Rosa linked below to today's NYT article about students emailing professors. The piece suggested that email has increased communication between students and professors, both for better and worse. Better because it can provide instant feedback, a more comfortable venue for shy students, and greater convenience than the phone or in-person meetings. Worse because students may expect instant response and access in a way that isn't feasible or realistic, either creating or reflecting a sense of entitlement that (from the faculty's perspective) isn't justified, and perpetuating the idea of students as consumers.
Do most faculty members really suffer from a constant deluge of borderline inappropriate emails from students? In my case, the answer is: no, not a deluge, but certainly a trickle. A few of my favorite examples: the time when a student emailed me by accident in the middle of class no less, (ah, the joys of wireless access in the classroom) while trying to write some other 'Jennifer" (oh, the horror of 'auto-fill' technology). She whined about her ex-boyfriend and asked me to come with her to a party that night where she feared she'd run into him. Ooops! Then there was the time when a student wrote to me asking if I could tape record the next three classes for her because she was going to the carribean for a week because she got a really good deal on a resort.
Frankly, though, these are exceptions. Most of the academic year, the biggest problem I have with email is sheer quantity: when my inbox is overrun, the information overload means that sometimes messages move off of my mental radar screen (and too far down my inbox) before I get to them.
When exam-time comes around, however, I do sometimes have real problems with student email. Students will sometimes write very long and detailed questions mere days -- or sometimes hours -- before the exams. Some of these are really good questions. Some of them are really bad questions. (The ones that really get to me are when a student writes me instead of looking up something that is literally written down in the casebook or in the Federal Rules of Evidence. Whatever my job is, it's surely NOT to spend my time directing you to the appropriate page of your book as finals approach in order to remind you that Rule 801(d)(2) clearly states in the language of the rule that it applies only when offered against a party. . . .) So yes, I do wish that some of my students would better internatlize the basic adage: if you can figure out the answer yourself by doing five minutes of research, please don't bug the professor about it.
But this isn't the only issue, or perhaps even the main one. At the end of term time, I've sometimes felt that I could spend my entire workday answering student questions via email -- and I still might not get through all of them! At some point a couple of years ago, when I'd spent at least half an hour answering just one student's extremely detailed email, and during that same half an hour, three more equally lengthy lists of questions had appeared in my inbox, I realized that this was going to have to stop. So I've instituted a new rule: I don't take substantive questions via email in the week before the exam. I do set up lots of extra office hours during this time. If students want to bother coming in, I'll certainly talk to them. And during the course of the semester, I"m delighted to have students email me about substance. But email during exam period? Uh-uh.
I'd be interested in thoughts and reactions from both faculty and students? Is this restriction of mine draconian or legitimate self-protection? Do others place similar limits?