In a country in which presidential campaigns last two years and Christmas decorations appear in stores in October, is it surprising that students contact professors more than two months before a new term begins to ask not-urgent questions about the class?
Or consider this: In some parts of the country, people try to guess when a certain event will happen: When will Lake Misgumpticaticus freeze solid? When will the first yellow-toed prairie sneetch first emerge from its burrow in the spring? When will the large butter sculpture of a cow entirely melt? and so on.
Which leads me to: What is the earliest that a student contacts a professor about next term's class?
I have already received my first email from a student who will be taking a class I will start teaching next year. The student is definitely taking the class; the email was not of the "I'm trying to decide whether to take your class so I need to know now if you are evil and/or boring" kind of inquiry. It was a non-emergency, non-essential technical question about the course logistics.
In this case,
t = 77,
in which t = the number of days between the first day of class and the date of the first email from a student about the class.
13 years ago
"Course logistics" does not reveal the nature of the question, but consider a student who (a) has to arrange childcare (b) arrange on-going medical appointments (c) only survives financially through part-time work, and so needs to arrange/change hours with an employee as the semesters change, (d) is a keen, but weak student who wants to prepare in advance so that they have a better chance of passing the course....
I could go on, but in all the cases above I can imagine a student not wanting to reveal these matters to a Prof when making the early enquiry.
Now if they come once, even with a series of questions, then I would be happy at any time. If they were coming back again and again with "oh, and one more thing" it would bug me whether t=1 or t=101!
Only marginally related...
I'm sad to say that I was in a major department store at the end of August and saw the employees setting up a Christmas display.
I'm fully expecting to see Christmas items on July 4th next year, and within the next few years, it'll move so far back that Christmas items may start being put out near the beginning of December, which is how it should be. Sadly, this means they'll be out all year long.
I understand a professor may think it's ridiculous to ask a question about a course so early on. However, as a recent engineering student, I usually asked professors about the text used in a class rather early, so I could find an affordable used copy. I took 4-6 classes at a time with cover prices of texts running $100-$250 each, and my ability to buy used books online (with slow shipping times and unreliable stocks) saved me about $5000 in my undergrad. As a girl who put herself through school, every penny (not to mention grand!) counted, and I wanted a book starting on day one of a course. I didn't usually ask about syllabi until 2-3 weeks before class, if at all, though.
I think it depends on the nature of the question. If it's about the stuff involved in making the decision to take the course, now seems ok (at my university, class schedules just went up and it will be registration soon). Seems a little early for "what is the text book?" type of stuff though.
On the bright side, hopefully students who are already this engaged with you will be engaged in the class.
None of the poll answers really fit my situation. I expect students to contact me about logistics at least two months before the class begins.
I teach a class that begins in the first week of January.
I give a required exam on the first day of class. Students need to pass that exam with a grade of at least 80% in order to remain in the class.
I expect students to spend significant time over winter break (a break that runs from mid-November through early January) preparing independently for that exam.
It's essential material, and it's new material for all of them, but they can learn it on their own and I don't want to spend class time on it.
I welcome early questions from students, either by email or in person. Students typically begin contacting me in early October, three months before the first day of class. I think this is perfectly reasonable.
After yesterday, I am so happy about voting, I almost need to go find more polls to do it in!
I would just point out that course registration often takes place >60 days in advance, and that perhaps this student is trying to figure out whether he/she needs to drop this class in favor of another.
I don't write the syllabus until the previous quarter's exams are graded, so all these "My grandmother is scheduled to have cancer on the same day as my friend's wedding and this fake case of mono, so can I take the exam on a different day because I'll probably have car trouble on the way to campus anyway?" emails are pointless before late December.
The email was non-urgent and not related to "should I take/drop the course". Even so, I did not say in the email whether I considered it reasonable or unreasonable for a student to email with such a question so far in advance. The question took me 2 seconds to answer in a reply to the student, and as long as there aren't many of these, I am fine with answering an occasional email from next term's students. I am, however, curious as to what others consider 'reasonable' for advance emailing (hence the poll). I suppose it is not surprising that there is such a range of answers thus far.
You forgot to mention, "In a country in which the lingering medievalism of the US grad school system requires prospective students to apply a *year* ahead of time..." You didn't mention whether the student is undergrad or grad. But at least for the latter, a pathology of looking (ridiculously) far ahead seems like a natural by-product of the university system. I just assume that everything at a university (outside of a lab or journal--most times) is unreasonable, if not irrational.
undergrad, intro-level course
It probably is "I'm trying to impress you so you need to know in advance I am fantastic" kind of inquiry...
Today I had a student frantically inform me that I would not be teaching class in the same time slot the next semester. Like they thought this would be news to me.
I once asked about the scheduling of an exam before buying plane tickets to the far-away wedding of friends....
I guess I don't understand what you mean here. Was the question, as some here have proposed, more related to vacation in the middle of term? Or was it more about how many exams there would be or if homework would count toward the final grade?
I can see trying to plan workload based on trying not to take too many exam-heavy or homework-heavy courses in one semester, if at all possible. I think that's perfectly reasonable to do and might have to be done way in advance.
If anything, I really resent the way academics seem to hate planning ahead. I don't see what's wrong with it, although I can see from the FSP point of view that if you have decisions to make and want to avoid making them, having people ask about it might add to your stress/irritation since obviously you know you need to do it eventually.
Personally I think if it gets to the point where you're getting too many emails, just make a WEBSITE. Let them look it up. Put it in your email signature. One professor I deal with on occasion never answers email directly, EVERY single message first gets an automatic reply that includes a list of "If you need X, call Y. If you need information re: Z, here's the URL."
And so on. It's annoying if you need something other than what's on the list, but effective.
Let me note explicitly, since people seem to be making assumptions, that I was not annoyed, irritated, discomfited, aggrieved, distressed, or afflicted by this t = 77 email. I thought it was interesting, and was wondering how others felt about being contacted far in advance of a new term. Perhaps I should have said that directly in the post, as I chose to introduce the topic by mentioning some things that may seem to some to go on too long.
In defense of academics, we can't always plan ahead. Adjuncts or lecturers may not find out their teaching assignments until right before classes start, even though the course itself was on the books beforehand. Other instructors - of any professional level - may have heavy teaching and research loads that prevent them from having January's courses planned in November. There might be someone somewhere who "hates planning ahead," but most of us just plain can't do it. It's not that we don't WANT to plan ahead. It's that we often can't have all the details nailed down at t=77 due to the responsibilities of the current semester.
If a student is contacting me about what background is required for the course, the earlier the better IMO. The earliest I've had that sort of request was about t = 300ish.
If a student is contacting me about scheduling info., they can do so as early as they like and I won't mind. I may not, however, have finalized the schedule so may only be able to be of limited help until about t = 30. I'm still happy they took the initiative though.
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