The honeymoon is over. Assignments are due today and although the deadline is 5:00 p.m., they have rolled in at all hours. My computer notifications are rapidly increasing today. Each student assignment submission alerts me via a high pitched beep shouting from the computer speaker on my desk. The beeps arrive intermittently, sounding like morse code, signaling me to open the document. I am anxious to read what students have written and appreciate the time and effort they have expended. Since this is the first round of assignment submissions I want to make sure students receive immediate feedback and feel connected within our online community.
But it’s a tough balance between being available and becoming overwhelmed. Managing and prioritizing electronic communication is different than interacting in a traditional classroom. The way we communicate varies both physically and mentally. In a traditional classroom, I often collect assignments and there is “space” between in returning the assignments. Students expect the assignments to be evaluated and returned by the next class meeting, but usually that class meeting is at least 48 hours later. Not online. Because of the nature of the online exchange, a culture has developed that we are constantly checking electronic communication and responding immediately. With a course load of 80 students or more per semester, the invitations to communicate increase dramatically.
A report from the London-based Future Work Centre, which conducts psychological research on people’s workplace experiences, said emails were a double-edged sword that provided a useful means of communication, but could also be a source of stress. In fact, Dr. Richard MacKinnon urged users to seize control of their e-mail instead of being ruled by it, “You may want to consider launching your email application when you want to use email and closing it down for periods when you don’t wish to be interrupted by incoming emails. In other words, use email when you intend to, not just because it’s always running in the background.” I’ll have to work on establishing parameters when teaching online.