Saturday, August 14, 2010

Your Job is NOT to Answer E-mail

My job would be so much easier without the constant interruption from these students! It can be easy to lose your focus in the hustle and bustle of running an HVAC/R program. With the demands of documenting things like student learning outcomes, justifying the need for an expendables budget for items like copper, advising students, scheduling classes, attending faculty meetings, and answering e-mail, it sometimes seems like taking care of administrative details is your primary job. There can be a bit of a let-down when the fury momentarily subsides and there are no URGENT e-mails to answer. "Oh there are no e-mails, what do I do?” Then a student comes in, asks a question and I remember why I am there in the first place. It is important that we remember to save enough time and energy to focus on the students. All the other things are just supporting roles, not the main job. One way to keep the administrative part of teaching from completely taking over your time is to set aside a specific time for accomplishing administrative duties. One day a week I do not lecture or teach in the lab, I administer. That way I am not stealing time from the students, trying to complete reports five minutes at a time in between working with students. When you are juggling administrative functions and students at the same time it may feel like you are being productive because you are so busy, but an honest assessment of what you have accomplished afterwards can be deflating. I personally find that trying to juggle students and administrative details at the same time leads to lack of focus and poor performance on both tasks. That is not to say I don’t answer any e-mails until Friday, it just means that I know I have time to accomplish time consuming tasks on Friday. Another trick is to automate administrative tasks whenever possible. I confess that for many years I really could not understand why many of my friends liked using test banks to write quizzes and tests. I was a purist – writing all my tests from scratch so no two tests were ever the same. I would often save them in Word format, and use old tests as templates, but that was the extent of my automation. Then I became involved in writing Fundamentals of HVAC/R and everything that goes with it, including writing a bank of test questions for use with TestGen. It did not take long for me to see the advantage of using an organized test bank. I can write a good test in about five minutes by just selecting questions from the test bank. I can still write all the new questions I want, but saving them in the test-bank format means that I can retrieve them easily later on. With all the Word documents, I end up searching through lots of electronic documents looking for that gas furnace test I wrote last year. Finally, you should learn to use your tools. You expect your students to learn how to use gauges and electric meters. They have to become proficient in their use to do the job they are training to do. Similarly, all instructors should be proficient with office productivity applications like Word and Excel. If Microsoft is not your cup of tea, substitute whatever word processor and spreadsheet program you like, but mastering the word processor and spreadsheet will make your life much easier. I would certainly not try to pass myself off as an expert in either, but I do use both Word and Excel on a daily basis. Since I use them every day, learning to use them well saves me time. This requires an up-front investment of time, but it pays off almost every day.


  1. Excellent ideas. A carry over from my Air Force days as a Aircraft Environmental Systems instructor is making a grading overlay template. Using the same answer sheet, as the students would use, but printed on a stiffer paper I mark out all of the answers for multiple choice / true & false answers then using a small leather punch that makes holes, punch out the correct answers. This helps me speed up the grading process for those types of questions. Then grade fill in or essay questions separately.

  2. Have been building a bank of test questions and took your suggestion of using a software program. Our program had available Examview and found that a simple saving of the bank in Rich Text Format and marking the answer to each question with ANS: and the correct response I could import all of those test questions. Is saving me lots of time generating quizes as the Examview automatically renumbers following questions if a question is deleted.

    Much thanks Carter

    Gary Reecher