How I reduced student email load by ~95%

I’ve made it mandatory to ask any curriculum-related questions on the course Piazza page, rather than over email. I did this for two reasons:

  1. I often receive several versions of the same question, so I’m copying and pasting answers in response emails, which is inefficient, and
  2. The fact that I often receive several versions of the same question makes me wonder whether there are more students with the same question who just don’t ask, because they are too shy, etc.

Shifting the questions over to the course page addresses (1): students can see a question once it’s answered, and if they ask the same question again, I can link back to the original. It also addresses (2): students who might be too shy to ask will—I hope—feel less shy with anonymous posting. And even if they do feel too shy to ask, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll find the answer they were looking for anyway, since someone else will likely ask the question they had in mind.

Now I am fortunate enough to have three TAs for my 150 students. I have assigned the TAs different days to monitor Piazza. So each TA gets certain days of the week to answer the questions on Piazza. Right now, average response time to questions is 20 mins.

20 mins! I can’t even get ahold of someone at my bank in 20 mins…

Here, by the way, is how I arrived at the 95% estimation: I reckon that about one in 20 questions I get asked over email is not curriculum related. These are emails dealing with accommodations, etc., which it would be inappropriate to post in a common space like Piazza. Now that I’m down to just these, I am down 95%.

Granted, some of this is just offloading email load onto Piazza. But given the redundancy issue (1), I am still reducing email load by about half, in my estimation. And I am answering questions that students might not even have asked, because (2) they’re too shy.

That’s nothing to sneeze at.

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New Normal

Like many of my colleagues, I am making the rapid (and sometimes rickety) transition to teaching online. I made this blog to record my findings: what things work, and what things don't.

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