Office Hours

One of the very joyous things I get to do on a daily basis is have students in my office.

That isn’t sarcasm. I LOVE helping students in my office. If I could have them in all afternoon I would, but unfortunately I only get students coming in when they decide they want help. I can’t force them in to my office. (I do have two assignments in my General Chemistry class where they HAVE to come talk to me for a homework grade, for most students that is the ONLY time they ever come see me).

Which is really quite hilarious to me seeing as I’m at a small, private, liberal arts college. The reason 90% of these students came here is because they wanted small class sizes. They wanted individual attention. They wanted their professors to know them. And yet… only a small handful actually take advantage of the reason they’re paying $30,000/year in tuition.

This morning I was thinking about how I run my office hours and I realized that the old standard “open door” I’ll be here from 1pm-5pm for office hours is out of date for the modern student. While they’re okay with traditional classes, my students actually aren’t interested in one-on-one education. What they want is one-on-one ONLINE help. They want me to walk them through email by email, IM by IM – and I believe that one-on-one or even group online office hours is something they would greatly appreciate.

I’m thinking something like an hour or two a week in an online environment with a white board where they can ask me questions and I can work through problems online. For Chemistry there would have to be a white board – nearly impossible to talk about most concepts without having something to draw on.

So I’m thinking of spending some time looking at different online conferencing software to see which will fit my needs the easiest and be the best to use with students.

I have an account already with Dimdim, which is super easy to use, so I may go with that. The problems I can see with Dimdim is #1 they just got taken over by another company, so they may not offer the same service for free. And I can only have 10 users logged on at a time. Not that I ever have more than 10 students banging on my door for help when I have real office hours – but online office hours is a bit more accessible I’d imagine to students. I really don’t want to hear angry complaints the next day about how they TRIED to log in to office hours but couldn’t. That would be worse than not offering it at all…

It also looks like Vyew does a similar service that Dimdim has, also free with up to 10 users.

So this is something to think about. I’m not sure if online office hours are the way to go, but I can definitely see how me spending only 2 hours in the office in the afternoon having office hours and then another 3 hours of office hours at home could be nice – and also more beneficial to the students since the office hours would be during the time they’re actually working on the assignment.

Since many of my readers are either college professors, teachers or college students I have to ask: Have you tried online office hours? If so did students show up? As a student, would you use online office hours?

For those of you with online business experience: What online conferencing environment would you recommend? Free is preferable. Also, no log-in names would be great (I’d rather they just click on a link to get to the conference room).

All advice appreciated!

(Also, if you’re the maker of an online conferencing tool and would like to have me review your service, please let me know! I’d be more than happy to accept compensation for this service in return for a review. Hint. Hint. Nudge. Nudge.)


10 Responses to Office Hours

  1. Hahaha! This morning I was just irritated at how students want to make an appointment to meet in person right before the homework is due rather than coming to office hours in a timely fashion or posting their question on blackboard. They hate blackboard.

    I have 4 office hours/week. They’re generally packed. Students are always dropping by for “just one quick question” (I tell them to post on blackboard). Maybe the ability to drop by practically any time keeps them from getting organized in time to actually use the office hours.

    I also get more students in office hours when I make the first homework more difficult than subsequent homework. And I remind students about office hours pretty much every class.

    • SS4BC says:

      Yeah, one of the things I’ve been thinking is that I have too many office hours. I have office hours every day from 1-5pm.

      But students never come during those hours. They show up at 11 or 12 typically.

      My majors are a lot better about office hours than my non-majors. My non-majors think that 15 minutes before class is office hours. Or 3am sending me an email and expecting a response before our 8am class is office hours.

      We don’t have blackboard, we use Moodle, but the concept is still the same. However, I don’t use the discussion board features on Moodle. I can totally understand why students wouldn’t want to use it because it exposes their lack of knowledge to everyone in the class, where as office hours are more private.

      Also, for Chemistry a lot of times the concepts don’t lend themselves very well to a discussion board context. You absolutely need a board of some sort of show them how to do things.

  2. cait says:

    I’m in a library & we’re trying out chat reference and its been great (though I am still physically in my office when I’m virtually “on the desk”) . Does your school use google mail or docs? I could see a combo of those (or chat/ meebo + google pages) being a good fit for “virtual” office hours.

  3. Interesting post! I graduated from a small liberal arts school and some of my sophomore year professors said, “Congrats, Clare,” at graduation. Loved that place.

  4. We use our Christmas gift fund to top up gifts for people if it can’t be covered on our regular ‘other’ expenses.

  5. R says:

    Hi, I’m a first time commenter but long time reader!
    I’m at a small liberal arts college right now (I’m in my 30’s though) and *LOVE* the idea of online office hours. I would totally use this! Although I would prefer the online exchange to be one-on-one. I don’t want to waste my time sitting through other peoples questions when I just need help with mine so the 10 person limit wouldn’t be a problem with that

    • SS4BC says:

      While I can understand someone wanting the online office hours to be one-on-one, the practicality of it is hard. For instance, I’ll often times have 3 people in my office at once that I’ll explain a concept to. Having to explain it only once to the three people instead of 3 different times to each of them saves me time. Also, then the 3 of them all can talk about it afterwards to discuss the issue.

      Also, some students might want to just “attend” the online office hours without participating just to get a little “extra knowledge” by watching other people’s discussions.

    • SS4BC says:

      Of course in reality it would most likely only be one or two students at a time anyway – just judging by the nature of students.

  6. @ SS4BC – whoops, my comment was meant for your post on saving for gifts!

    Took my mom to notice, she wondered if someone was posting as me 😀

  7. LBC Teacher says:

    I think that’s a great idea! Even a Facebook or some way to ask more general class questions or communicate would be great too. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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