Tame Your Inbox: 10 Tips for Managing Student Emails

illustration of a communication network
 
Each semester, every course you teach can generate hundreds of emails. You want and need to respond to students to help them, but answering emails is just one of the many tasks you have to attend to every day. How can you make it easier on yourself and save time? Here are some tips that can help you reduce your email workload without sacrificing student support.

Require the course name

In an ideal world, you’d know all of your students by name and be able to know which class each was in. But in the real world, that doesn’t always happen, especially at the start of the semester or with large courses. This can make it hard to know how to respond to student emails. Requiring students to put the course name in the subject and to sign their full names can be a big help.

Only use your college email

Not only is this easier—all your email will be on one account—it helps to keep things professional and ensures that you can take advantage of any of the email services offered by the college. You can send email directly through Blackboard—just make sure to select the Return Receipt option so you have a record of the email in Outlook.

Have hours

Don’t just respond to every email immediately—it will drive you crazy. Give your students a set time range during which you’ll respond to your emails. This won’t stop students from emailing you in the middle of the night, but it will make it very clear that you won’t be responding to them outside of your normal work hours.

Set expectations for response time

While you certainly shouldn’t be responding students at all hours of the day and night, you should also aim to give them a response within a reasonable amount of time when they do email you within your email-accessible hours. Let students know up front how soon they should expect to hear back from you, by setting a “no longer than” time frame.

Be consistent

If you’ve set rules for when and how you’ll respond to email, stick to them. If students ask questions that are easily answered by looking at the syllabus or discussion board, do not respond with anything other than telling them to look where the information is located.

Sort it

If you’re teaching several courses, you can make thing easier on yourself by sorting student email by class. You can put them in there yourself, or have Outlook automatically sort them by email address. Learn how to set up this feature here.

Handle things only once

If a student email requires a response or an action and you have the time to do it, do it (ideally, you’d only check email when you have the time to respond, but hey, life is complicated). Other emails that need to be kept but not acted on should be sorted and all junk can be deleted.

Answer emails globally

Sometimes, a student will ask a question in an email that many other students may have as well. Use this as an opportunity to head off a flood of future emails by posting your reply the course site so that all students can access and read it. This can also help you to refine your syllabus or course assignments to clarify issues for future semesters.

Set up a course question discussion board

Not all questions need to be answered by you. Encourage students to use the course discussion boards for basic questions that other students may be able to answer. This can help reduce your email workload and can help students take responsibility for knowing course requirements (though you may need to intervene occasionally to avoid misinformation).

Keep it professional

When interacting with current students over email, keep things strictly business. This doesn’t mean being cold or unfriendly, but try to avoid addressing personal issues or concerns in email and report any unacceptable emails to your department immediately—including harassment or threats of any kind. This policy will save you trouble down the line, but also helps you to avoid emails that veer into non-course related topics.

Don’t rush

Emails are forever and they can be requested as part of the public record and used against you in a legal situation. Do not be ambiguous or combative. If an issue is emotionally charged, suggest the student meet with you in person.

How do you handle student emails? Share your tips in the comments.

 

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