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Supporting innovation in teaching, learning and learner development at Roehampton

Too many Emails? How to Do as Much with Less

Too many emails! Help!

Too many emails! Help!

Time Saving Tips

At times you may think it necessary to actually increase the traffic flowing into your inbox, by asking/inviting a group of students to individually email you. But, I hope to prove you wrong and save you from the time-consuming tedium, of having to look out for and collate many email responses.

Typical scenario:

You use email or your Moodle module site’s News forum (a.k.a. Announcements), to ask the class for information, which they email to you individually.

Alternative approaches:

In your post, instead of asking students to respond to your query via email, include a link to one of the following tools on your module site/page and instruct them to use it:

When to use the CHOICE tool

CHOICE tool – a polling tool used to present a number of options and depending on how it’s configured, each student can select several or only one of them.

Example

The Dance Department invited all its students to sign up via email if they wanted to attend a performance on one of several dates, or if they could attend on any of the dates on offer.

As an alternative to responding via email, the Choice tool was added to the Dance Department Site and students were able to select one of the options as displayed in the image below:

CHOICE used to Sign up for Dance Company tickets screenshotThis particular Choice tool was configured so that students could see the choices made by their classmates as well as those classmates who hadn’t made a choice. But, the Choice tool can be configured to hide some, or all of this information from participants.

See Moodle’s own user guide on its Choice module/(tool) for more information on this very simple and versatile facility.

Set Up Time: If you have the options in mind, it’ll take as little as 3 minutes to set up a Choice tool like this.

When to use the FEEDBACK tool

FEEDBACK tool – allows you to create and conduct surveys to collect feedback. Unlike the Quiz tool, you can create non-graded questions.

Example

A Creative Writing module convenor wanted to find out which weekdays and times for having tutorials would best suit her students. Also, if there were any days and times that definitely weren’t feasible. In addition, she was interested in any other comments that her students might wish to make.

Hence, the Feedback tool was used to create a mini online form on her module site with 3 longer text answer questions to be completed. See the screenshots below:

FEEDBACK tool to collect info for Planning tutorials

1st screen introducing the questionnaire

When a student clicks on the link to the Feedback tool on their module site they see the 1st screen that explains the purpose of the questionnaire. Once they click on Answer the questions… the 2nd screen with the questions appears:

FEEDBACK tool questions for Planning tutorials

2nd screen displaying the questions for students to complete

This Feedback questionnaire has only one question type but you can create a Feedback form with different available question types including: Captcha, InformationLonger Text AnswerMultiple choice – multiple answers, Multiple choice – single answerNumeric answer, Multiple Choice (Rated) and Short Text Answer.

Teachers on the module site can see the responses under the Analysis tab, see sample below:

Screenshot Feedback tool for Planning tutorials_analysis

Screen showing responses to the Feedback form

The basic Analysis of responses to a Feedback questionnaire with multiple choice questions would look more like this.

Feedback forms configured so the data is NOT anonymous, can see respondents and their respective responses when the entries are Exported to Excel:

Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing 'who said what'

Screenshot of data exported to Excel showing ‘who said what’

Feedback forms set up to reveal respondents also Show non-respondents and have a facility whereby a message can be sent to one or more of them.

See Moodle’s own user guide on its Feedback module/(tool) for more detailed information about this useful facility and do contact your eLearning Adviser for support.

Set Up Time: If you know the questions you want to ask and the question type you intend to use, it’ll take as little as 10 minutes to set up a Feedback tool like this.

When to use the FORUM tool

FORUM tool – The forum activity module enables participants to have asynchronous discussions i.e. discussions that take place over an extended period of time.

Example

Staff complained that a lot of repetitive email was being generated as a consequence of having to reply to multiple student emails about the same thing. Moodle’s News forum (which we’ve renamed, Announcements) can help with this to an extent, but because doesn’t actually operate like a forum in that students can’t reply to News forum posts, it can’t facilitate a dialogue. Which is why students may email staff in response to a News forum post.

However, you could add another type of Forum to your module site, that does allow students to reply to your posts and is also configured (to have Forced subscription) so that email notifications are sent whenever you post to it.

The advantage of this, is that all the replies are clustered together in the same place, easy to find and refer to. Also, all the students can see each others responses, which may lead to other questions that can also be answered here.

Adding a Forum specifically for students to post questions relating to your module is a good idea. Tell students to use it instead of sending you an email (unless it’s a personal matter). This way you can avoid answering multiple emails from different students asking the same questions.

Tip: If a student still emails you a question, thank them for the question and let them know that you’ve posted both their question and your answer in the designated Forum.

In the screenshot below, see how you could create a clearly sign-posted section on your module site/page that brings together several communication channels that you can use to facilitate 1-way tutor-to-student communication, 2-way tutor-to-studentstudent-to-tutor and student-to-student communication:

Moodle module site: Staying in touch section screenshot

Inspiring confidence is necessary if you want students to use the tools you’ve added and requires some effort on your part.

The “build it and they will come” philosophy isn’t supported by the evidence in the context of online module delivery.

But you can persuade students to engage by:

  • Introducing students to your module site and the tools in class, if feasible
  • Asking students to do a low stakes task or ice-breaker activity using the Forum
  • Where practical use the Forum tool more than once, (or have multiple Forums requiring students’ engagement) so the time the student has to invest in learning to use this tool is warranted
  • Managing expectations by letting students know how often you’ll be checking the Forum and responding to queries
  • NEVER give the impression that actually, emailing you directly results in a better or speedier response.

See Moodle’s own user guide on its Forum module/(tool) for more detailed information about this useful facility and do contact your eLearning Adviser for help to set one up and use it.

Set Up Time: Once you decide on the type of Forum you want to use, it’ll take as little as 3 minutes to set up a Forum tool.

When to use the GROUP SELF-SELECTION tool

GROUP SELF-SELECTION tool – The Group selection activity module allows students to select a group in the module that they want to be members of.

Example

An English Literature lecturer wanted her students to organise themselves into groups of not more than 4 members to undertake a group project. She found that having to oversee the process and document who was in which group was yet another administrative chore that took up precious class time and triggered a flurry of emails that she could do without.

She also wanted to assign a Forum to each Group where they could work on and ultimately post their project. However, she wanted Group members to only have access the Forum created for their Group and no other.

Hence, a far less time consuming “hands-off” approach for the lecturer, was to use the Group self-selection tool and instruct her students to independently join a Group along those they wished to work with. See the screenshot below:

GROUP SELF-SELECTION_ Put yourself in your Group online_screenshotThis meant that the lecturer had a permanent record of Group membership and just needed to click on the Group self-selection link to see who was in which Group. Also, having the students in Groups on her module site meant she could allocate resources and activities by Group, such that only certain Groups may view or use a specific tool.

See Moodle’s own user guide on its Group self-selection module/(tool) for more detailed information about this useful facility and do contact your eLearning Adviser for help to set it up and use it. Note: You will need to set up Groups and possibly Groupings on your module site before you can add the Group self-selection tool. See Moodle’s own user guide on Groups for more.

Set Up Time: Once you’ve set up your empty Groups and decided on the particulars of the Groups, e.g. the size, the names, etc. it’ll take as little as 3 minutes to set up a Group self-selection tool. (Note: It may only take 3 minutes to create the empty Groups and a Grouping for them, using the Group auto-create function).

Getting Students to Engage with these Handy Tools

Students need to feel confident about using the tools you’ve added and that requires some effort on your part.

The “build it and they will come” philosophy isn’t supported by the evidence in the context of online module delivery.

But you can persuade students to engage with them by:

  • Introducing students to your module site and the tools in class, if feasible
  • Asking students to do a “low stakes” task or an ice-breaker activity using the tool in question
  • Where practical use the tool more than once, so the time the student has to invest in learning to use it is warranted
  • Managing expectations by letting students know how often you’ll be checking on their use of the tool(s) and responding to queries where relevant
  • Where applicable, NEVER giving the impression that actually, emailing you directly results in a better or speedier response. (Unless it’s about a personal matter of course).

Also Worthy of Note…

In conjunction with this post you may also be interested to learn how to go about:

Reducing the number of emails you receive from Moodle

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