Online Office hours

What is the strategy?

The strategy was to hold online problem solving and question and answer sessions over Blackboard’s Collaborate to help increase the quantity and quality of student contact hours.  Multiple online sessions were scheduled during both normal office hours as well as later in the day to provide more opportunities for non-conventional students.  It should be noted that the course was a hybrid distance learning course and a significant number of students were employed.    

Why should I use it? (How are they useful for the students? How are they useful to the instructor?)

It benefited both the students and instructor by supplementing student-instructor interactions.   Being able to interact from home and/or other parts of campus can help to maximize the time allocated to office hours for both students and instructors.  Collaborate also offers a number of tools to illustrate and record sessions, although I have yet to make use of the record feature.  The main goal of these sessions was to help organize and guide group work to help prepare the students to work problems during recitation.      

What is an example (or two) of the task?

In Collaborate both students and instructors can write and paste images and equations onto a canvas, making it an excellent resource to work out problems and discuss theory.    

How do these tasks fit into my class?  How long will they take?

They are not formally part of the class, however I had hoped that they would act as a launching off point for group preparation and collaborations.  I scheduled approximately 3 hours of extra office hour time a week.      

Should I do these problems in groups?  How big?  Who chooses them?

Meeting in groups is almost always desired, I prefer to just moderate a discussion rather than lead it.  I would not put a limit on the size of the groups, however I do not feel that I can provide focused attention to more than three or four students at a time.   I organize recitation groups on Blackboard with typically three or four students.  Although if more students are simply interested in following the discussion that should be fine.

For which topics should I assign them?

The main goal of these sessions was to prepare students for recitation and homework problems, as well as to hold review sessions.  These activities pertained to all topics in the course.  They are not ‘assigned’ however they are generally scheduled to facilitate these efforts.

How should I grade these problems?  Should I grade these problems?

There is no grading for this online component, ultimately students are graded on the recitation problems, homework and exams that are addressed during these sessions.

What pitfalls do I need to avoid?

  1. Times need to be scheduled and strictly held too, both in order to make sure you don’t miss students(they often won’t wait long online if you don’t see them immediately), as well as to conserve your own time and efforts. 2. Expecting everyone to have a good internet connection and to know how to access Collaborate.  3. Having digital office hours at the same time as regular office hours can make it difficult to simultaneously work with both online and in person groups.   

What do I need to explain to my students about this new classroom activity?

It is extremely important to force students to get over the barrier for getting online and using this resource early in the semester.  It is not too difficult to access and use, however it is not entirely intuitive to start the first time and there are a few more steps than what one would expect.  In the future I will give extra credit to students joining online office hours early in the semester.