Responding to Students’ Emails: “Three Before Me”

All credit for this tip goes to Joan McMahon, emeritus professor of management at Towson University:

It’s called the “Three Before Me” rule, and it tends to focus more on technical support, but could be adapted for any kind of question about class that is not personal in nature (e.g., assignment due dates, evaluation criteria, etc.).

Basically, in addition to the course syllabus on Blackboard, create a “Questions About Class” discussion board and (ideally) FAQ page that you require students to consult (and cite) before they email you. IF they can’t find an answer, then you are allowed to ask what happened when they tried at least two of the “other” possible sources of information instead.

Here’s how it might look on a syllabus:

Technical Support—Three Before Me

This course makes extensive use of Blackboard’s course management software. We will spend time on how to use it, but if you have technical problems, do the following before contacting me: 1) consult UMBC’s or Blackboard’s online help for students; 2) post your question on the class discussion board or contact someone else in the course; 3) contact DoIT’s Technology Support Center at 410.455.3838 or submit a Request Tracker (RT) ticket via If all else fails, or your question is personal in nature, contact me but I will ask you to tell me what happened when you tried at least two of the options above.

FYI: You could replace “syllabus” for the Bb online student manual in #1, implement the “questions about class” discussion board and/or FAQ page for #2, and perhaps point them to the Academic Success Center for #3.

Also, if you enable push notifications for all of your Bb discussion boards, then students could opt in to receive an email alert whenever someone else posts a reply to their post, or adds a new comment. In this way, a Bb discussion board closely resembles an email listserve that runs itself by members of the community.