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Tutor E-Mail Expectations

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Email Your Tutor

Expectations for Tutor Email Communication

The following consists of examples of good and poor email communications Psychology 289 tutors have had with students. The primary purpose of this document is to provide Athabasca University tutors with clear performance standards for their email communications with students. However, we are also making this document available to Psychology 289 students so that students know of these standards as well. If you feel your course tutor either is not meeting these standards or is meeting these standards at a high level of excellence, please email the course professor, Dr. Lyle K. Grant ( with an example email. This will allow us to bring the performance of all tutors up to an acceptable level and to recognize the excellent performance of tutors too.

Examples of Good Emails

Because Athabasca University is a Distance Learning University, the contact between course tutors and students is very important. Tutors who maintain good contact with their students are helping the students to feel as though their student status and progress is important to the university. It is more likely that students who are being contacted on a regular basis by their tutors and are have all of their questions responded to in a detailed and timely manner will have a positive experience in taking distance courses.

The names of the students and the tutors have been either changed or omitted.

Answering Questions on the Course Material

Good email responses completely answer the students' questions and also provide the student with the location of this information in their course package. As you can see in the following email example, when the student asks a question (such as the first question), the tutor responds providing the location of the appropriate information (" can find on page 80 of your textbook, last paragraph...") followed by a detailed answer of the question that answers the question beyond the answer the textbook provides.

In addition to answering questions about the course material, this tutor also presents the student with all of the possible options of obtaining an extension to the course, so that the student has a clear understanding of what they can do to complete the course and she can choose the option that best suits her needs.

Hello Annabeth,

I'm happy to hear you're working on Chapter 3 in the course! I hope you're enjoying the course. If you have questions while working through the course, definitely feel free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you.

I will answer each of your questions in sequence here:

Quiz A

#4. It is necessary for cells to have the ability to send inhibitory messages because:

The answer to this question, you can find on page 80 of your textbook, last paragraph. This question tests your understanding of this paragraph and the material presented just before it about postsynaptic potentials and firing of neurons. The textbook doesn't specifically answer this question for you. If you understand the material on page 80, though, determining the correct answer shouldn't be too difficult. The general idea in this paragraph is that function in the brain has a lot to do with balance between excitatory and inhibitory messages. If we had only excitation, neurons would fire non-stop. And if we had only inhibition, neurons would never fire. So we need balance.

#12. Sedatives increase the activity of which neurotransmitter? Serotonin?

You can delete this question. The answer can be found in Chapter 5, pg. 207, and is GABA. So you might see this question again (e.g., on the final exam), but do not need to worry about it for this quiz.

Quiz B

2. A neuron's resting potential is observed when the cell is fully? polarized?

This is another question we decided to delete. The charge of the inside of the neuron relative to the outside is -70 mV when the neuron is at rest. So the answer is "e". But your textbook doesn't use this term when discussing this, and so you are not expected to know this.

13. Which of the following statements is true???

See page 104 in your textbook. The material presented here should help you with this question.

16.In people with an intact corpus callosum, verbal stimuli are identified more quickly & accurately when: sent to the left hemisphere first?


Also, I need to know how I apply for an extension. Is there a deadline? What are my options if I don't have $200.00. I need some help in the scheduling/motivating department from my tutor if I get an extension, or else I am waisting my time.

Also, will I get the same tutoring service?

I notice your contract officially expires at the end of this month (Feb., 2003). To apply for an extension you will need to contact the registrar and pay the extension fee on or before Feb 28th, 2003. The fee for a 2-month extension, according to information I received in September 2002, is $118.00. This may have changed since I received the information. So you should check with the registrar for the specific amount.

You should have received an extension request form with your course materials. You should fill this out and mail it to the registrar along with the required fee.

You are eligible for a total of 3 extensions, 2 months long each - but probably would only want to pay for one at a time.

If you extend the course, tutor support will still be available to you, as it currently is.

It will be difficult for you to complete the entire course plus the exam in the next couple weeks, and so obtaining an extension is definitely something you might want to consider at this point in time. You would then have until the end of April to complete the course.

The course could comfortably be completed by then, I believe. But this clearly depends on your time, motivation, etc.

I hope what I wrote here helps. You clearly have put some time and effort into the course, and so I would encourage you to consider hanging in and completing the course, and extending it if you are able.

If you do not have the money required to extend the course, one option would be to finish all the quizzes on or before the end of this month, and to take steps to set the final exam up immediately, and to write it on or before the end of this month. If you fail the exam, you have 3 months from the date you write it to apply for and write a supplemental exam. And I don't think the supplemental costs as much as the extension.

I unfortunately cannot think of any other options for you if you are not able to afford the extension fee. I would recommend, if you were in this situation, that you contact the registrar and/or student services to discuss this matter, and see if they can think of anything. I believe student services has counsellors who might be able to help you know where to turn for financial help, for example.

I look forward to further communications with you as you work through the course. Keep up the good work and effort in the course!

Have a wonderful day, also, and bye for now!

The following email is also an excellent example of answering student questions. In this example, the tutor provides a detailed response to each of the questions asked, both answering the question and providing the exact location of where the appropriate information is discussed in the course package. The tutor concludes this email by inviting the student to contact her again if she has any further questions.

Not only did this tutor provide the student with the information she needed, by inviting the student to contact her in the future, she is maintaining a positive relationship with this student where the student will feel as though she is not alone in learning this course through distance learning.

Hello Betty Lou,

I will respond to each of your questions in turn, here:

> Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.

You're welcome!

> I think I get the voltage thing. If we think of it like electricity, flipping a switch to turn a light bulb on, only means the light is on, is does not determine how strong the light will be, the wattage does that. The voltage in a light bulb determines how much electricity it can take before it 'blows'...hence rural light bulbs have a higher voltage than urban or regular ones do. Therefore, the action potential is like the switch, turning off or on, the voltage is like the amount of power a light bulb can take and the wattage, how bright it is, is like the number of excitatory neurotransmitters (over and above the inhibitory neurotransmitters) that are accepted by the PSP. So, have I got it? So the sum of the PSPs determines whether an action potential will occur or not. This really helped me understand the way PSPs work.

Comparing action potentials and neurons to light bulbs is interesting...

I'm not convinced you have it quite right though. Every neuron in the brain communicates with thousands of other neurons and, in turn, has thousands of other neurons sending messages to it. Some of the messages sent by other neurons to a given neuron tell it "fire, fire, fire" (excitatory messages), and others say "don't, don't, don't" (inhibitory).

The messages received by a neuron from other neurons result in PSPs in the receiving neuron. If the "fire, fire, fire" PSPs outnumber the "don't, don't, don't" ones by a large enough margin, the neuron will fire. If the receiving neuron "don't, don't, don't" input outnumbers the "fire fire fire" input, the neuron won't fire, and if there's balance between the inhibitory and excitatory input, the neuron will remain in resting state.

Every time a neuron fires, it fires the same. Sometimes, though, the amount of excitatory input is far greater than the inhibitory, and other times it's not at great. This (the strength of the input) is reflected in the rate the neuron fires, and not in the way the neuron fires. And you can see a nice diagram summarizing this on page 42 of your study guide.

So... it's a bit a light bulb. An interesting analogy... But it's not totally like a light bulb. But if thinking in terms of light bulbs helps you understand this, this is great!

> Question 12. Yes, question 12 speaks about sedatives and I could not determine what the answer was until I understood more about sedatives and Question 12. Yes, question 12 speaks about sedatives and I could not determine what the answer was until I understood more about sedatives and how they work. I asked about sleep because I then concluded, probably erroneously, that the neurotransmitter that was affected was the one that determined sleep. However, sleep is determined by many different ones, as you can see. I still have to find out which neurotransmitters is affected by sedatives. Maybe I do not understand what a sedative is in relation to this text.

You'll be learning more about sedatives in Chapter 5 of your textbook. So there's no need to worry about them quite yet.

> Back to Chapter three:

> In the study text we are asked to explain how researchers track neurotransmitter activity. I cannot find this information. Can you direct me?

Yes... this is a question others have asked me also. I think what the author of this question was trying to get at is that researchers track neurotransmitter activity by recording electrical activity of neurons --e.g., PSPs. Anatomical visualization techniques like PET, MRI, and other techniques are often used to track neurotransmitter activity, also. But the best answer, based on material in Chapter 3 of your textbook, would be by recording electrical activity of neurons.

> What are biogenic amines?

Same as monoamines -- dopamine, norephinephrine, and serotonin. See page 82 of your text for further details.

> Do agonists and antagonists only affect acetylcholine or do they affect other neurotransmitters?

An agonist is a chemical that mimics a neurotransmitter. Some chemicals mimic acetylcholine, some mimic dopamine, etc. So the term agonist does not just apply to acetylcholine. Likewise, antagonists block neurotransmitter receptors, and, in-so-doing, reduce effectiveness of neurotransmitters. Some antagonists block acetycholine receptors, some block dopamine receptors, etc. The terms agonist and antagonists thus apply to all neurotransmitters, and not just acetylcholine. Acetylcholine agonists and antagonists, however, aren't the same as agonists and antagonists for other neurotransmitters.

> What is the most recent research into the pleasure centres?

See page 94 to 95 of your textbook. The last paragraph in the first column on page 94 is where information about "pleasure centres" begins. After reading this material in the text, if you still have questions, feel more than free to get in touch and I will try to be more helpful.

> Do family studies give us conclusive ideas on hereditary or environmental influences? When I read this I feel that there is no direct correlation that can be definitely identified. Can you comment.

It sounds like you have the gist here. You can read more about this on page 105 of your text, and in particular in the paragraph just before the subtitle "Twin Studies".

> That should do for how. Thanks a bunch

Keep up the super work and effort in the course! If you have further questions, feel more than free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you. Have a wonderful day, and bye for now!

Providing Details About Course Related Projects

In the following email, it is noticeable that this tutor provided a very descriptive response on the research project that is associated with this course. She explained not only how to locate the research project too.

Along with providing information on the course related projects, it is also noticeable that this tutor follows the ethical guidelines associated with her job ("It's against course policy for me to give answers to you...") and she explains this to the student.

Yes, I just received your Quiz 5, and recorded 92% for you on it. Another excellent job!

It's against course policy for me to give answers to you for all the quizzes you didn't do formally. If you have specific questions about any of the questions on these quizzes, though, feel more than free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you.

For the research project, what you do is log onto the course WebPages, click on research, and then answer the questions and follow the directions you are posed with. It takes about 1 hour of your time, and then you are finished it. You do not have to write anything up about it, etc. You are you are posed with. It takes about 1 hour of your time, and then you are finished it. You do not have to write anything up about it, etc. You are simply participating in a research project about perception that is being conducted by a faculty member. And one reason you are given an opportunity to do this is because psychologists do research and hence exposure to ways research can be done early on in psychology courses is important. And this is a chance for you to find out how a particular project is being conducted via the Internet.

And the final requirement for you in the course is the final exam. This is multiple choice, 60 questions, some from your textbook, study guide and quiz booklet, and some new. If you have questions while preparing for this, or further questions about the research option, etc., feel more than free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you.

I forgot to mention in my last email that the research project is not a test of your knowledge of material in the course. And thus, you do not have to have any books, etc., with you when doing it. And you aren't graded when doing it. You simply receive a pass if you attempt it and a fail if you don't. And if you don't do the research, then you must do the book report.

It sounds to me like you're planning to do the research. If you do the research, I hope you have fun with it!

Post Quiz Contacts

Students appreciate feedback on how they're doing in the course and this provides them with the reassurance that all of their online quizzes were received. The following emails are examples of responses to student online quizzes.

In the following example, the tutor provides the student with their grade and then gives the student a recommendation to retake the quiz, so that this student will receive a passing grade. This student not only knows his/her grade, but also knows that it is in their best interest to retake the quiz.

You scored 15 out of 19, which is 78.95% on your first attempt at Unit 1 quiz.

May I ask that you spend time reviewing the materials and proceed with your second attempt when you feel ready.

Be sure to contact me if you have specific questions.

In the following email, the student receives their quiz mark along with a positive message that makes her feel good about her recent accomplishment (scoring a good grade on the quiz).

Hello Caroline,

I received your 5th quiz, and will record 88% for you on it. Keep up the excellent work and effort in the course! Have a wonderful day, also, and bye for now!

Initiating Contact With Students

It is important for the tutors to initiate contact with the students if they had not heard from the student in a while, or if the student is new to the course. The following email is an example of initiating contact with a student. This student will most likely feel as though she is valued as a student of Athabasca University.

Initiating contact with students will not only allow the student to feel values, but it also opens up the bridge for further communication so that the students will feel comfortable in contacting their tutor if they need help.

Hello Daphne,

I am your tutor for Psychology 289 at Athabasca University. I notice it has been a while since our last communication, and notice the phone number I have for you no longer works, and so decided to try touching base via email to say hello, and to find out how progress is coming in the course. I hope progress is coming well, and I hope you are enjoying the course. If you have questions while working through the course, feel more than free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you. I look forward to further communications with you while you work through the course!

Have a wonderful day, and bye for now!

The following email is another example of initiating contact with the student. The tutor began by welcoming the student to the course and then continued by giving a detailed introduction of the course and what will be expected from the student. She concluded by inviting the student to contact her if she needs assistance.

Hello Eartha:

First of all, I would like to say, "Welcome to Psychology 289", I hope you will find this course both interesting and enjoyable.

I am your assigned tutor for Psychology 289: Psychology as a Natural Science, therefore, you are more than welcome to send your questions my way. If my office hours are not convenient for you, you may certainly contact anyone of the other tutors listed on your tutor letter, it is a matter of your preference and convenience.

For PSYC 289 you are responsible for completing 5 Unit quizzes (35% of course grade), a Research Option OR Book Report Option (mandatory, but no grade assigned), and a final exam (65% of course grade).

The questions provided in the Study Guide are for your benefit (you do NOT hand them in), and will help you prepare for the unit quizzes as well as the final exam. To get started, once you have responded to the questions in the study guide for Unit 1 (chapters 1 and 2), go to the "Quiz Package" and answer all of the questions for Unit 1, quizzes A, B and C. When you are comfortable with your answers, you may contact me to complete the quiz over the phone or you can do the quizzes using a computer.

Since you have computer access you may want to consider taking your quizzes on-line. This way you can take them whenever you want, day or night. When taking the on-line quizzes always remember to select my name as the Tutor (from the list provided on the pull down menu for the on-line quizzes), so that the results come to me directly. To access the quiz over the Internet, follow the instructions provided in your Student Manual, in the section called "Online Course". Also, refer to the guidelines in your Student Manual in the section called "Taking Quizzes Online" for more details on the format of your on-line quizzes. I believe the on-line quizzes are timed, you have about one hour, which is more time than needed (remember you are to complete the quiz questions in advance using your print-based Quiz Package).

Book Report OR Research option (do only one):

The Research option must be completed on-line and will take about an hour of your time (that's right, one hour). It is an opportunity for you to be a participant/subject in a research project our Psychology Department has developed. So, you do not conduct the research, you would simply answer the questions presented at the psychology home page site. You do not need to prepare in advance for this activity.

If you choose to complete the Book Report Option, be sure to answer the 7 questions listed in the student manual in the section called "Book Report Option", they will help guide the development of your essay.

If at any time you require further clarification on the information addressed in the textbook, or about the course in general, please do not hesitate to contact me by telephone, or if you prefer by e-mail. I know that taking courses from a distance can be very challenging, so be sure to let me know if you need my assistance, by whichever method is most convenient for you.

Good Luck with this course!


Keeping Track of Student Records

The following email indicates that this tutor is not only paying attention to her students' progress in the course, but she is also concerned about them. She has noticed that the student must take immediate action in completing the course in a short period of time and that this student may not apply for an extension. She not only informs the student of this, but also sends her best wishes for the student's course completion.

Hello once again Felicity,

When recording your grade, I noticed that your course contract expires at the end of this month, and that you are not eligible for further extensions after this. So, I assume you plan on writing the final exam on or before the end of this month, and have taken steps to set this up already? If you haven't taken steps to set the exam up, and do plan on writing it on or before the date your contract expires, you should take these steps immediately. Students are to set up the final exam with the Registrar's Office and with a suitable invigilator at least 2 to 3 weeks before they want to write the exam, after all. And so I thought I would let you know this.

Informing the Student About the Final Examination

The next email example demonstrates how a student is informed of the next steps to take to complete the course. The tutor is aware that this student has finished the quizzes and the research option and only has the final exam left to complete. This student was provided with all of the information she needed to write the final exam. The tutor also sent the student her best wishes, which was a nice and caring gesture.

Hello Gayle,

Thanks for letting me know that you completed the research assignment. I hope you enjoyed it!

For the exam... I wish you all the best when you write it. And if you have questions while preparing for it or while completing the remainder of the course, definitely feel free to get in touch and I will be as helpful as I can to you.

For the exam, if you live within 100 km from one of the exam centres shown on the following web page, then this is where you must write the exam:

If you don't live within 100 km from one of the exam centres, writing it at a library with a librarian supervising, or at a school with a teacher supervising would probably suffice. The registrar makes decisions about this, though, and so you would want to check with them. And the person supervising can't be a relative, friend, neighbour, co-worker, or supervisor of yours. For further information about suitable invigilators, you can check the following website or contact the Registrar:

Keep up the good work and effort in the course! Definitely feel free to get in touch if you have further questions, and I will be as helpful as I can to you.

Have a wonderful day, also, and bye for now!

Examples of Poor Emails

Students who are not being contacted by their tutors and are not having their questions answered are more likely to feel alone and uncared for in their distance learning experience. Therefore, it is important to limit the following types of emails/contacts.

Limited Responses to Questions on the Course Material

Although the tutor in the following email did inform the student where the information is to be found in the course material, he did not elaborate his answer to fully provide an explanation to the student that is beyond what the textbook can provide. Sometimes it is essential to elaborate on or paraphrase points outlined in the course text to ensure that the student fully understands the course material.

The following email does provide a response, but it lacks explanations and details that may be important to the student's understanding of the course material.

Hi, the answer is found on pages 57-58 in the textbook.
And yes, you are correct on the second item.
Keep up the good work.

No Contact After Quizzes

The following emails show the frustration of a student who has not been receiving responses after his quizzes. If the student does not get any feedback regarding their grade, not only will the student not know how he/she is progressing in the course, the student will not know whether they will need to rewrite the quiz. It is likely that the student will get the impression that the academic staff at the University are not concerned with his/her progress in the course.

I have just completed Quiz 3 for psych 289. I would really appreciate it if you would provide feedback. I finished Quizzes 1 & 2 prior and I did not get any feedback.


It is obvious that this student has sent out multiple requests on his progress and is not being answered.

Hi, I do not know if you guys receive the quiz result or not. It states that after each quiz I should get a feedback from my tutor before proceeding on to the next quiz. I did not get any feedback after finishing 3 quizzes. I do not know if you guys received the finished quizzes or not. I like to have it acknowledged that the quizzes are for real. Carey

The following email indicates that the student not only had no contact with the tutor after she had submitted her quiz, but when she inquired about it, he did mention that it was received, but he did not inform her of her grade.

Hi Anna, yes I did get your quiz and I have entered your mark Regards

Having No/Limited Knowledge of What the Students are Receiving

The following email indicates that this tutor is not aware whether or not the students are receiving their corrected quizzes. As a tutor of this course, he should make it his job to be aware of the type of information the students receive so that he can contact them with additional information that they would need regarding their performances.

HI, are you not receiving the immediate corrected version when you submit the quizzes?

What specific feedback are you needing?

Having No/Limited Knowledge of the Students You Are Assigned to Tutor

Not only in the next email does this tutor not recognize the student he was contacted by, but he did not make the attempt to identify this student and answer the questions that are being asked. Tutors should consult their tutor list to identify a student and not require the student to send the tutor additional email to identify the course the student is in.

HI, I assume that you are enrolled in psych 289? Is this correct?

Having No/Limited Knowledge to How Your Students Are Performing

It is obvious in the following email that not only does this tutor not recognize the student, but this tutor is not keeping track of his students' quizzes and overall performance. Keep a record of all your current students' quiz performances so you can field questions like the one below without asking the student to send you more email.

Hi Tutor X. I just finished writing unit test 2, and a while ago I wrote the first quiz and I have not heard back from you. Could you please let me know if everything went right.

HI and what course? and when did you write the first quiz?

Providing Unclear Responses

When responses to questions are not clearly explained (as in the below email), then the student is not getting the information that they need.

The reason why this response is not clear enough, is because the student is told that their participation in a research project will account for part of their course mark (therefore it will affect their overall grade).

Hi, you receive credit for doing the online research so it does not affect your grade in any way.

Okay? You might want to review what is said in your student manual.

Stating the Obvious Without Providing Details

These types of emails are regarded as poor for two reasons: (a) the student will feel small (as though they were not asking something intelligent) and (b) the student is not receiving the relevant information that he/she has requested. The tutor also does not suggest contacting him or her if the student runs into problems with the material.

This is demonstrated in the following 2 emails.

Hi and welcome to the course. My suggestion would be for you to read the specific unit chapters, then do each of the study guide questions and then attempt the quizzes.

See how this works for you.

Look forward to working with you.

HI, you can check all of your answers by referring to the textbook for each of the particular questions. All of the answers are contained within there.

Good luck

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