Column Sjoukje Osinga: E-mails

Time-consuming, the flow of emails gets going long before the start of the course.

Period 4 has started. If – like me – you both teach and coordinate a course, you’ve got a lot of organizing to do. You have to update the material and the study guide, consult with timetablers to get suitable rooms, find enough student assistants, set up Brightspace, organize the exam, and so on. But this is not even the most time-consuming aspect of the job.

That is actually the emails you get all day long from students who are hoping for an immediate reply. If you don’t respond quickly enough, they will send a reminder – ‘didn’t you receive my email yesterday?’ – and you’ve got even more mail. If you answer too curtly, you will get told off in the evaluation, and student evaluations influence your career. So it’s best to email a friendly reply straightaway, no matter how busy you are.

The flow of emails gets going long before the start of the course. Students who don’t read the study guide have elementary questions (‘Hi, are there mandatory lectures and practicals, or is it mostly self-study and deadlines?’). After the registration deadline, the flowery excuses start coming in (‘I was still pondering what was the most efficient way to plan my study programme and the deadline slipped my mind, unfortunately’). Or they want to deregister, and when you say that teachers can’t do that for students, you get free advice (‘it must be technically possible if you really want to’).

As a lecturer, you get emails all day long from students hoping for an immediate reply

Next come excuses for absence (‘I lost my public transport pass and it costs me 40 euros return to come to class’), or practical problems (‘my laptop gives an error message the moment I want to start it up. I can try my mother’s, but she won’t be back till tonight’). Submitting group assignments via Brightspace is problematic too (‘due to a misunderstanding, we all thought someone else had submitted it’). Then, as a reward, they bombard your inbox (‘to be on the safe side, here it is by email, see attachment’).

Fortunately, it’s a great consolation that you don’t face these problems alone. This student shows solidarity: ‘I’m going skiing and will miss the first two weeks of the course as a result. How shall we solve that?’

Sjoukje Osinga (55) is an assistant professor of Information Technology. She sings with the altos in the Wageningen chamber choir Musica Vocale, has three sons who are students and enjoys birdwatching with her husband in the Binnenveldse Hooilanden.

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