Written by Jarin Eisenberg

There is a topic that I often discuss with my fellow online instructors that does not get much attention. It is an element of the online classroom that is crucial to a course’s success, both for students and instructors, yet we rarely talk about the associated expectations.

And rarely, if ever, do we address it as part of the skills and resources we pass along to students. So let’s talk about it here: Emails.

I know what many people will say: In the age of text messaging, Twitter and Facebook, the need to be formal in emails is a thing of the past. I can hear students yawning at the mention of this. However, as an instructor who often receives an email that starts off ‘hey’ or with no address at all, I can tell you that the ability to compose a formal email that is clear and respectful is becoming a lost art form.

Come on fellow instructors, I know you are with me on this one.

Aside from discussion boards, email communication is the primary way I am able to help my students and get to know them better. Here is an example of an email I recently received – mind you, it is the first email communication I have had with the student:

Why did I get a zero on my paper?

Not only does this email not have an opening or closing address, it also requires me to do a great deal of digging to even determine the assignment in question. But perhaps most importantly, it is a little off-putting to receive such an email.

‘A Baseline of Respect’

A while back, an assistant professor of communication at a liberal arts college in North Carolina stirred up some headlines by revealing that she had previously instructed students to refrain from emailing her unless it was to schedule a meeting. “Emails sent for any other reason will not be considered or acknowledged,” the email policy stated, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The instructor made the case that students were asking questions about information that was detailed in class or included on the syllabus, as well as the dreaded query every teacher would like to ban: “I missed class; did I miss anything?”

Now this is an extreme example. (And, of course, online students may not have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their instructors.) But it does highlight some of the frustrations felt by instructors. Are students who don’t address their emails intending to cause irritation? Probably not. They likely feel they are being efficient and to the point.

I think the case I would make here is that I would like to receive emails that demonstrate that students are showing effort and intention on being professional and courteous to their instructor.

Simply, I would like at least a “Ms. Eisenberg” before being asked a question or receiving a request for assistance.

My suggestion to online instructors would be to post an email disclosure to your message board at the start of the term. Let your expectations be known and do not be afraid to respond to students with instructions on how you expect to be addressed.

My advice to online students: Take the extra minute to send an email that starts off the discussion with a baseline of respect and professionalism. It goes a long way.

Jarin Eisenberg is executive director of Melbourne Main Street and an instructor at Florida Institute of Technology, where she previously was coordinator of online degree programs at the Bisk College of Business. To learn more about Eisenberg, read our interview here.            

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