Thoughts on Teaching – 5/19/2012 – Revisiting office hours

Interestingly enough, I came across a recent article on a subject that I have written about before.  I have debated the usefulness of online office hours here before, and a recent article in Inside Higher Ed raised the question again.  Apparently, San Antonio College is considering going to online office hours because students just don’t go to regular office hours.  As noted, professors these days are more likely to contact a student over email or something like that rather than them showing up to traditional office hours in an academic office.  In this case, the professors still have to keep five day office hours on campus, but they are allowed to have five of their office hours off campus.  However, my earlier issues are still there.  I wonder about the actual office hours either way.  If students don’t come to traditional office hours and they don’t come to online office hours, then what use are office hours in general?

I completely understand why we are supposed to have them.  We are meant to be available.  We are meant to be working.  If we are not there physically, then we are not working in the traditional sense of the word.  We have a board member at my community college who is already convinced that we do not work enough.  According to him, our contract is only for 15 hours of teaching and 10 hours of office hours, so we are overpaid and overworked.  If we were to move to even less “on campus” time, then the argument would be even stronger that we do not really work.

On the other side of things, there is the question of whether the office hours that we do have are useful at all.  What is the use of simply sitting in the office.  Am I filling a purpose sitting there?  Am I fulfilling a purpose by sitting in online office hours that nobody attends.  Or, as the article raises as the real question, is the real interaction that we do with students not in something easily classified as an “office hour?”  Where are the real interactions with students?  Here’s what I do with students:

  • talk with them before and after class
  • answer emails within 4-6 hours of receiving them, if not sooner
  • participate in class sessions both online and in person
  • consider myself on as a teacher from the time I get out of bed to when I go to bed

What do you classify all of those things as?  They all take place outside of traditional office hours, except the that I do answer some of the emails and participate in online classes during what are my on-campus office hours.  Yet, for the most part, the time sitting there is simply time for me to get things done.  However, is doing those things on campus useful?  Could I be just as useful doing them somewhere else?  But if I’m not on campus, am I not fulfilling my duty as a teacher to be available  whenever my students need me?  If I’m not on campus, what about those 6-10 students who do come by my office during the semester for help?  Or, if I was available in other ways, would those students not come by?  What about the non-tech-savvy students?  What about the students who want face-to-face interaction?  Is it enough for me to be available before and after class?  Or do I need to be there for them?

There’s also the question I did raise in my earlier post about the online office hours.  I had only one person come to them all semester.  Apparently they are not useful as I have them right now either.

So, what is the solution?  I don’t know.  Any ideas out there?

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About Scott Williams

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

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