Monday, September 10, 2007

Email Management for the Sane

One of my realizations during my sabbatical was that, while it is my lifeline to the rest of the world, I have to do a better job of ensuring that it doesn't keep me from being otherwise productive. As more than one person teased me that I always answered email almost instantaneously, I realized that I too often feel compelled to do so. And, this also sometimes causes problems given that I give my 'first response' and not my 'reflective response' when there is almost always time for the latter.

Another situation at my university also caused me to rethink my approach. We've switched from Blackboard to the ANGEL course management system for our classes. ANGEL is much more user-friendly and intuitive and offers greater flexibility for users. One of the best features I am already making the most of is that you can email within the ANGEL system. Now, you can also check a box to send the email on to the actual email account the user (student) has registered. But that has been problematic in many cases - primarily because most of our students choose NOT to use their free university email account that is accessible from anywhere by webmail. Most of the free public email systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo often interpret group/class emails as spam and the student can legitimately claim to have never seen them - except that if they are going to use these systems, they need to know how to effectively operate mail filters.

ANGEL's "in-system" email system helps eliminate that important issue that often becomes a barrier to effective student-instructor/professor communication.

Even better is the fact that keeping all of the email within the system means that it is accessible no matter where I am and it's much easier to trace a chain of communication.

Because I tend to work during all my waking hours (or feel guilty about not doing so) and constantly check email, I was spending too much time answering student emails that were already addressed within the course documents. However, students are just like the rest of us and tend to go to the path of least resistance - ask the instructor instead of looking it upon the syllabus, for example. I have promised to answer email once every 24 hour period - with the caution that it may be the morning of one day and the late afternoon of the next day.

This also helps students remember that while they may leave an assignment to the last minute, there is really very little in the academic world that qualifies as a medicla emergency. For my class that meets once a week, I explained that most of their very detailed questions should be taken care of early in the week. (Note that their big assignments include at least one in-class session to address questions - it's just that many of them don't consider that they should have an assignment almost done and, instead, haven't even considered starting it yet and, thus, have no questions . . . until the 11th hour, that is.)

So, it's already paying dividends in time management. I'm addressing student needs in a more timely fashion than even daily in person office hours offer (most of our students work and aren't on campus except to attend class) and not letting my day be consumed by continual requests for info that are often already answered within the same system.

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