It is the start of a new academic year in the northern hemisphere. As classes begin, faculty and students are coming back together to build new relationships and strengthen existing connections. Recently, I met with a student for their remediation program, and one of the things we discussed was their lack of willingness to communicate with faculty. This student had been found responsible for tampering with attendance records by signing into class and participating while not actually being in class. Where was this student? They were not skipping class because they did not wish to go; no, this student was sitting in a hospital room waiting for test results. This situation could have been avoided if the student had contacted the instructor to let them know that they were in the hospital. 

Unfortunately, this student was more concerned about annoying the faculty than communicating their circumstances. They did not believe the faculty would want "excuses" for their absence. They meant to show that they cared about the class, even if they were not physically present. Now, some of this could be part of the student rationalizing their decision; the syllabus for the course in this case clearly stated that they should not attempt to participate in class if they were not present. It is also important to recognize that people are more likely to make riskier decisions when feeling backed into a corner (e.g., prospect theory would suggest that this student was so worried about losing the participation points that they made a poor decision).

It is amazing that something so simple could have stopped this student from going through the conduct process. Imagine if the student had sent that single e-mail. One less meeting, less stress, and less emotional turmoil for the faculty. That would be time for them to work with students, make progress on a research proposal, or even have time to grab a coffee. It would also have prevented the student from going through the stress of the conduct process and allowed them to focus on improving health.

The topic I keep coming back to is expectations. If you do not want an email every time a student has a cold, that may be fair. You should still provide instructions or guidance on how students should reach out to you. I am not saying that you need to add a section to your syllabus, but this could be a good thing to put on the LMS or email out to the entire class early in the term.

Here are some things you may want to consider: 

  • Subject and salutations: Have your students note their course section in the subject line to help you identify the course impacted. Be sure to let them know if you would like them to address you by your title, position, or first name. Students may feel embarrassed if they do not know how to address you, and it is easy to eliminate those barriers.
  • Situations and circumstances: What rises to the level of needing to contact you? If you have a process in place for excused absences, they may just need a link or an assignment dropbox to put in relevant documentation for missing class. If students need accommodations or in case of an emergency, tell them how to let you know. If you would rather receive notice from you Student Support Services division, put information for how to reach that unit on campus.
  • Setting up contact hours: Listed contact hours often do not work for students for a plethora of reasons. If you are setting up contact hours by appointment, tell students how to request a time. 
  • Research and recommendations: Provide students with what you need to consider their requests to work on your research projects or receive a recommendation. Providing their resume, the name of their business, or the program to which they are applying may help you make your decision.

Noting that hindsight is 20/20, we should always strive to help students feels more confident in communicating with faculty and working with student services. Overall, the student I met with was a great candidate for remediation. Going through the academic integrity process helped them get in touch with campus resources they needed, and I am going to count that as a success. In the meantime, let's help other students navigate their own circumstances and communicate with you effectively. What communication guidelines do you give your classes? Share by tweeting @TweetCAI or commenting on Facebook or LinkedIn.

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