The Coronavirus Is Messing with My Inbox

All because of a website I published in 2009

Once upon a time, I was a school teacher. Then the Internet happened, and I became a school teacher who used free digital tools with her students to make learning more effective and accessible. 

In line with those goals, I created a website for my algebra classes. Along with my personal contact information (!), that website included a course syllabus, homework assignments, worksheets, test reviews, short videos (of me!) demonstrating problems from each lesson, as well as links to other resources, a scientific calculator app, and, drumroll please, answer keys.

Two years before I stopped teaching in 2014, my entire school moved to an online Moodle platform, and I abandoned the websites I’d created for algebra, high school English, and other courses. 

Maybe because I had put my heart and soul into these sites, I didn’t remove them from the web, and now, because COVID-19 has driven students from classrooms to online learning, my All Things Algebra website is getting a lot of attention.

And most of the links no longer work!

Including links to the answer keys, which I had made private on purpose. 

So increasingly, day after day, my personal email box was filling with requests for answer keys. 

A screenshot of my email box showing email after email requesting access to different algebra answer keys.
I had more than 70 requests in three days! (Screenshot: Sara Dagen)

“Cheaters!” the teacher part of me thought. “I am NOT providing them the answers to the tests.”

I ignored every “request for access” email that hit my inbox. Instead, I went to my Google Drive folder to make sure each and every document’s sharing settings made it completely inaccessible. (I still couldn’t bring myself to delete the files. And, duh, I wouldn’t receive “request for access” emails if the files were accessible. But I wasted time ensuring so nonetheless.)

My inbox continued to be littered with them, more than 70 in just the past few days, so I attempted to hide the files in my Google Drive account so that no one would even see them. I searched online for solutions and tried some of them. 

Still, they arrived, threatening to hide the “we are here for you during this crisis” emails I am getting from companies that usually want me to buy from them. 

Finally, I decided to find where the files were being accessed — or attempted to be accessed — and discovered, yes, my All Things Algebra website published on the web for all to see.

I made it private. 

A screenshot of my email box filled with requests for access to the website where the answer keys had been hosted.
Almost instantly, requests for access to answer keys became requests for access to the website. (Screenshot: Sara Dagen)

Abruptly, the “request for access” emails for each answer key stopped. Whew.

And the “request for access” emails for the website began. 

Sigh. I can’t win.

This morning, as I contemplated writing this blog post, I took the time to examine the website I had created more than a decade ago. I opened the answer keys that were in such high demand. 

They were merely the answers provided in the back of the book to problems in the chapters— not answers to the tests! If I had merely looked closely at what students were requesting, I would have kept the files public from the beginning. (I also might have removed my phone number and email address.)

[Note to self: Look beyond the surface and don’t be so quick to judge.]

So now I have edited my website — removing my personal contact information and the pages of links that no longer work — and made it public. Just call it doing my part for students affected by COVID-19. 

Screenshot of my All Things Algebra home page, now hosting a message to those students affected by the Coronavirus.
The website that drove all the email traffic, now altered.

For good measure, once that was done, I emailed each and every “request for access” student and told them I’d made everything public.

I hope they don’t all reply with “thank you” emails.

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