One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.Hmmm... I don't receive much student email. Email is like a phone call, but less intrusive. Students almost never telephone, but they might use email in a casual way, like the telephone call that they wouldn't make. But what does this mean in practice? I get a few emails a semester from students apologizing for missing class. Occasionally, someone wants to know what the next assignment is. It's not a big deal at all. And I've rarely noticed an over-familiar or presumptuous tone, and this is even with me being a conspicuous blogger, endlessly displaying an appearance of personal availability!
Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I'm a freshman, I'm not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!"
At colleges and universities nationwide, e-mail has made professors much more approachable. But many say it has made them too accessible, erasing boundaries that traditionally kept students at a healthy distance.
These days, they say, students seem to view them as available around the clock, sending a steady stream of e-mail messages — from 10 a week to 10 after every class — that are too informal or downright inappropriate.
"The tone that they would take in e-mail was pretty astounding," said Michael J. Kessler, an assistant dean and a lecturer in theology at Georgetown University. " 'I need to know this and you need to tell me right now,' with a familiarity that can sometimes border on imperative."
He added: "It's a real fine balance to accommodate what they need and at the same time maintain a level of legitimacy as an instructor and someone who is institutionally authorized to make demands on them, and not the other way round."
February 21, 2006
The NYT has a big front-page article about students emailing their professors!
Posted by Ann Althouse at 6:56 AM