Time Management Online

18 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: I am a clinical psychiatrist who also teaches at a large university. For the past few years I have conducted online courses for healthcare professionals studying for their masters degree in various technical disciplines. I love the work and consider online teaching a good challenge. But because I don’t meet students in person, there have been missed communications where they haven’t been able to reach me via e-mail or texting for immediate follow-up or answers to their questions. Some of them have complained to my superiors, and it’s caused hard feelings. I have other obligations that sometimes prevent me from timely responses – I can’t be on hand 24/7. My course supervisors understand this (they have the same problem), but how can I make my students understand?

— Prisoner of Technology

Technology has changed the environment but not the problem. Ms. L.B. notes that where once there were students clustered at your office door, they now cluster in your digital inbox. You must set the electronic equivalent of office hours. You are the teacher – the boss, in effect – and you set the rules as to how you wish to manage your time and how accessible you will be. If you announce the policy before the course begins, there will be less chance for confusion. Send a version of this, adapted to your needs, to all enrollees:

To all students:

Because we have digital contact, it is vitally important that there be established policies concerning teacher-student feedback outside of class to foster a spirit of fairness and to avoid communication misunderstandings. I understand that sometimes there are situations when it is important that I be reachable quickly to answer pressing questions or provide essential follow-up. I certainly want to be accessible, but I also have other teaching and professional obligations. To prevent confusion and make things go more smoothly, the following guidelines apply for the duration of this course:

  • To keep things consistent, the best way to reach me is via e-mail at [e-mail address here]. Please don’t call or text. I check my e-mail regularly unless I am otherwise occupied with patients, teaching or other obligations.
  • I will try to provide an e-mail response within 24 hours, usually much sooner. If your request is more complicated, I’ll e-mail you and tell you when to expect my answer. I won’t leave you hanging.
  • Where possible, I’ll try to handle requests in the order received.
  • Please keep your request as brief and clear as you can. In simple terms, what information/clarification do you need? What is your question?
  • If I haven’t provided you with the response you need, please try again and be patient. Your original e-mail may have been routed to the junk folder or gotten lost in the volume of e-mails received every day.
  • Please be polite; civility and humor are always welcome. Abusive language, flame e-mails and inappropriate viral activity may be grounds for dismissal from the course. The university will be informed.
  • If you have grading questions, please review the information sent you on course and grading requirements and coursework deadlines. Please understand that I’ve set these rules in accordance with university policies, and I’ve tried to make them fair and well-defined for all students.
  • If you have non-course-related questions concerning administrative matters, paperwork, forms, payments, etc., please address them to Jane Doe, the department administrator at [e-mail address here].

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