It is common now for instructors to hold virtual office hours, when students can communicate with instructors without physically coming to the office. However, sometimes phone and emails are not that effective to deal certain issues. Here I want to discuss some applications and technologies to hold virtual office hours.
Let me start with a summary of some office hour activities:
- Simple communications. This is a basic form of out-of-classroom contact between students and instructors. It is usually on simple issues with limited rounds of questions and answers, and can be quickly resolved just by talking.
- Discussion. This is when students want to discuss more complex topics with the instructor, like presentations, research topic, study guidance, etc. These activities are not limited to verbal communications, but also include activities like drawing on paper, collaborative browsing, sharing of resources, working on computer files, etc.
- Teaching (see Learning and Teaching During Office Hours). Sometimes students will come to ask for help on certain course content subjects, in which verbal explanation is often not very effective. The session may involve writing, drawing, demonstration (especially on technology subjects), and other hands-on operations.
Here are some common applications and systems to support these virtual office hour activities:
- Asynchronous communication applications such as emails and discussion boards.
- Online synchronous communication tools. There are several choices to consider:
- Many course management systems (BlackBoard, D2L, Moodle) have built-in messaging tools.
- Using general instant messaging tools, such as Live Messenger.
- Popular social network sites (such as FaceBook, where most students already have accounts) usually provide integrated chatting applications.
- Setting up a chat room, where multiple people can join and chat. Here is an interesting one called Party Chat. Google Hangout is a more recent one.
- Advanced collaboration applications. These applications not only support communications, but also provide some advanced features like application sharing, desktop sharing, collaborative viewing and editing, white board, etc. These are good for more complex office hour activities. Some examples:
- Skype has a desktop sharing feature, in addition to video chatting.
- Groove has many application sharing tools.
- Google Docs (especially Spreadsheet) provide great synchronous collaborative editing and resource sharing features.
I think a desired virtual office hour application is basically some specialization of an online collaboration system. It is best to be part of a learning or course management system, with the following features (but not limited to) to support major types of office hour activities stated earlier:
- support synchronous and asynchronous communications;
- support text, voice, and video communications;
- support file/document sharing, desktop sharing, application sharing, and other collaborative actions;
- support one-to-one and one-to-many sessions;
- support recording and broadcasting of general issue discussions.
Do you hold virtual office hours? Do you know or use any other good applications? Please share your experience.
Some other good readings:
- Li, Lei, and Pitts, Jennifer, “Using Virtual Office Hours to Enhance Student-Faculty Interaction,” Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), July 1 2009, 175-185