Online Office Hours?

It is that time again.  A Sunday night, where I sit here and wait.  I have scheduled online office hours from 7-9pm, but, like most office hours, nobody shows up.  It is always strange.  We are required to hold 10 hours of office hours each week.  Yet, I can go weeks without seeing any students in my office.  It raises questions that I was exploring in the education post earlier today, which is what is the purpose of the college/university.  The emphasis is on modern education/learning, and we design our courses to match that expectation.  Yet, we have this weird office hour requirement that harkens back to an earlier time, when everyone who went to college lived on campus and had no access to technology.  Now, I am much more likely to get an email or message inside the LMS than I am to get a face-to-face visit from a student.  And, this applies just as much to my face-to-face students as to my online students.  I see them regularly through the week, and they will talk to me before and after class, but I do not see them outside of the classroom either.

So, what do we do with this outdated idea of office hours.  I’m not saying that the office hours are a waste of my time.  They are a perfect time for me to get things done, but the ones on campus are certainly less productive than they could be, as being tied to my office during that time is not the most efficient way to get things done.  Yet, the idea of online office hours is to make myself even more available, while giving me flexibility to do things from home.  So, the concept is nice, but the reality is that I’m still tied to a single place, wherever I set up the office hours, and I still have to sit here waiting for someone to show up.  I tried to pick a time for my office hours that would work for online students.  Since assignments are generally due on Sunday evening, I had thought that 7-9pm on Sunday would be perfect to answer questions.  And, to a certain extent, it is, as I have answered about 8 emails in the last 45 minutes that I’ve been in my office hours.  Yet, I am sitting here with a videoconferencing chatroom set up for students that they do not attend.  But the few who do come by always say how great it is that I do something like this, but even then, I see them once and then never again.

All of it makes me think about the whole education thing again.  What are office hours actually for?  Who are they to benefit?  If students aren’t going to go to them, then what’s the use of having them?  So, what might alternatives be?  I am already “on” pretty much from when I get up in the morning until when I go to bed.  I answer emails from about 8am – 10pm regularly, and I often will answer well after 10pm.  I guess the question is, is that enough?  Should I instead offer things in my office hours – i.e. today I’m going to discuss the essay questions for the exam, come during that time to hear more.  Well, then I’m having study sessions.  Would that also be considered an “office hour?”  I just don’t know.  It seems that we’re trapped in this archaic system.

Anybody who reads this, do you have any ideas?  If you’re a student, what do you want (if anything) out of office hours?  Are online office hours useful to you?  If you’re an instructor, what do you use office hours for?  Do you get students to come by without requiring them to?

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

3 responses to “Online Office Hours?”

  1. Sydney Bobbitt says :

    Honestly I’ve never seen the need for office hours unless the class was something math related where I actually needed someone sitting in front of me showing me how to solve my problem. In subjects other than math or physics I find that it is just easier to shoot my professor an email or use the all knowing Google than it is to waste the gas or even the time traveling to said “office hours.” With that said, I don’t necessarily think office hours are a bad idea by any means, but I believe it would be more productive if one simply scheduled an appointment with their professor to discuss their problem rather than restricting you (and other professors) to their office and students, who like myself work full time, to the time restraints of office hours.

    • Scott Williams says :

      Thank you for responding. You are largely confirming what I already suspected. It is hard to know from our end what to do, and I’m not sure that a change is really going to happen anyway. I like the idea of being available, yet not necessarily tied to an office. Yet, if I’m on campus, I’m going to be in my office anyway, so I’m not sure there would be much difference. Anyway, I will continue to think on it.

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