You probably know the routine. You detail your availability on your syllabi, post times on your office door, and publish information on your website. You announce that students should come by if they need help and you even offer specially scheduled times for struggling students. Yet, despite all your efforts, most students don’t take the fullest advantage of the office hours you provide. While office hours are offered so that instructors can work individually with students, most of us spend our office hours doing other things.
While it’s easy to chalk up students’ absence during office hours to laziness or to their lack of interest or effort, maybe we could be doing more to make ourselves accessible to our students. With the changing demographics of the student populace and the economy, more students are working to put themselves through college. Many non-traditional students are juggling family responsibilities as well. When you also factor in the number of students taking online or blended classes from a distance, it should be no surprise that many students are not attending office hours regularly. With the technological options at our disposal, there are a variety of ways to support students outside of traditional, face-to-face office hours. This week, I thought I’d share a few different options I’ve used.
1. Use Skype. A few semesters ago, I started including my Skype address on my syllabus and told my students that I could be reached via Skype during my office hours. While most students haven’t taken advantage of this route, Skype did offer some communication options for those students who had to commute from a great distance. Instead of driving to campus just to meet with me, they were able to Skype.
2. Create a Google Hangout. Google introduced Hangouts a few years ago as an avenue to foster face-to-face interaction with small groups. With this as the tool’s main motivation, Hangouts work better for meeting with a group of students. While it’s sometimes hard to get a group of students to visit during traditional office hours, it may be easier to have them join a scheduled Google Hangout. It can be a little tricky to get started but once everyone is inside Google+, it’s relatively easy to get them into a Hangout together.
3. Hold office hours in an online classroom. This semester, I created an online classroom with Blackboard Collaborate and have directed students to meet me in the space when they need help. Besides voice and video capabilities, Collaborate allows me to share my screen and demonstrate different software steps to students in the online room. This is a great option when students are having trouble accessing content in an online class or when they’re trying to complete a technology-rich classroom project.
4. Chat with your students. While I use the chat rooms that are available inside my institution’s course management system (Desire2Learn), any chat service could be used. Unlike other technological options, I find that chat room conversations with students are usually short and to the point and great for answering simple questions that students may have. It can be a little more difficult to explain in-depth, conceptual topics, however.