This article does a nice job of addressing a relatively new and exploding part of the job: email. I guess I only started to take this seriously when my TAs asked to have non-office hours contact included as part of their 180 hours of labor each semester (an accounting process that is required by the union/university deals and drives me absolutely nuts). The reality is that a significant hunk of time for TAs is the email from undergrads.
For the first several weeks of the term, before the students start interacting with their TAs, I get the traffic. And a lot of it could be answered by closer readings of the syllabus (or outlines as they are called at McGill). I have already blogged about the ten percent problem, where about ten percent of the students tend to have problems following instructions.
How do I respond to the email? Depends on my mood, of course. I tend to be tolerant of heaps of email as I am online all the time and find it easier to keep track of things that are emailed than phone calls or office visits. Indeed, I tend to tell a student to email me after a phone call or office visit to confirm the decision so that I have a record of it. However, I respond more slowly to questions that are more impulsive (could be answered without emailing me), have been answered, and so forth. I will not reply to email-nagging. If a student emails again and again with the same question or different ones, then I will not respond quickly at all. I do use the course website to explain stuff and answer general questions.
I do think that setting a clearer policy might be in order, but my outline/syllabus is already chock full of McGill-required stuff. Adding more instructions/regulations to the syllabus will mean that more stuff gets ignored.
Any thoughts from my professor-readers?