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4 Time-Saving Tips for Managing Email in Your Online Course

Submitted by on July 30, 2013 – 11:34 am2 Comments

As an instructor of an online course, communicating with students through email is a critical component of faculty-student interaction, but addressing the same questions via email over and over again can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Give yourself (and your inbox) a break. Instead of taking the reactive approach by responding to questions as they come in, be proactive by designing your course to address students’ frequently asked questions (FAQ) upfront. Mailbox and mail

FAQ: “I don’t know where to start. What do I do first?”


Add a “start here” section before course content.

Learners who are new to the online environment (or new to your course structure) need to know where to begin. Instead of randomly clicking through the course to find components, students can view the start here section at the beginning of your course to know where to go and what to do first. The start here section can direct students to read the syllabus and course schedule, and complete an introduction discussion board before moving  to week or module content.

  • Solution meets QM Standard 1.1: Instructions make clear how to get started and where to find various course components.

Additional Tip

For an example of a start here section, see Welcome Announcement: Paving a Path for Students’ First Steps toward Success.

FAQ: “Why did I lose points on this assignment?”


Provide detailed rubrics for each graded activity (e.g., assessments, assignments).

Rubrics outline the criteria students must meet to receive a high score; rubrics also identify what constitutes a low score, showing students the precise areas where they lost points. If students have the criteria showing where they fell short, they may feel less inclined to send you an email questioning their score.

  • Solution meets QM Standard 3.3: Specific and descriptive criteria are provided for the evaluation of students’ work and participation and are tied to the course grading policy.

Additional Tip

Need help developing rubrics or want to see some already developed rubrics? See How to Save Time Developing Rubrics.

FAQ: “The computer ate my homework! How do I fix this technical issue?”


Provide technical help links in the syllabus or course navigation.

Questions related to technical errors or problems can find their way into your inbox, even if you are not a technical guru yourself. To guide students to the technical support they need, add a “technical help” section to the course navigation or in a prominent section in the syllabus. This section should link students to resources where they can request help or troubleshoot technical issues. These resources may be your institution’s support, your learning management platform’s support, or other helpful sites.

  • Solution meets QM Standard 7.1: The course instructions articulate or link to a clear description of the technical support offered and how to access it.

FAQ: All of the above questions and more.


Create an FAQ document, or build an FAQ section into the course.

By designing a one-stop shop for FAQ, you provide students vital information in a format you can update after each iteration of your course. A designated FAQ area also promotes student-student and faculty–student interactions. You could use discussion forums for FAQ, and you can add a separate FAQ forum for each week or module of the course to better organize content-related questions.

Additional Tip

As an alternative to the LMS discussion board, you could integrate tools like Piazza with your learning management system, which offer an efficient FAQ support system through a streamlined, organized platform.

Your Turn!

What time-saving tips can you offer to help other instructors cut back on the number of emails they receive? What other questions do your students frequently asked that you address upfront? Share with us in the comments section. [social-bio]


  • Jennifer Bryant says:

    Create a weekly announcement containing…

    1. Highlights of the week’s text reading
    2. TO DO List
    3. Reminder of Deadlines

    Sign it with all of the contact information for you as well as the technical support.

    Then email it to the students as well.

  • Monica Anderson says:


    Thank you for your comment. I love the idea of including highlights of the reading assignment. This sounds like a great way to make students aware of key concepts before they begin the coursework for the week.

    Thank you for sharing!