Our team at Cengage Learning recently surveyed thousands of college students on how they interact with their instructors. We asked students how they prefer to contact their instructors and what they would expect the response time to be.

Naturally, the majority (96%) of students choose to use email as a means of contact. But surprisingly, the largest percentage of students (39%) said that they expect a 1 – 6 hour turn-around for out-of-class response time from instructors. How does this work for your classroom and how can you set appropriate expectations?

Is 1 – 6 hours reasonable?

We reached out to the Engaging Minds audience to see if this was reasonable. In an on-going poll that you can still participate in on the right-hand side of our blog, we asked readers, “The majority of recently surveyed students said they expect a one to six hour turn-around for out-of-class response time from instructors. Is this is reasonable?”

Instructor response timeSo far, 80% of instructors say, “No,” it is not a reasonable expectation. One respondent shared: “One to six hours is simply not realistic. One day should work almost 100% of the time.”

Another instructor suggested that “Whatever the response time is, it should apply to students responding to an instructor’s email as well. It has to go both ways.”

Setting clear expectations

Occasionally, students’ ability to complete their work can depend on prompt responses to their questions; however, each instructor’s classroom dynamic is unique. The most important factor is that expectations are communicated early on in class, ideally on the syllabus. As you draft your syllabus for the new year, follow these steps to clearing up any confusion regarding communication:

  1. Choose the days of the week. If you plan to respond to students on weekdays only, make sure that they know to start any of their tricky assignments during the week instead of leaving challenging questions for the weekend.
  2. Choose your hours. If you plan to respond to email only during “work hours,” 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., your office hours, etc, let your students know.
  3. Choose your time-frame. Thoughtful responses take time and you’ve likely got a mountain of email every morning. Choose a turn-around time-frame that is best for your course load. This will help keep your students’ expectations in-check and even help you sort your own priorities.

If you hope to commit to a time-frame of one to six hours, that is spectacular! However, every instructor’s schedule is unique. Letting your students know what days and what hours they can expect to have their questions answered will help you to avoid as much confusion (and complaints!) as possible.

For more advice on connecting with your students, visit our recent post, “Connecting with Students: What They Want and Expect” as well as “Make the Most of Your Interactions with Students.”

How will you be crafting response-time expectations in your next syllabus? Share your ideas below.