Are we too informal with Professor Halavais?

I came across this article and found it interesting.

As a parent and an older student, I am amazed at how things have changed over the short time since I was a full time student.  Even at the elementary school age and middle school age, informality seems to rule.  At PTA meetings, the parents call the principal “Dan” rather than “Mr. Soandso”.  

I did not grow up with e-mail, therefore I tend to write everything as if it was a business or personal letter and this drives my 13 year old son nuts! He calls me a nerd or another term depicting that I am just not with the times. So I thought this is the trend that is acceptable, but after reading this article I see that not all would agree.

Which leads me to this question – are we too informal?  Do all professors feel this way?  Are we bombarding our instructors or TAs too much?  Are we expecting too much? I know this has nothing to do with pornography, but we are taking an online class with approximately 400 students.  Can you imagine if they have to respond to at least one email a week from us?  I can’t even find the time to respond to all the posts I find interesting. I think internet = informal.  Think of instant messaging and e-mailing friends, no one types long hand anymore.  Everything is abbreviated and in a new way as well, such as “POS” which I see often!

I am curious to see what others think.

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5 Responses to “Are we too informal with Professor Halavais?”

  1. Alex Halavais Says:

    I assume you don’t mean a Point of Sale–i.e, a “cash register” ;). I don’t want to discourage commenting by others (which my commenting sometimes can do), but I’ve gotten two notes on this article from other faculty today, and a note from a journalist.

    I encourage informality, because I think it’s smart for students to question a teacher, and formality can sometimes suggest authority, or worse: infallibility. On the other hand, that informality often goes hand-in-hand with disrespect; not just of teachers, but also of students. For this reason, in one of my recent courses, I tried to call my students by their last names (Ms. Smith, Mr. Jones), but many students found it threatening or off-putting.

    Shortly after I defended my dissertation, students in one of my courses back in Seattle caught wind that I was “official,” and decided as a group to start calling me “Professor Alex” instead of just “Alex.” I liked that :).

    But the article seems to conflate this kind of close communication with what seems to be really inane conversation. In case any student wants to know how to make a professor love you, it’s easy: walk into his or her office and talk about research. Talking about the mechanics of a course or grades seems to be so much of what we do, that it is refreshing to be able to talk about ideas. And I think that if the emails (or IMs) were about the bigger ideas, you would hear no complaints.

    I’ve gotten questions like “which notebook,” and it makes me wonder why these people are in a university. I don’t mind chatting about these things–I am opinionated when it comes to pens and notebooks!–but when it becomes a significant part of your email day, that’s no fun.

    Then there is the question of Standard English, and what appears to be an inability to write a good email. I would far prefer that someone’s email appear to be a business letter than the other way around. Unfortunately, I have seen too many business letters and other forms of writing that look like an informal IM, and that is really bad news.

  2. Brenda (TA) Says:

    I read this article as well and although I have not been a TA for long, I have been surprised by the informality in communications from students. On one hand, it does “break the ice” and make future interaction easier. But sometimes emails can be too informal. For instance, I often get emails from students asking for help with blogs. But the email contains no “Hi Brenda,” little punctuation, no blog address to refer to, no specifics as to the problems and especially frustrating, no name. Don’t musunderstand me. I am always happy to help. But everyone in class should know that I can only read minds on Fridays. So if you send me an email on any other day, a little basic information is necessary. 🙂

    I often get the perception that among many students, there is an inability or perhaps a lack of initiative to use independent creative problem solving. This may be a reult of lack of time or lack of desire. I don’t know for certain. I do know, however, that this is a wide-spread phenomenon that has grown drastically over the past 10 years. It seems as if everyone wants the answers handed to them and I don’t understand it. Finding the answers is often half the fun!

    Here’s an example: The syllabus for this COM 497 has nearly everything you need to get through this class, including, what is expected to get an “A”. A large percentage of the questions I have been asked on email have their answers in the syllabus, which suggests to me that many students did not read it. Since I know this, rather than answering such a question immediately, I will direct a student to the syllabus first with the understanding that if there is still confusion, I am happy to help out more. But whay did he or she not go to the syllabus first?

    So, here’s a question from me: If you email a class-related question to your professor before seeking out the syllabus and/or course website first, why is that? Is it because this information (in the case of COM 497) is “online” rather than in print? Is there no time to read all of that information? Is it because it is easier to fire off an email to your professor or TAs than take time to search for the answer? I’m not trying to be snarky or anything. I’m just curious. Consider this: If there was no such thing as email, how would you go about approaching your professor with such a question? Would you approach him/her at all?

    Since I am aware that *I* may be misperceiving things, I would love to hear eveyone’s thoughts on this issue.

    Cheers 🙂
    Brenda

    I’d like to ask everyone who emails any professor ot TA a question about sort of thing

  3. Elaine Says:

    You posed a question back at us and I will try and answer it, but it will be specific to my situation, as I can’t speak for others!
    If you email a class-related question to your professor before seeking out the syllabus and/or course website first, why is that?
    I don’t think I have ever done that, but I am afraid that sometimes, in my wording, it may seem like I did this before trying to find the answer out for myself.
    Is it because this information (in the case of COM 497) is “online” rather than in print?
    The fact that this class is online, it seems easier to do it ALL online, a quick email here a fast instant message there. Taking into consideration that this class has an enormous amount of students taking it, these shortcuts seem unfair. It wasn’t until reading the article did I realize I may be guilty of some of these actions as well.
    Is there no time to read all of that information? Is it because it is easier to fire off an email to your professor or TAs than take time to search for the answer?
    I have a lot of obligations at home, taking care of 2 children, running a household, and all the fun chores that go along with that! (won’t bore you with the details) I also volunteer a lot of my time to the schools and other organizations in my area. I read all information and try to come up with a solution on my own. If I find that I am neglecting my home/family and pretty much spend the large portion of the days looking for my answer, only then will I email/instant message for help. (I believe Dr. Halavais mentioned that for a 3 credit course we should look at spending about 6-9 extra hours/week doing our assignments/research! Perhaps but with this course topic and the blogging/reading posts – I find I spend that much time in one day!)
    I had a few questions that I had a hard time finding the answers to. I won’t name names but I have not heard back via email about the answer. After reading this article I am thinking maybe it wasn’t worth an answer or there are too many emails to answer or perhaps I have the wrong email address!
    I’m not trying to be snarky or anything. I’m just curious. Consider this: If there was no such thing as email, how would you go about approaching your professor with such a question? Would you approach him/her at all?
    When I was a full-time college student I hardly went to the professor or TAs with questions. I didn’t get straight As, so perhaps I should have utilized their office hours. I did however, visit my Computer professor often, however, he had a thick accent and I couldn’t understand him! It put me off. I received a “D” in that class even though I tried hard to get extra help!
    Now, if there were no such thing as e-mail, I would have a problem, since I am a distant learner. But now that I am older, if I was a full-time student, the few questions I have regarding blogging and such, I would come down to the office and ask for help, definitely. However, I cannot comment on if I would have years ago. I would think I would. I did try to log onto the virtual office hours on Thursdays, but there seems to be a problem with that.
    In summary, I read the information/syllabus, I navigate the sites and look for the answers; only when I am at a loss, do I email Dr. Halavais or one of the TAs for assistance.
    Take this response for example. I would like to comment on my site, under yours and Dr. Halavais’s comments – however I wanted you to see it, so I thought best to email you a response. I will more than likely, copy and paste this response as well under the comments section of my post. I am not sure which is best, but I will try both ways.

  4. Alex Halavais Says:

    If my name is the one you aren’t naming: by all means name it. I promised to get back on emails within 24 hours, and I’ll admit that I have had a hard time keeping up with that. Especially last weekend, when I was getting about a dozen emails an hour.

  5. PourNoCoffee... Says:

    Just wanna say a couple of words, skipping the whole “argument” going on in the comments section.

    I remember when I was part of the high school concert band, a disciplined uniform group (I didn’t study in the US), it was a rule for the juniors to stop whatever they were doing and greet the seniors each time they see them, even if outside of school compound. As time went by, the greetings became less formal and was done out of obligation rather than respect. We as seniors, closed one eye on it as we wanted to eliminate the senior-junior gap. After “Good morning Sir/Mdm”, we would joke and slap each other on the backs like buddies.


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