For an adjunct, one of the biggest hassles can be managing diverse avenues of communication at multiple schools. At the beginning of every academic year I consider myself lucky if IT doesn’t accidentally bump me off the email list and I still have a phone number that corresponds to whatever is in the printed edition, or online. At last count, the five ways that students primarily reach out to us include email, online course management systems, voicemail, and our mailboxes, and office staff. Missing a message from a student can have upsetting consequences for both parties, so this post discusses some ways that I have sought to channel communications effectively – I’m going to tackle these from least to greatest in terms of student usage.
In my syllabus, I begin the art of training my students to minimize out-of-classroom communication. For one thing, many questions they ask in the hallway, on email, or in voicemails raise issues the entire class needs to be informed about. I also stress that I do not need to hear about every missed class, that they are adults who make their own decisions about education and attendance; but that of course they should contact me if they will be missing several classes due to unavoidable circumstances. I aim to direct their communications with me into the proper forum, keeping generic questions for class time, and managing personal and private issues after class, during office hours, or through these media under discussion.
In the effort to handle student inquiries, office staff can be your greatest ally, or your direst enemy. To make them effective members of your team they need three things on a regular basis: information, praise, and rewards. Be proactive in making sure they have your up-to-date information, diligently fill out those memos that circulate with annoying regularity, and if your school has such a thing, keep your webpage up to date. If you would like them to cheerfully man your bulwark against students, good manners (please and thank you on every email, regular thanks for their efforts) go a long way towards enlisting their cooperation, and mentioned in a previous post, I was not joking about those Christmas presents. I have also taken lemon bars to administration, sent premium chocolates to copy editors, and contributed to every holiday potluck I can get my mitts into – pure D bribery and it works.
To my mind, mailboxes can be the most frustrating aspect of campus communications. Depending upon the culture at your school, you may be either under-informed (adjuncts aren’t copied on any memos) or overwhelmed. If you are teaching online and never come to campus, you can be sure that is where important or even confidential financial information will languish. Unrequested books will pile up, raining down upon you when you already have your arms full. Plus, no matter how diligently you check your box (which moves every semester) you will find some ancient and yellowing phone message from a student with three exclamation points!!! To be honest, I pretty much ignore my mailbox at this point. Almost anything worth knowing about comes through email anyway, so I think of it more as a lost and found, a place of last resort.
Your campus may have a neatly integrated voicemail and email system, where they come to the same server. If not, then I recommend establishing a routine for checking voicemails, and I also recommend it not be daily because one of the keys to effective work/life balance lies in batching your tasks (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-keys-to-worklife-balance.html). Weekly or bi-weekly has been often enough in my experience. Make this policy part of your syllabus; it will help channel student inquiries to where you really want them, which is email.
The reason email is the best of all possible worlds is that with a little finesse, you can get all of your disparate accounts to load into Microsoft Outlook on your desktop at home, rendering the chaos of multiple passwords and logins moot. The basic instructions can be found here http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art18419.asp; and there is a clear video tutorial here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFWp-3YIBOc. As for online course email messaging, in some versions it appears that you can also forward the internal emails to another account, but here you pass beyond the doors of my knowledge and as far as I know fall off the side of the earth. Here be dragons http://discussions.blackboard.com/forums/.
Let us know your best ideas for keeping the lines of communication open and your sanity intact in the comments!