A common complaint we hear from our academic colleagues, is how to manage a never-ending tide of student emails. In this #5MinuteReflection we cover some tips to help move students away from emails and onto more efficient communication methods.
What are our students saying?
Every year at Manchester Met, the TEL team conducts a thematic analysis of the free text comments we receive from students regarding technology and technology enhanced learning. This proves to be an incredibly rich resource to provide us with some insights into what our students are thinking (we had over 4000 comments this year alone!).
What we have identified through this year-on-year research is that students consistently value well organised and clear Moodle areas and clear communications from staff. What they struggle with is unclear communications, irrelevant emails, muddled Moodle areas, unclear expectations of what they need to do within Moodle, and inconsistent information between academic staff teaching on the unit.
When students are confused or uncertain, they tend to turn to email in order to get clarification. In order to reduce email communication from students we need to increase the clarity of information that the students can have access to.
- Moodle areas that help them to be self sufficient
- Clear and consistent assignment briefs
- Fewer irrelevant emails
So what can we do?
Create a programme level template for key information
Have a conversation with your programme team and agree what key pieces of information should be consistently laid out across all unit pages. Agree a template layout for your Moodle area to create consistency and help your students to find the key information that they need. For example, there is a reason that the search box on most web pages can be found at the top right of the page – it’s a function that many people look for and if it isn’t where people expect it to be, then they assume the page doesn’t have one. The same is true for your core unit information, put it in the same place on each unit page for the programme and your students will always know where to find it!
Peer review your Moodle areas
Find a colleague who’d be happy to look over your Moodle area with a critical eye. Do they understand the instructions that you’ve provided for the students? Do they know where to find core information? Is the layout logical? When you know something inside out (like your Moodle page) it can be difficult to objectively identify confusing or unclear elements, asking a colleague who doesn’t teach on the unit to view it with fresh eyes is a great way to make sure your Moodle area is clearly laid out for the students (hopefully resulting in less emails for you!).
Set clear expectations at the start
At the start of your unit, and in your unit introduction on Moodle, set some clear expectations to the students as to the level of communication the students can expect through the course. We often hear that students expect 24/7 access to tutors, and replies to their emails around the clock. The very start of the unit is the ideal time to outline how students should expect to contact you. for example, perhaps you want to encourage assessment questions through a forum or for students to book into office hour slots? If you are clear about how students should contact you, and the time-frames you’ll respond to, you will have positioned your students not to expect 24/7 responses to emails that you send.
Create a video assignment brief
A large volume of the emails that students send relate to their assessments. If you are team teaching, it can be particularly tricky to keep your assessment message clear and consistent for students. Any confusion around the brief will result in emails to the tutors. One approach to help keep your messages consistent is to record a video assignment brief so that there is a consistent message being provided to your students, that they can all access. You might want to team this with a FAQ style document which preempts some of the questions your students might ask around the assessment.
Make use of the group function in Moodle to help to ensure that your communication with the students is targeted and relevant. You can also use groups to ensure that students can only see information on your Moodle page that is relevant to them (also helping to cut down on emails from students)….Groups can be used with any activity or resource on Moodle, from announcements to documents or even submission links. Using groups can create a much more focused experience for your student, with less risk of confusion for them.
If you need help implementing any of these strategies, take a look through our #1minutecpd guides to Moodle.