At San Antonio College, a community college in Texas, officials are considering allowing full-time faculty to hold up to half of their required 10-hours a week of office hours online, according to Inside Higher Ed. It’s hard to accurately describe how fully I agree with this statement by Dawn Elmore-McCrary, a proponent of the policy:
“Since we’re doing it anyway, it should be part of we do,” she said. “It serves that population of students that can’t come to campus or don’t want to come to campus.”
This rings very true to me. E-mail is the major way that I have contact with my students outside of class, followed by telephone messages, followed by in-person drop-ins during office hours. (The reigning champion for most student contact is actually questions in the 5 minutes before or after class, a time when students are least likely to receive a helpful answer to a complex issue, but most likely to consider the issue dealt with because they’ve mentioned a question).
I can see the structural problems here. I’m not sure online office hours would be any better attended than regular office hours without a real push to explain the technology available (Skype, chat, etc.). I’ve experimented with online chats in place of or in addition to office hours before, but most students don’t want to use our Learning Management System’s chat feature (or simply forget). Most students also don’t want to (or forget) to drop by during office hours, as well, even though this is hands-down the most effective way to improve a course grade.
Having a scheduled time during which students could expect a rapid response to questions might be a good solution to some problems, particularly if the conversation aspects of chat media could be emphasized. I’m also, of course, in favor of recording the efforts made outside of the classroom to converse with students as part of the faculty contract.
I’m interested to see how this issue — currently tabled — turns out. Anyone had any positive (or negative) experiences with online office hours? Good methods, bad, etc.?