Distance Learning Help: Guide to Digital Communications

As you adjust to working and learning away from Grounds, you should also consider how you’ll communicate with your faculty and University staff. In anticipation of limited access to in-person communication, below are some tips to help you communicate effectively. Leading with empathy is important as we all adjust to relying ore heavily upon digital communication. Faculty, staff, and your peers are likely to be experiencing an increase in email, and it will take time to give everyone a thoughtful response. Having patience with one another will be critical; try to trust that you will get the information you need, even if not as immediately as one would like.

General Guidance

  • While many staff and faculty are relying on virtual communication, they remain available to support students. We really do encourage you to communicate your needs while you are away from Grounds. This could include questions you have about class, health issues, non-academic challenges, and so on. Both faculty and staff anticipate hearing from you.
  • Do not assume that resources are unavailable during this time! Offices are preparing to offer their services while students are away from Grounds, and communicating digitally will now be important to access many University services. Resources such as the Writing Center, Student Disability Access Center, and Counseling and Psychological Services are continuing to offer support either virtually or over the phone.
  • If you are uncomfortable putting particular information in email form or would just like to talk to someone face-face, consider requesting a phone or video call. If you are requesting a call by email, suggest times in the initial message.
  • Check your email often (at least twice per day), as it will continue to be the University’s primary means of communication.
  • Be an active participant in digital communication. It’s okay to send a follow-up message if you have not received a response after 48 business hours. (Place a phone call if it’s urgent!) When you do receive a response, make an effort to confirm your understanding. As with in-person communication, if you are not sure, ask!

Email Communication

When we have the opportunity to talk readily with others in person, we sometimes underestimate the importance of clear and concise email communication. In addition, if you usually prefer to speak with others in person instead of via online means, it may take you some time to find your voice in platforms such as email. Below are some quick tips to have more effective email communication.

Remember Tone.

  • In addition to sharing information, emails also convey tone that can either add or detract from your message. Adopting some structure in your messages can provide clarity to the reader. Consider utilizing the following:
    • Introductions (e.g., Hi John, ; Dear Prof. Nguyen, according to the addressee’s preferred level of formality)
    • Appropriate punctuation (e.g., avoid run-on sentences)
    • Avoid using “text talk” and shorthand
    • Make clear, respectful requests: When composing your message, consider that the reader may not share your concerns or urgency. Be mindful of how you make requests and convey your expectations.
    • Sign offs. At the end of your message, include a sign off such as, “Best”, “Take care”, or something similar to signal the end of your email.

Keep emails concise.

      • The subject of your email should be descriptive and brief (e.g., “Question about Homework 3”).
      • Longer emails are difficult to synthesize and can delay your response.
      • Effective emails should not be longer than a paragraph or so and should quickly get to the point.
      • If you are having trouble keeping your email brief, consider arranging a phone or video call.
      • Before sending, check that your email contains: your name, a greeting, the reason for the message, appropriate language and punctuation, and a clear closing.

Timing

    • Allow at least 48 business hours for a response to your email. Please refrain from sending follow-up emails within this time-frame. If you must send a follow-up email, do so as a reply that includes the original email. This is not rude; it will help the addressee avoid answering you with the same information twice.
    • If your email contains urgent information, try to call or send a direct message instead.

Contributed by Blake Calhoun, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Success, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 3/12/2020

Other Guidance on Adjusting:

Internal Resources