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Online Office Hours


Wilbert McKeachie claimed in Teaching Tips that "some of your most effective teaching may occur during office hours." However, face-to-face office hours are often not well attended. One solution is to hold office hours online. Such "spontaneous synchronous interactions" can use many different software tools and have a wide range of goals.

Some Possible Goals

  • to give students the opportunity to ask in-depth questions
  • to resolve points of confusion
  • to explore student interests that go beyond the primary course topics
  • to connect to students seeking a more human interaction
  • to help students with technical problems
  • to prepare students for exams or other assignments
  • to discuss paper topics
  • to direct students to other people who can help
  • to overcome the sense of isolation for online students
  • to brainstorm

Possible Tools

  • Chat in Laulima
  • Skype - allows for audio interaction, requires you and your students to create accounts
  • Halawai - allows for chatting, a whiteboard, and sharing documents; you must sign up for a session and students must be added to the group
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • iChat - on the Macintosh
  • Facebook - allows for chatting, requires that you and your students create accounts and add you as a friend

Possible Strategies

  • Have standard responses ready to copy and paste. Don't rely on these, of course, but if you get the same basic question twenty times every semester, it's better to get those questions out of the way so that your time can be better spent with more specific questions.
  • Organize your office hour around a television show that you like watching (or maybe an interesting channel or a movie that sort of wanted to see) - but not one of your favorite shows ;) - if no one shows up, then at least you have something to do, and if students know that you're watching television, it gives them a way of breaking the ice.
  • If you get a question that requires a detailed answer, maybe tell the student that you will email them later, or post the answer on Laulima.
  • If the student is asking something that could be better answered by someone else, then direct the student to that person (if it's a reference question, then give them the name of one of the college librarians, if it's a personal problem, then direct them towards a counselor).

General Notes