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I am enrolled in an on-line graduate course. The course is not available in the classroom format.

For the past few weeks, the instructor has ignored every question I sent him. I've asked for:

  • help in understanding specific course content.
  • clarification on upcoming assignment instructions.
  • clarification on the problems in my papers.

I used the recommended contact method described in the syllabus and all other tools on the course Web site, but he sent no replies to these.

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    Is this course provided by a university? Maybe you should consider escalating to next level in the hierarchy.
    – Davidmh
    Oct 20, 2014 at 11:27
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    It could be a technology problem. The first time I realized there was such a thing as a spam folder I found a bunch of unanswered student questions. From the students pov I had just ignored them. From my pov they had never asked me.
    – emory
    Oct 20, 2014 at 23:45
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    @smci This is a rather bold statement. Everyone who has ever worked in it knows that spam detection is hard and will always have false positives. First of all, of course major instiutions have university- or company wide spam filters, so something can always go wrong there. Or maybe the students mail server was hacked and sending out spam and was subsequently blocked and all their mail was marked as spam. Without details, how could you know and simply blame emory for this? Also, this is mostly a silent error, i.e. one doesn't know about the problem, so it is hard to fix.
    – dirkk
    Oct 21, 2014 at 9:55
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    I was at first astonished that someone could be given students and expected to communicate with them by email, before being informed of the existence of spam folders, then I remembered how slipshod initial email roll-outs can be! If you give people complex tools then sometimes they won't be able to use them perfectly. It cannot reasonably be the job of the person who imperfectly understands that complex tool to fix the issues, because they're not capable. In short, IT departments often can just blame the users but not always ;-) Oct 21, 2014 at 11:31
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    Oh yeah, and like democracy, email is a terrible system. The only thing worse than it is everything else we've tried. Oct 21, 2014 at 11:37

2 Answers 2

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The first two kinds of questions should be asked in the course's public discussion area so that the answers will benefit all students. Since you've used "all the other tools" in the course, perhaps you've done that.

I suggest a concerned phone call to the department chair. If the professor is not present in the course at all, ask, "Is Dr. X OK? He hasn't been in the course in several weeks." If he's around, but ignoring you, ask, "Do you know whether I've somehow offended Dr. X? He hasn't answered any of my questions in several weeks."

The point is to give the chair a chance to make corrections without having said anything like "ignoring me." If it has already been several weeks, I'd suggest doing this very soon. Be as specific as possible about dates when the instructor stopped responding, how other work such as quizzes is handled, etc.

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    Yes, I used the public discussion area. Other students did too. But the instructor never replied there.
    – Village
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:48
  • I did not consider that they might be offended. I do recall leaving very negative comments in the mid-semester course evaluation. If they are offended by something I said, does that give them some form of justification, potentially supported by the administration, to ignore my questions?
    – Village
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:51
  • @Village: That's not good, especially if the instructor is replying to no one. To my answer above, I would add being as specific as you can about the time period, such as, "hasn't answered my questions since September 5" or whenever.
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:53
  • He does have a presence in the course though, grading papers with some comments and posting announcements. He just is not answering questions, or at least the ones placed in the course public areas.
    – Village
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:54
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    @Village: No, being offended does not give the professor justification to ignore you. The idea is to be as non-accusatory as possible when you talk to the department chair. Let the chair investigate and act. (While being offended doesn't give the professor any justification, being offensive might be grounds for removing you from the class. So don't be offensive, OK?)
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:56
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As far as I understand, your question is pointing into the completely wrong direction.

Please reword your question to contain that:

  • you didn't "send him" the questions, but posted them to an online board which is the official platform for that course.
  • he didn't answer ANY question which was posted to that online board.

This means it has nothing to do with your person, or the question content, at all. It is a more general problem.

First, make sure that the "instructor" knows that there is an online forum where students can ask him questions. Maybe he doesn't. So, if you have other, more foolproof, means of contacting him: Do it. Be friendly. Ask him to have a look into that forum and answer the student's questions.

With "more foolproof", I mean personal contact, telephone calls, instant messengers, publicized email addresses, or just send him a snailmail!

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  • +1 for "First, make sure that the "instructor" knows that there is an online forum where students can ask him questions."
    – mhwombat
    Oct 20, 2014 at 16:22
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    Why are you making these assumptions? I contacted the instructor using every manner available to me. E-mail, the LMS's mailbox feature, the LMS's question area, etc. In each case, I selected the appropriate available means to contact the instructor, depending on the content and audience of the question. The instructor regularly uses most of these same methods to contact students, but ignores my replies using the same tools.
    – Village
    Oct 21, 2014 at 2:15
  • These "assumptions" are educated guesses based on what I read in the comments. Your question clearly states "every question I send him", and in your comment you wrote "Other students did too. But the instructor never replied there.". So, your question is misleading to a personal problem ("my questions are ignored, other students' questions are answered"), where it clearly isn't! While such misleading talk, requiring reading-between-the-lines, may be custom in politics, it clearly isn't at SE.
    – Alexander
    Oct 21, 2014 at 8:07
  • Why do you create quotes for things I never said here?
    – Village
    Oct 21, 2014 at 12:41

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