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I am an Engineering undergraduate student at a Canadian University and have had trouble in a course with regards to time to complete online quizzes. The course syllabus says there are 4 quizzes worth 4% each throughout the semester and gives the weeks that they will be conducted on, but does not give the date or time of the quiz. The quizzes are online using our university teaching website that all courses use.

The first issue arose after the very first lecture. During the first lecture nothing was mentioned about the first quiz. The Saturday following the lecture the professor emailed us and said that the first quiz would open Monday morning at 8am and be due at midnight. He also said all further communication would be through the teaching website we all use. (The syllabus also says all communication should be through the website). I planned to do the quiz (it's only a 10 minute 5 question quiz) Monday after my other classes in the evening around 9pm. I go to do the quiz only to realize it is closed. I check my email and apparently the professor emailed Sunday evening at around 7:30pm saying that the quiz will be closed at 8pm on Monday. I don't check my email every single day as it has never been a form of important communication for any class I have ever taken. I do, however, check the class website daily and there was not a single notification about the quiz. Every other course I have taken has given notifications on the website. I felt like this was unfair as the professor has said clearly on the syllabus and in his earlier email that all communication would be through the website. He then proceeded to change the quiz time (which is not on the syllabus) the day before on a Sunday evening through an email. I emailed showing him the discrepancy in a very professional manner and he simply replied with "check your email, things may change".

I found this last minute change to be very unprofessional and was upset at losing 4% of my mark. I have never missed a single assignment or test in all my 4 years of university and I attend every single lecture.

I would have taken my complaint further but in class the professor said that since some students were not enrolled in the class yet since it was only the first lecture that the lowest marked quiz would have its mark replaced with the average of the other three. Although not a direct remedy to my problem and not exactly fair I let it slide since it was good enough and I don't like complaining.

Now 4 weeks into the course the same thing happened. I check my email Tuesday morning to find that the professor emailed again on a Sunday (two days prior) saying quiz 2 is now open until Monday at midnight. I missed the quiz again. I checked the class website all throughout the weekend and Monday, no notifications were given. This is the second quiz I have now missed because I don't check my email every day and there is no remedy in place for missing it, it will be a zero. I have not yet contacted the professor or anyone else yet as I don't really know what to do except maybe talk to the department chair.

I feel like these last minute quizzes are not professional and should be announced in the lectures ahead of time or at least have their dates and times on the syllabus and if things change a notification on the class website is the bare minimum that should be done to communicate this.

Am I wrong to suggest that the professor is being unreasonable with the way he is communicating the quiz times? Should they not be set ahead of time or at least communicated in class and on the class website as opposed to email one day before? Do I have a case if I talk to the department chair?

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    The first one there's a legitimate complaint (having said, "all further communication would be through the teaching website"). Any one after that is on you (having then said, "check your email, things may change"). – Daniel R. Collins Jan 30 '18 at 22:41
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    Fair enough, although I did not interpret his comment to be a policy change since he only said it to me and not the rest of the class. What if someone else was in my position but hadn't contacted him previously? I'm more upset with the policy being unfair/unclear in general rather than my individual case and I feel like other people could easily fall victim here. – Alex Jan 30 '18 at 23:14
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    It's 2 AM and I can't sleep, so I'm posting a new quiz for you all. Hurry, you have 30 seconds! – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '18 at 0:18
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    When the syllabus says one thing and the policy says the same thing, idiosyncratic/arbitrary changes are absolutely not on the student, regardless of how many times the professor has gone against policy, syllabus or previously stated expectations. – Nij Jan 31 '18 at 4:47
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    The first one, suddenly announcing closing the quiz early half an hour before, is an unreasonably short notification. Anyone could not check their emails for 30 min, or receive the email immediately but not be in a position to take the quiz right away. The second one, however, giving a whole day, seems reasonable. What is stopping you from checking your email every time you check the course website? – nengel Jan 31 '18 at 6:23
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The professor has been jerking you around (whether intentionally or not).

For now at least, you will need to check your email more often during the target dates.

It is fine to present your concerns to the department. (In my view, being a good citizen of one's university includes providing constructive criticism that will help improve students' educational experience.) I recommend presenting your concern in a calm way.

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I understand you are being upset and i can relate. However, chances are your professor does not do this on purpose but is busy with other things and only remembers the tests shortly before the next lectures.

What you can do to try and change the situation:

  • ask about the test time frames in lecture ("Professor, when will the next test be online?")
  • put up a forum post or similar stating that you have trouble adjusting to the tests due to their somewhat spontaneus openings and short times, asking for either the time frames to be lengthened or notifications about upcoming tests in advance.
  • check your email more often (yes, really!)

I would not recommend talking to the department chair before doing all of these.

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    How does this fix the problem that a student has missed 8% already, exactly because the professor is conducting themselves very unprofessionally? Being busy isn't an excuse: they have had to go back onto the system, change the closing times they already set, send new emails about the change, and then respond to the criticism. It takes more effort and time, not less, to do it this way! – Nij Jan 31 '18 at 4:50
  • it does not fix the 8%-problem, I cannot do that. I do think the professor is to blame, but i don't think that complaining to the department chair would make any impression other than "person not checking mail often enough is angry" hence my recommendation to first try and adapt to it. – Jonas Schwarz Jan 31 '18 at 10:35
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I'm confused: When you first brought this to the attention of your professor, you were told: "check your email, things may change". Then, later on, you say:

I checked the class website all throughout the weekend and Monday, no notifications were given.

Why would you check the class website all through the weekend and Monday, and not check the one place where your professor told you alerts would be coming? Near as I can tell, you answer that when you say:

I don't check my email every single day as it has never been a form of important communication for any class I have ever taken.

Well, it looks to me like now you're in a class where it's an important form of communication, and you'd be better off checking your inbox than the class website.

I'm seeing some irony in your allegations of "unprofessionalism," given the fact that, when you first talked to your professor about this issue, you used email to do so:

I emailed showing him the discrepancy in a very professional manner...

Now, as for your bottom-line question:

I feel like these last minute quizzes are not professional and should be announced in the lectures ahead of time or at least have their dates and times on the syllabus and if things change a notification on the class website is the bare minimum that should be done to communicate this.

Am I wrong to suggest that the professor is being unreasonable with the way he is communicating the quiz times?

There are couple issues here, and you seem to be mixing the two:

  1. How much notice is given between when the quizzes are announced and when they are due.
  2. How the professor is alerting the students to the fact that the quizzes are now open.

As for your second question, I don't think email is an "unreasonable" way to announce quizzes, particularly if the students at large haven't yet indicated that this is inconvenient or ineffectual for some reason.

As for the first question, a 48-hour notice might be reasonable to ask for, but your issue seems to be more about email vs. the course website than the amount of time actually allotted.

By the way, I think you should be willing to be more flexible in this regard. (Perhaps the professor finds it very easy to use email but onerous to update the course website.)

In short, I don't think using email as a primary form of notification is "unprofessional," and I certainly don't think you should go to the dept head with a complaint before hashing out the current procedures with the professor in class. And, if you do elect to discuss this in class, be very wary of accusing your professor of acting "unprofessionally," as you did twice in your question. That smacks more of whining than an earnest effort to improve the process for all stakeholders.

  • What about the rest of the class that was not told to check their email? Is it fair to them since the syllabus still says use the website? Also I don't see how less than 1 business days notice is reasonable in any form of communication for an out of class quiz. When I emailed the professor it was in response to an email by him wondering why I did not complete the quiz, it was not confrontational in the least. I am not mixing the two, I just think they are both problems. I don't have an issue with email if it is given with enough notice and if that is what the official policy is, but it isn't. – Alex Jan 31 '18 at 18:05
  • In regards the "unprofessional" allegations, that was in reference to the fact that he specifically said all further communication would be through the website and then used email to change a previously set quiz time a few hours before the quiz. Using email is not unprofessional if sufficient notice is given (at least more than 36 hours would be nice) and that it is the policy that all students are expecting. – Alex Jan 31 '18 at 18:09
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    @Alex: The SE site doesn't function by arguing about every proposed answer. If you think you have an answer, post it, and see if it gets upvoted or not. – Daniel R. Collins Jan 31 '18 at 18:11
  • I know, I was not trying to argue the answer, simply provide more context and information. I can see how it could be taken in an argumentative manner, so I will refrain from that in the future. Thanks for the comment. – Alex Jan 31 '18 at 18:12

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