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Sunday, March 19, 2006

And so it begins...

As part of my move from Nameless University to the University of the Unnamed, my new director of undergraduate studies sent out an email to all majors and minors informing them of the new professors that would be joining the faculty and of the courses they'd be teaching in the fall. He included the course descriptions we'd recently written, and then told them we'd of course be happy to answer all questions they might have, giving them our emails. Apparently U of U is quite a hospitable place. So, since there are of course some students who will take any opportunity to email professors, it's not surprising that about two days later--today--I got my first of what I'm sure will be many emails. This one was a perfectly nice email from a student considering taking my class but wondering if I had a syllabus she could see first. (As an aside, for some reason, my emails from students seem to run about 75%-25% female to male, while the classes in general are only about 60%-40%.) As I said, perfectly genial email. But the request for a syllabus suggests one of two things:
  1. Either this student is highly savvy, understanding that professors enjoy teaching the same class over and over again so as not to have to do any new prep work, and so suspecting that I would have a syllabus lying around from the last time I taught this class. Unfortunately, this is a new prep for me and so I don't.
  2. This student is not so savvy, believing that I write up syllabi for my classes six months in advance. Needless to say, that's not really how I roll.
So I sent her back a list of texts I was thinking we might read, and, going on a hunch that the student falls into category 1 above, told her I hoped to see her in the class in the fall.

Putting this specific student aside, however, since I don't really know anything about her and since her request was nothing odd, I have a question: Why do students love to email professors so much? While the recent NYT piece on student email culture gave us a lot of amusing stories, it didn't actually explore this question in any substantive way. I don't think it's simply, as the NYT implied, that email is a pervasive part of students' lives and so they expect to get answers quickly from their professors to all questions great and small. I really think there are students who get some sort of psychic gratification out of emailing us, even when there is no reason to do so. They ask questions that don't require any immediate answer and can just as easily be asked in the milling-around moments at the end of the next class, or questions that really require a more extended discussion in office hours, or they just engage in obiter dicta about the state of their health. Is it that their advisors and high-school guidance counselors told them that it is "important" to "make contact" with your professors so that they will know you better "as a person" and can thus write you a better recommendation "for law school"? Or is there some deeper psychic explanation?

  • At 3/19/2006 09:37:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I can't speak for the nameless students at U of U, but my students here at Big U seem to want to know so that they can buy books at a discount: "I've found that I can often buy the books more cheaply online, so if you have a syllbus handy, it'd be great if you could send me a copy. Thanks! ;)" For what it's worth, only two of the four students who emailed me early last year ending up taking my class.


  • At 3/19/2006 09:46:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    But of course even if they see the books for the class in the bookstore a week before the semester starts, there's still plenty of time to get them online, except possibly the first book. I don't think this email was about that; it was about deciding whether to take the class, as though she might know all the non-Shakespearean drama I'll be teaching (when in fact she will have read zero of them) and decide based on her feelings about the list. Who knows? I'm telling you there's something more going on here.


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