Email Answer: Can you help me with my learning or one of your free / open classes that I am taking?

I get a number of messages per week from students who take my courses online.  I have well over a half million online students so I don’t have time to individually respond to all the messages I get via Twitter, Email, or LinkedIn.

I do skim all the messages I get – but only reply to a few.

Before I talk about the messages that I don’t answer, let me talk about the messages that I *do* answer like the following:

  • I am using an auto-grader in your course and it is broken.  If you have a screen shot where my code has an error message – I want to know about it and want to fix it.  I will bug you and ask you to keep testing the problem until I verify it is fixed.
  • If you find a typo or mistake in one of my web sites or books – I would like to hear about it.  I like to fix little things so the quality of the materials is kept high.
  • If you want to translate some of my course material to a new language – that is really cool and I want to hear about that.
  • You are a teacher and want to adopt or have used my materials for a course you are teaching.  I love that and want to hear about it.

The following types of messages are read – but I rarely reply to them:

  • Can you write a recommendation for me?  I only write recommendations for students I work with outside of class.  I don’t even write recommendations for students who take my courses on-campus at University of Michigan.   I *understand* that recommendations are difficult to get.  I just feel really bad writing a recommendation that says “I had Tony in class, and because he did not cause any trouble I would not even recognize Tony if he came up to me.”   I love writing recommendations for students when there is real collaboration.
  • Could you design a plan of study for me? Could you give me career advice?   I have some videos about career advice in some of my courses but don’t have time to be an individual career counselor.
  • Can you be my mentor?  I only mentor about 2-4 students per year – and I work with students because their interests (i.e. educational technology, open source, and open content) align with my interests and I get help from the students on my work.
  • Any question about Coursera, edX, or FutureLearn payments, dates, sessions, etc.   I provide my material to these MOOC platforms and they run the courses.  I don’t have veto power over what the platforms do or when the courses run or what the due dates are for each assignment.
  • Could you sign a certificate of attendance so I can get reimbursement?  This is an issue with the MOOC providers – I do not check ID nor take attendance in these courses so I can not and certify anything.
  • Any message about an honor code violation where you “mistakenly” uploaded something that was not your own work and you got caught.  These messages usually weave some long intricate story and want “one more chance” – I ignore these messages.   Read the assignments, do your own work and don’t take short cuts.
  • Can we connect on LinkedIn?  I only connect on LinkedIn to people I know professionally.  I don’t connect to students at all until I have worked with them on a project.

As I said above – I do see virtually every message and skim them all.  Sometimes something in a message will jump out at me.  Skimming a message is pretty quick but writing a reply takes a lot of time that I just don’t have.

It does not make me happy to ignore these messages – I wish I had time to reply to them all.  If I replied to every message it would take more time than I have in a day and I would get nothing done :(

So I apologize in advance.