January 14, 2008

Advice and the notice students take of it

So a student emailed me for advice about the options he's planning to take for his degree and his final year project. I like that the student emailed. It's not just that I find asynchronous communication more convenient (phone calls or knocks on the door are inevitably unexpected and disrupt the thought processes), but email also offers a record of what has been said.

A record is very useful: the student can then refer back to it at a later date. But it also covers your rear end. When some of the little darlings make poor choices and mess up their studies and come and complain that they didn't know about such-and-such, then you can point to your emails and explain that they were warned about it on May 29th (or whenever). It is a wonderful defence mechanism that stops them right in their complaining tracks. Emails can have problems, however, often with the tone of voice that you write and how this gets perceived by the student. Sometimes you can't win, there's no middle ground between what a student doesn't notice and what a student gets offended at.

Anyway, back to this student who emailed for advice concerning the options he was choosing...

I responded to the student's email with various sorts of advice, explaining that he needed to take certain courses, sort out his project, and he can't possibly do all those options he chose at once, he needs to balance out his studies a bit more over the whole year.

The student replied with a second plan that did not address the first point (thus not meeting the degree requirements), proposed to ignore the project entirely, and suggested the complete opposite of a proper balance of options.

So I replied again. I emphasised that he hadn't chosen options to meet the degree requirements, he can't possibly study all those options at once, and he still needed to get his project sorted out.

He seemed to have taken in the first and third points, and then switched to complaining about how come he wasn't told about sorting out his project earlier? So I pointed out all the emails (about four of them) he'd ignored that were telling him about sorting out projects over the previous few months.

His final email on the subject consisted of telling me that he had just realised that he can't do the paperwork online, he needs a paper form. Yes, and if he had been paying attention, he would have seen that I warned him about that in the first of these emails!



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