Answering student emails may be one of the most time consuming aspects of being an instructor. Received questions could be in the form of assignment clarification, advice regarding resource sites, group friction, or technology assistance. In these moments, instructors may find themselves answering these questions more than once from different students or during different semesters.
The goal of this article is to provide a reasonable way to manage question/response time to anticipate student questions and reduce the amount of assignment emails received.
I utilize course announcements as a Frequently Asked Questions area for student viewing — a collection of questions received by students and answers written by the instructor.
- I create one announcement per assignment. The title of the assignment and “updated on” date is written as the subject line of the FAQ assignment announcement.
- Each FAQ assignment announcement is updated frequently as new student questions are received.
- Each question asked in class or via email is added to the FAQ assignment announcement. The most recently received question is listed first.
- Students are directed to refer to the FAQs (throughout the semester) before contacting the instructor. New questions were welcomed but answers are strictly provided within the FAQ assignment announcement.
While using this strategy, I often handled two scenarios to avoid duplication of effort:
- When a student emails a question that is already answered in the FAQ, I direct the student to review the FAQ within Blackboard and to let me know if anything is unclear. I do not provide the answer in an email.
- When a student emails a new question that is not answered in the FAQs, I take the time to edit the FAQ assignment announcement with their question and my answer. I then reply to the student to thank them for the question and ask that they review the FAQ within Blackboard. I do not provide the answer in an email.
The FAQ assignment announcements is the first stop for all student questions. Everyone receives the same response and everyone has access to it at any time. There are no conflicting email responses. Everything is answered in one easy to find location. In addition, no more duplicate email responses to students! Time is regained for both the instructor and the student. But wait!! There is more! The best part is that Blackboard rolls over all announcements when a course is copied into a new semester. No need to recreate FAQ assignment announcements if the details of the assignment have not changed. Therefore, many anticipated student questions are already answered – and they will love you for it!
How I did it
- Add a menu item that links to the Announcement tool within a Blackboard course. Make the link available to users of the course. Submit to save.
- Create an Announcement. Add the title of the assignment and the last “updated” date as the subject line. Include the student question and your answer as the message of the announcement. Do not add date restrictions to the announcement. Submit to save.
- Edit the same FAQ assignment announcement as more questions are received.
For further assistance contact your local Instructional Designer.
Things to Consider
Avoid any student identifiers. Keep questions and answers anonymous in nature.
Avoid sending FAQs as Email Announcements. Several questions will be received throughout the semester. Sending multiple updates to students via email becomes cumbersome and confusing. Instead establish a routine that guides students to develop the habit of checking course announcements for the answers to their questions.
As more sections of my course were being offered, I moved my FAQ management strategy to a Google Document. Due to certain circumstances, the sections of the course could not be merged in a single Blackboard course shell. Instead, I created a live Google Document where anyone with the link can view. In each Blackboard course shell, I created a menu item linked directly to the same online document. The FAQs of an assignment start on a new page within the Google document. The use of Google headings allowed me to create a Table of Contents on page one. Each assignment title is linked to a specific section of the document — allowing students to jump around the document with ease.
Microsoft365 Word Online can also be used as an alternative tool. Although at this time the online document does not support linking headings within a single document. As a Plan B, each assignment FAQ can be hosted in their own Microsoft365 Word Online document. The shared link to these FAQ online documents can then be provided as a weblink within the assignment folder of the Blackboard course. For further assistance or suggestions contact your local Instructional Designer.
Well established classroom expectations and management strategies are often appreciated by students. It has been great to hear positive opinions regarding the use of the FAQs assignment announcements. I hope your students enjoy it as well.