Managing Email in an Online Classroom

One of the lovely and also hardest parts of teaching online is that you often feel like you are teaching one student at a time. Student-faculty interaction can be quite high, and many students open up quite vulnerably in an online setting. Some will use the class as individual coaching–which may work well in a senior capstone but is harder to manage in a course with large enrollment.

File:Ferdinand Georg Waldmueller - Der Liebesbrief sRGB.jpg ...

Two women read a letter by candlelight. Ah, that getting emails from students was this exciting! The Love Letter by Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, 1849. Public domain.

Here are my three tips for managing email:

1. Help direct questions about course content to you and questions about everything else elsewhere.

  • Provide phone numbers for tech help in the syllabus, and when students ask for tech help, don’t answer them; instead, direct them to call the number in the syllabus for the IT Desk, Canvas Support, or whoever can help them with tech help.
  • Create a Help Lounge where students answer questions that they post about the class.
  • Ask everyone to identify a classmate they will ask first for help with questions about course structure (like where to find something in the LMS site or when a due date is).

2. Tell students to include the name of their class in the subject line of every email. (Include this on the syllabus quiz so they are reminded of it, and put it in the syllabus under your contact information.) When you check email, check all email from that class in a row (rather than by the order they come to your inbox). This way, you are thinking about one syllabus, one set of assignments, and one group of students at a time. Also, if you need to open your LMS site, you won’t be switching back and forth between classes to answer questions.

3. Set a time to respond to emails each day (or once per day per class) and handle all course-related emails during that time.

4. If you open an email, respond to it fully. Almost no student question takes more than 2 minutes to answer if you already have your LMS open.

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