postheadericon Email and availability, digital connectedness, private life or constant contact?

As an instructor of record for an undergraduate course, it is required of me to stay in communication with my students outside of class via email, through Scholar, and in my office. At my office, and during office hours, answering students’ questions, providing clarification and assistance to them as needed, is not an issue – I am glad to do it and happy students are involved enough with the material and the course to seek assistance and advice outside the classroom.

With digital technology and the constant connectedness that comes with it, where is the line of availability drawn? In the past, before email, before this constant connectedness, as an instructor, would you have accepted a phone call at your home at midnight from a student that had a question about an assignment due the following morning in class (regardless of whether the information the student sought was right in front of them in either the syllabus or required text materials the student was in possession of)? No. You would not have, and would likely sharply reprimand the student for such behavior. But now, students are no longer limited to face-to-face communication. They can contact you any hour of the day or night, and often expect a swift response.

I tell my students if they contact me outside of business or office hours to not expect a response until the following day, and to only contact me after searching for the answers to their questions in the course’s required readings and asking their fellow classmates, in the case it was something I covered in class. But this is not usually followed, and some of my students are under the impression that as an instructor of record I am on call 24 hours a day to answer their questions – a notion of which I am not a fan.

For those of you with more collegiate teaching experience than I have (a mere semester prior, and this one), how do you handle the constant connectivity? Do you see it as a benefit to the students and a vital or beneficial part of the collegiate education process, or an infringement on your personal privacy? This argument is not limited to the academic world – it is a regularly recurring and growing issue in the professional world – employers assume you are online in some form, or have a smartphone or other digital communication device on or near you at all times, and (speaking from experience) often take advantage of that to push your professional life further and further inside the boundaries of your personal life.

Thoughts?

2 Responses to “Email and availability, digital connectedness, private life or constant contact?”

  • Abdallah Mahmoud:

    I think you did the right thing by stating clearly that emails after the business hours will not be replied till next day. I don’t know how this is not usually followed? You don’t need to give your cell phone number to your students. You can also limit the communication to be through scholar or a specific email for the class. If you only check their mails and questions and answer them during the work hours and not even check their questions after work then you should be fine. I think the instructor is in control by not sharing personal contact information and by following the policy you mentioned.

    • daa1815:

      The issue with email – our Virginia Tech emails are public and available to students via our syllabi, our Scholar pages, the university directory, etc. For me (and for many others, especially those that attended here for undergraduate studies and have been here over half a decade), my VT email address is essentially my primary address – used for my own studies, committees, research, classes I am teaching, classes I am taking – it is a vital communication tool for me outside the realm of the classes I personally teach. It is nearly impossible NOT to check it after business hours, since (like most, if not all of us) my study hours and study/work communication needs extend well beyond the 9 to 5. And students know that.
      As connectivity advances, as we become more technologically accessible, those that grow up with that connectivity, such as our undergraduate students, have an expectation of communication engagement. Hypothetically – if I see an email from a student, either via Scholar or email-to-email, just before midnight during the course of checking my account for other reasons, with a legitimate concern or question pertaining to the following morning’s due assignment, with my knowing full well I have the capability to answer that question – probably very simply – and that my answering may make a big difference in that student’s grade, do I ignore it and all others like it or do I respond?
      I tell them at the beginning of the semester that I will NOT respond, yet find that if I do their performances on assignments and understanding of the material improves, generally speaking. It is my choice to do so or not do so, yet I hesitate when I see those questions in my inbox.

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