Many university professors schedule office hours to make themselves available to provide help to students that might need it. That is, professors will schedule dedicated time to be present in their office for student “walk-ins.” Or, if not the professor themselves, sometimes teaching assistants will also help to fill this role.
In speaking with many professors and students about office hours, there seem to be both benefits and drawbacks.
On the plus side, students mention that there is more psychological safety in one-on-one interactions with a professor. There’s less fear of looking incompetent in front of their peers or exposing their knowledge gaps. Others also mentioned an increased opportunity to build real substantive relationships. Both great things.
At the same time, we’ve heard about a consistent drawback of office hours. Professors sometimes describe them as an inefficient means to help students. Inefficient in that, during an hour long office hours session, a professor might answer the same question multiple times for different students. Also inefficient in that office hours don’t scale. You can only see so many students during a given block of time. One even spoke about an occasion on which one student tried to monopolize her time week in and week out.
We bring this up because we now have professors that are conducting “virtual office hours” on Vectr. They set aside dedicated time that they will be on Vectr each week to review questions from students and provide answers. And they have experienced a few key benefits:
- Students helping students: given that both students and professors can answer questions on Vectr, the questions are often answered in advance of the virtual office hours session. (professors can then simply add an “approved answer” tag)
- It’s more efficient: students can “follow” questions from other students, instead of asking the same question again. Thus a professor only answers that question once, and the answer is sent to both the asker and any students that followed the question.
- Insight: professors have an easy way to look at the topics and “tags” associated with questions. Thus they can ascertain what areas students are struggling with and make decisions about what in-class interventions might help.
We’re glad to see that Vectr can play a small role in making life easier for professors and students and alike.
-Jeremy & Jake