and the comment that this quote was replying to was written by someone who clearly noted that they had both tried and learned something new.
posted by clockzero at 2:58 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


For those who want to blame this on helicopter parents coddling their kids: my dad was a prof from 1970 to 2002, and in the days before e-mail, students would call our house at all hours (despite the certainty that my father would be very angry and unhelpful, if he deigned to speak to them at all.)

My experience with Blackboard is that students were weirdly shy about asking questions in front of each other, so they would e-mail us and we'd have to post their question anonymously for them, which created more work. At least with a listserv, we didn't have to change systems to forward a mail to the whole class.
posted by gingerest at 3:22 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


One thing that is nice with email is that there is a paper trail. Also, a lot of the emails that I get from students are the day before something is due "Just wanted to double check XXX and YYY" and it would be silly to do an office hours appointment for that.
posted by k8t at 3:25 PM on August 28


Another solution to this is to do online office hours before an exam or a paper is due. That way you can still be at home (in pajamas if you don't turn on the web cam) and when you hear the "ding" of the online office hours, you go to computer.
posted by k8t at 3:26 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I had professors do the 24 before something important due media blackout stratagy. The unprepared just relied on their classmates.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:32 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


For those who want to blame this on helicopter parents coddling their kids:

I think it is more of a change in perception regarding what school is, along with some entitlement thrown in. There are plenty of young students who are respectful and do great work in really inspiring ways. Increasingly, though, newer students are viewing school as a product to be purchased, and the product is the time of the professor and a specific letter grade, and ultimately a diploma. Traditionally, it has been understood that you pay for the opportunity to study and to prove yourself capable of a particular skill set, which then comes with a seal of approval from the school, which should carry social weight.

So when students come in feeling as if they purchased a product, and also the professor in some sense, there is a sense in which the student feels as if the professor works for them, and some of these students have crazy-ass expectations. I think the best way to deal with this, in egregious cases, is to not cater to the unreasonable expectation at default to minimal engagement. At least where I work, my department would have my back in case of a complaint. Which is a shame, because I really like to go above and beyond for students who are respectful and work hard. Otherwise, I'm content to let them sit in their little rowboat out in the middle of the ocean with only a copy of the syllabus and hopefully the good will of their fellow students, if they find them tolerable.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:41 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Last semester I had a student who emailed me during class to explain concepts via email that I was currently teaching in that exact class. (He also requested that I use layman's terms to describe the concepts we were learning about, but I digress.)
posted by stripesandplaid at 4:21 PM on August 28 [10 favorites]


Last semester I had a student who emailed me during class to explain concepts via email that I was currently teaching in that exact class.

Was he in the lecture right then? If so that is a masterful passive aggressive action.
posted by jeather at 4:33 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Blackboard, Moodle, et. al. are LMS's, Learning Managment Systems, not CMS's.
posted by raysmj at 5:27 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Less than a week after my mother died, one of my father's students - in a professional school, mind you - emailed him to say, hey, I'm sorry to hear about your wife but I can't log in to the system to check our grades and I'm really bummed out because I want to see how I did on the test.

To be fair, I'm academic staff and I had a faculty member do this to me when my dad was in the ICU in a coma after a stroke. The prof sent a petulant email that I wouldn't be there to admin at a grad admissions meeting the next morning. Turd.

I also work as an academic advisor for my department and I get piles of stupid questions by email. I would much rather get them by email than in person, though, because I'm trying to move away from being constantly interrupted.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:28 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Oh my god between that 24-hour turnaround rule and Eyebrows' anecdotes I am just totally fucking speechless. Maybe we need a mandatory class called "Reasonable Fucking Expectations 101," for people who aren't familiar with that particular material.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:30 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


I had one just like Eyebrows' yesterday. At 2:30 pm, I am in my 6th and final hour of teaching for the day. It is a non-majors course, and I have just gotten them started on some group work when an email from an associate dean pops up. A student who was supposed to be in the class I was currently teaching had emailed her because she was sick and wanted to make sure that I knew she was sick and she had emailed me and I hadn't responded to her and she is a dean's list student and it is not fair. She had emailed me at 10:30 am, during my 1 hour "lunch break" in my 6 hours of teaching, and I hadn't seen it because I was either eating or wrestling with the supposedly "upgraded" printer, whose "upgrade" seems to be that it no longer prints things, or actually walking to the next class I had to teach.

I responded to both her and the deanlet, explaining that I was currently teaching, as I had been for the previous 3 1/2 hours straight, but that I now saw her email and knew she was sick. I even offered her the opportunity to make up the group work she was currently missing, which it is in my syllabus that I will not do, because I simply did not have any fight left in me if one non-instantly replied to email leads to escalation (to someone who is not even my boss). I have no idea.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:40 PM on August 28 [7 favorites]


Y'all are making my day so much better--and this is a day in which a professor mistook me for an undergrad in his class rather than the fully qualified professional who was guest teaching it. A fully qualified professional wearing heels and makeup that he's met twice, mind you.

As for student email, thankfully none of them have ever made a complaint about my response times. I do tend to get student emails at completely unreasonable hours like 3am (with an expectation that I will respond to them at that hour) but I've mostly nipped that in the bud by telling them that I will not be responding to their emails after hours and if they need help then they need to use the webpage that I specifically set up for them to use at 3am. Thank God I don't control their grades because I can get away with that and no one cares.
posted by librarylis at 5:53 PM on August 28


My first experience with an entitled student--one who eventually left me an extremely negative teacher's evaluation--was shocking. Long story short, she sent me an email requesting an answer key for a practice assignment the night before the exam. When I told her no, she lied about what I had said about answer keys, then she lied about filling out a scheduling poll for a review session to make it seem like I wasn't trying to accomodate her, and then she complained to the primary instructor that my grading wasn't fair.

This wasn't the first incident.

I shouldn't have replied to the email. I should have simply pretended not to see it, since it was sent right before a review session she knew would last into early evening.

That said, I have actually had some very good successes with student emails. I like encouraging students to ask questions over email and so far I haven't had students who abuse that. If they ask something that they really should read the textbook, syllabus, or course notes for, I refer them there and tell them that I welcome follow-up questions. The experience of massive amounts of basic questions over email is just one I haven't had yet. Maybe it's coming.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:25 PM on August 28


I disabled Lync on my work computer for similar reasons. The slight increased formality of e-mail (or walking to my office) over instant message is just enough to get some of my reports to think about their question for thirty seconds before sending it to me.
posted by spaltavian at 8:36 PM on August 28


So when students come in feeling as if they purchased a product, and also the professor in some sense, there is a sense in which the student feels as if the professor works for them, and some of these students have crazy-ass expectations.

Having just gone through law school in my late thirties and been completely bewildered by the entitlement of (some of) the Gen-Y students, I can vouch for this.

If we'd had that attitude back in the day when I did my first degree (early 1990s), we would have got very short shrift indeed from the professors.

My favourite was when a lecture failed to record, and a bunch of the students whined so hard on the online message board that the prof re-recorded the entire two-hour lecture in her own time.
posted by Salamander at 9:28 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


I once sent a prof an email at about 10pm on a Sunday night. She replied half an hour later and apologised for the delay. Horrifying.
posted by lwb at 10:48 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


stopgap: "I was in various higher education programs from 2001–2010 (small LAC and big research institutions), and I never had a class with a CMS. Is this a big thing now?"

Well LMS but ya, even my trade school is using Moodle; though uptake is a bit spotty and they aren;t yet using it to the full extent they could.
posted by Mitheral at 1:07 AM on August 29


These days, everyone complains to the chancellor if they don't get what they want. I'm amazed she's getting away with it these days. I had one prof in college who refused to do e-mail (he refused to do the 21st century, basically), but I would have doubted he could get away with that now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:21 AM on August 29


"In my effort to teach students appropriate use of emails, my syllabus policies [had] ballooned to cover every conceivable scenario"

Ha. That sentence just tickles my funny bone.
posted by smackfu at 6:46 AM on August 29


It's so true for me that the student expectations are getting increasingly stupid, and thoughtless in the sense that none of them seem to have their brains engaged at all. And in response, the sorts of disclaimers and explanations we have to provide are getting longer and longer.

True facts, I work in geology and recently had to add a full page to our student handbook that explains the major includes WALKING and HIKING because we'd started to have so many complaints about being expected to WALK at a field trip site. "I didn't know......." "No one toooold me......" is something I hear a lot with no realization on the student's part that thinking for five seconds might be their responsibility.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:36 AM on August 29


I many cases it is a product/environment they are purchacing. It used to be that you could finance your tuition with a full time summer job and part time work. That's not the case at all. In state tuition now costs around 20000 a year without fees and books and housing.

And kids have been purchacing school their entire lives at this point. Private preschool. Private school. Charter schools.

Then add in the tax prayer rhetoric of that in paying for this school do xx should happen from parents in public school districts. The money being funnels from fundraisers and PTA. And that's before Gen Y gets to college.

Kids are overwhelmed with 100000 dollar debt. That's massive. And they are paying literally a few times what an adjunct will make in a year it's astounding.

I really belive the cost of education really impacts the entitlement.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:39 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


I really belive the cost of education really impacts the entitlement.

There is certainly something to be said for that. It also changes the posture of the university at times, as well, because if you are thinking of possible litigation issues, breach of contract between students and professors, that kind of thing, the cost of education certainly becomes a major part of the discussion at some point.

It's a shame, really, because school shouldn't e a product bought, it should be an opportunity to be refined by a process where you prove yourself viable. The integrity of what an education is is being redefined by student debt.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:51 AM on August 29


Kids are overwhelmed with 100000 dollar debt. That's massive.

Well, yeah, some are. But the percentage of undergraduate students with debt any where near that level is pretty tiny. As of Q1 2012 3% of students had debt of 100K or more. I don't really think it's student debt levels that drive this.
posted by yoink at 11:10 AM on August 29


I doubt most kids are overwhelmed by 100 grand of debt, because if they appreciated how large a number that is, they wouldn't do it.
posted by smackfu at 11:15 AM on August 29


I agree that there doesn't necessarily seem to be a direct correlation with debt and being demanding, but I do think there's definitely something to the idea that the astronomically increasing expense of higher education in general, and the turn to framing higher education as a business or commodity, have led to expectations and demands that have a lot in common with consumer transactions. Students (and their parents) are pretty explicitly framed as customers, which implicitly frames instructors as service workers. So the idea of the instructor as someone with both authority and autonomy is severely undermined.

My sister has been in academia for 20+ years (mostly at small, expensive, private colleges), and she says she's absolutely seen an evolution of the "the customer is always right" expecation from students and parents over the past 20 years, regardless of who or how tuition is being paid. Whereas the "I'm paying a lot of money for this, so you'd better pay attention to me!" attitude was a real exception 20 years ago, it's almost ubiquitous now.
posted by scody at 11:34 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I'm entirely sympathetic to how damn expensive college is for students, and I'm always striving to help them get graduated in the most efficient, and timely fashion. Very often I sit down and make semester-by-semester plans for my students to help them finish in time. I also don't agree with making students spend extra semesters in school for stupid requirements when I could be flexible about them instead.

But I'm not talking about students feeling entitled when it come to graduating in 4 years, I'm talking more about students feeling entitled to never being thoughtful, or doing their own research, or thinking things through. And I do think this is part of the constant contact, super-involved parenting for the past 20 years or so. Many of these students are just used to someone else arranging their days and someone else organizing things for them, and I guess, always being granted exceptions if they struggle with something or just don't feel like doing it.

Customer service mentality is part of the explanation, but where are they getting the impression it's okay for customers to be rude and ignorant?
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:52 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]


I forget that my student loans include my masters degree. My undergrad was about 30000 and honestly most of that is medical expenses. (I had a full tuition scholarship and most of my living expenses were covered by pell grant but my mental health and medical wad expensive and I would have never graduated college without it ).
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:46 PM on August 29


Customer service mentality is part of the explanation, but where are they getting the impression it's okay for customers to be rude and ignorant?

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you've never worked in retail or any kind of customer-facing position? Rude and ignorant and much worse is usually the default behavior of customers. These kids have learned this from their parents.
posted by ralan at 4:25 PM on August 29


Okay I guess. I work in what is essentially a customer service position and have for twenty years. I guess I'm rankled at the increasing unthinking demands of undergrads but shouldn't be. Fine.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:00 PM on August 29


The total cost of attendance per semester where I teach is less than $2500. For some in our student population, that is as insurmountable a number as $50,000. But I think this conversation is also more complex than just blaming high tuition or student entitlement.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:52 AM on September 2


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