Every week I sit in my office during my designated office hour(s), and I get some student visitors during this time, especially before a problem set deadline or exam. Students also stop by my office at random times; they are welcome to come to my office whenever my door is open. Of course many students also send questions by e-mail, instead of or in addition to asking me questions in person, and I always reply.
This classic system of in-person office hours supplemented by e-mail works pretty well. There should not be any students who cannot somehow get their questions answered in a timely way.
Nevertheless, I have long felt dissatisfied by the limitations of this system. In part my dissatisfaction has stemmed from a feeling that students were waiting until the last minute (that is, just before the final exam) to study the review materials I provide after every class, and many were not reading the textbook, although I carefully selected a textbook that complements the class and has useful diagrams and information to which I specifically refer in class.
On the one hand: That's their problem, not mine.
But still. Is there any way that is relatively painless for us all abd that I could fix these classic problems be fixed in any way, at least for some students, at least a bit?
I don't know, but here is a new thing I have tried this term: I have an online office hour, at least once/week (perhaps more just before the final exam), and I use a designated networking site that I set up specifically for this class. During the e-office hour, I "chat" online in realtime with the students. I am sure others are doing this, but I just started this term.
This is much better than e-mail question-and-answer because it is interactive, allowing instant follow-up questions and clarification, and all students who login can see or participate in the chat. I can answer a question once, and all the students, even the lurkers, can see the answer. It is sort of like a review session, but it is more versatile because it is logistically so easy, I can have a mini review session every week, even if I am out of town. And, if I am at home, I can bring my cats to my "office hour".
Some students have not participated at all; some of these might participate just before the final exam; some might not ever participate. In that sense my e-office hour doesn't solve the problem of reaching every student, e.g., the terminal procrastinators, the insanely busy, or those drenched in apathy. Perhaps the students who participate in the online chat are the ones who were already keeping up with the review materials.
But perhaps I will be able to help a few more students in a somewhat more constructive way than otherwise, and that will be progress. That is what I want to try to evaluate at the end of the term. For now, though, I am happy with the chatty office hour and the easy way to increase substantive interactions with my students.
What I haven't figured out yet is whether there is a course size at which this type of online chat office hour is no longer manageable or whether it works for any size of course. Has anyone tried this with a giga-class yet?
9 years ago