How to Handle Bounced E-mails

Most online classes, as well as some face-to-face classes which utilize Web-based enhancements, rely on email for communications among students and instructor.

Unfortunately, the nature of the Internet is such that not all email messages reach the intended recipient. When email can't be delivered to the intended recipient, it "bounces" and—in the case of messages sent via Distance Ed systems—ultimately returns to the Distance Ed webmaster. The Distance Ed system then processes bounced mail, and in most cases adjusts user databases accordingly.

Why an email message bounces

There are several reasons why a message might bounce. Here are the main ones found in Web-based classes:

1. The student provides the wrong email address. This could be a simple typographical error on the part of the student, or perhaps the student just doesn't remember or fully comprehend the email address.

2. The student changes email addresses without updating his or her info in Distance Ed systems.

3. The student's email account is already full to capacity.

4. The student (or the email provider) has implemented anti-spam defenses that mistakenly reject legitimate email, including class messages.

4. The mail server hosting the student's account might be temporarily out of action because of a system crash, power outage, network error, etc.

What happens when a message bounces

1. In all the cases outlined above, the mail will probably not just vanish forever in cyberspace.

2. Depending on the circumstances, the message might never even reach the recipient's mail server.

3. Depending on the circumstances, the message might get as far as the recipient's mail server. At that point, several problems could still cause the message to bounce.

4. In all cases, the undeliverable mail will automatically bounce back to the mail system at It could take anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours to a few days before the bounced mail is returned to our system.

5. When a bounced message is returned to, our system processes the message.

6. Depending on circumstances, the system will probably remove the email address from our files.

Removing email address

1. If deemed necessary, the system will automatically remove the email address from CATE and Moodle.

2. The system searches through user records and deletes the bounced address wherever it's found.

3. The exact process is handled in slightly different manners for CATE and Moodle.

4. In all cases, however, the outcome is the same: The system will no longer send email to the bum address.

5. In addition, for each class in which that email address was on file, the appropriate instructors are notified via email about what has happened.

What the instructor needs to do when a student email address is removed

1. This depends on how important email messages are for your class.

2. If you don't care whether or not your students receive email messages, you need do nothing.

3. If you want your students to receive class emails, you should communicate with the student and explain the problem. You can probably do so with some or all of these: messaging via your Faculty Portal, messaging via your class Forum, telephone, and/or face-to-face contact.

4. In the CATE system, you also have the ability to directly edit the student's email address via the tools in your CATE roster.

5. In Moodle, that's not possible. Moodle instructors should see also information about placeholder email addresses.

What the student needs to do when his or her email address is removed

1. In the CATE system, the student can edit his or her email address via the Student Configuration Manager.

2. In Moodle, the student can edit his or her email address via the user Profile.

3. Note that in some cases, a student might immediately reinstate an email address that was deleted because of bounces. If that happens, and mail continues to bounce, the system will simply continue to delete the address.