Setting Expectations for Instructor Response Time and Feedback

Quality Review Showcase

The Quality and High Quality online course reviews explore components proven to be best practices in online course design. This post showcases Quality item, “Expectations for instructor response time and feedback are clearly stated (e.g., questions, email, assignment feedback).”

In fully online and blended courses, there is no true “start” and “stop” time concerning classwork. When an email is sent to a teacher or an assignment is submitted, it can be tempting for students to expect an immediate response or grade (after all, so many activities that take place on the Internet are immediate). Setting expectations early is important. When a student sends you a message, do they know when to expect a response from you? Do students know how and when they will receive feedback about their submitted work? Clearly stating when and how students should expect to hear from you during the course orientation sets clear expectations and reduces confusion from day one.

What are Some Ways your Online Course can be Designed to meet this Standard?

  • In the syllabus or another page which specifically addresses course expectations, let students know when and how they can expect to hear from you. Be as specific as possible with timeframes. For example:
    • “I will typically respond to emails within a 24-48-hour time period, excluding weekends.”
    • “Feedback about written assignments will be provided within a week after the due date and can be found within the assignment.”

What Does This Look like in a Real Online Course?

Example 1. Sandra Wheeler, ANT3026 (Mummies, Vampires, and Zombies: Anthropology of the Undead).

Dr. Wheeler sets expectations about her response time to student messages within a page entitled Course Expectations. In addition to stating what she expects from her students, she also clarifies what they can expect from her:

“Even though this is a fully online course, I hope to meet you during the course of the semester. If you are on campus for another course or for some other reason, please stop by and introduce yourself. I am available to meet with students by appointment or we can arrange to meet in Conferences. You can always contact me by the course mail or email with the email address listed on the Course Home page. I try to respond to all messages within 2 days, unless I have notified you that I will be unavailable for a specified period. Please keep in mind that I receive a great deal of e-mail from many sources other than the students in this class.”

Example 2. Maria Reyes, EEX4070 (Teaching Exceptional Students).

Dr. Reyes is very specific in her syllabus about how students should contact her and when to expect a reply. She even provides a course of action in case the student does not receive a response within the timeline she specified.

“Please adhere to the following guidelines: Use course email for course issues. Be sure to insert your name in the first line of your e-mail and in any attached document. Please allow 24-48 hours for a reply. Only if you have not received a response in 48 hours should you contact me at the UCF email address (see above). Be sure you let me know you are a student in EEX 4070 and your section number. You can also text me at [phone number]. You must include your name, course and section you are in. If the reply is too long I may ask you to call me, but always text first and wait for a reply.”

Example 3. Sandra Galura, NGR5720 (Organizational Dynamics).

In the syllabus, Dr. Galura specifies how students should send her a message, and even how to construct the message to ensure that she receives it expediently: 

“All course-related e-mails need to be sent using the Inbox feature of Webcourses. If you have trouble accessing this course contact your course instructor via the instructor’s university e-mail address. I strongly recommend that you keep all contact information available outside of Webcourses in the event of a system-wide failure. Make sure that you start your subject heading with the course number and then the specific topic of the e-mail. Failing to start your heading with the course name might send your e-mail to the spam folder.”

She also poses tips for students on when to expect responses: 

“Be patient. Don’t expect an immediate response when you send a message. Generally, two days is considered a reasonable amount of time to receive a reply.”

She sets different time expectations regarding her feedback on assignments: 

“Grades will be posted via Webcourses. Assignment and discussion points will be posted by the instructor within 72 hours after the due date. Given the greater complexity of the written papers, grades specific to each of these assignments will be posted within 7-10 days of submission. You can access your scores at any time using the Grade Book function of Webcourses.”