Communication 101: An Instructor’s Perspective

The semester is already underway, but there is still time for you to begin developing a strong working alliance with your instructors! Whether by email or face-to-face, communication is the first step to establishing a relationship between student and teacher. This blog discusses four key components to establishing rapport and effectively communicating with your instructors.

READ THE SYLLABUS

The syllabus is the only semi-legal contract you have with your teacher. Key information about the course, including deadlines, contact information, course reading and assignment schedules, grading policies, and more, are all included in this document. Although the content may not appear interesting, it is critical to your success in the class and your instructor has likely spent a significant amount of time constructing the syllabus for your benefit. Therefore, take the time to read it before asking your instructor questions about the course structure, deadlines, or other similar topics. We would rather have a student email asking for clarification about what is in the syllabus than ask us for an answer we have already provided. This demonstrates respect for your instructor’s time and communicates that you are accepting responsibility for your learning.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF

Reach out to your instructor by email to tell them a little bit about yourself, your interests in the course (if any), and your career goals; this is important in all types of classes and especially if you are in a course that is delivered 100% online. It is much easier to work with, connect with, and empathize with people we know, and you are only a name on a course roster until you take the steps to build a relationship. Most instructors will sincerely appreciate the effort and will be more eager to provide additional support in the future, should you need it during the course.

STRUCTURING YOUR COMMUNICATION

Use every email, discussion, assignment, and conversation as an opportunity to practice effective communication, which includes proper punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Your writing and speaking style is one of the ways that others will evaluate your professionalism and credibility throughout your career. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable sending your email or assignment to a client or supervisor before sending it to your instructor. By doing this, your instructor will be also able to speak to your professionalism and communication skills if you request a letter of recommendation in the future.

  1. Use your instructor’s proper title, if you can find it. Examples of proper titles include Dr. Leibovitz or Professor Allen. If you are a first-time student in one of our classes or contacting us for the first time, it would be disrespectful and unprofessional to begin an email with the salutation, “Hey Jeff,” or even, “Hi Doc.” This would be the same as addressing your commanding officer by their first name. If your instructor prefers to be addressed in a less formal manner, such as “Dr. L,” they will tell you in their reply or, sometimes, in the syllabus.
  2. Tell the instructor who you are and your preferred name. If you go by Bob, rather than Robert, let the instructor know. Our course rosters often list legal birth names instead of common names, so we will not be aware of your preference unless you tell us. Include your name and preferred contact details in the signature line of your email, too!
  3. State your course number and section. Instructors will often have 450 emails coming from 150 students from four different classes, and it can get confusing! Letting us know what class you’re taking will provide additional context to your question(s) and will help us reply with the information you need more quickly.
  4. State what you have already done. Begin your message with, “I read/watched/studied/looked/perused/investigated __________ and cannot find a clear answer.” Communicating in this way conveys that you are a serious student who has exhausted all means for finding an answer on your own. As instructors, we are willing to help you understand the material, but our job is not to spoon-feed you information. Part of your role as a student is to be an active participant in your own learning, so please consult the syllabus, textbook, ancillary materials, Google, Alexa, and/or Siri before emailing your instructor with a question!
  5. Clearly list your questions. It is difficult to pull questions out of a 1000 word email when they are hidden amongst a series of complaints, stories, and explanations. Sometimes, it can be very valuable and helpful to provide context to your questions, but taking the extra few moments to organize your email (use bullet points or numbered lists) so that your questions are easy to find can make it much easier for your instructor to provide the answers or guidance you are seeking.
  6. Use courteous language; “please” and “thank you” go a long way. No matter how terrible your day has been or how frustrated you are with the class or instructor, please use courteous language. Consider your email communication as “open to the public” and that you cannot control who will see a particular email.

The following are two emails recently received:

BAD/UNHELPFUL: 

“good evening

I do not get it

I am not writing in the group me a lot but I have worked on the project, I am the one who finds where we will be doing the marathon”

GOOD/HELPFUL:

“Dear Sir,

I’m [name snip]. I’m writing this email to resolve my doubts regarding peer review and grading. First, As you mentioned in your comments saying the peer review is harsh. So, can I resubmit my assignment, by making changes mentioned in the peer review?. Second, Is peer review influence our grades? if so, how can we mitigate?

Thanks & regards,

[name snip]

Master’s student in Information Science

PARTICIPATE IN THE CLASS (COMMUNICATION)

If on campus for class, participate in conversations. If you are completing an online course, contribute to discussion threads and virtual (Zoom) class meetings. Add new content and ideas, and ask relevant questions. Even if your classmates do not engage, your instructor will!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Communication in the classroom isn’t any different from communication in the workforce. We must make an effort to have the other person understand, and it can be even more challenging to do this online when we can’t see facial expressions of confusion, hope, cheer, or frustration. Clear and effective communication is essential to getting your needs met as a student!

*This blog was co-authored by Dr. Amanda Leibovitz and Dr. Jeff Allen.

Tagged: communicationeducationcovidonline learningundergraduategraduateprofessionalismteachersprofessorsstudentslearningwriting skills

About Jeff Allen

My mission is to balance the goals of my personal and professional life while continually gaining new knowledge and seeking wisdom. This effort to balance my goals should not dilute the quality of my goals, but should enhance the quality of life for my family, co-workers, friends, and students.
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