During the course of my first year, I taught over 400 students. Between creating new curriculum, preparing for class-time, grading (half the year without a teaching assistant), moving cities, I saw students in office hours and answered a dozen emails a day. After a while, I felt like the survivor of an avalanche. If you come near me, I may eat you (I haven’t had time to eat) and I grew less patient with emails that asked obvious questions: When is our assignment due? (check the online syllabus). Does my paper have to be double spaced (check the syllabus). Hearing fellow profs with 30, 60 and even 90 students complain made me cackle. I’ve even invented a new word for my state of mind: houfangry (hungry, frustrated, overworked, underpaid, and hungry).
All this got me thinking as I read my student evals: “one of the most open minded profs,” and “i wish she’d answer my emails!” How to deal with this world of instant electronic communication when dealing with 400 students (and one of me). I thought of finding a Great Gazoo to clone me as he did for Fred and Barney on an episode of the Flintstones. (Fred wants to go Bowling and take Wilma out to dinner.) But Fred’s clone was defective; it could only say, ‘yes, yes, yes.’ And that just wouldn’t work for my students.
In many ways I love the conveniences and enablers of global instant communication. It evokes so many possibilities. And I leave an instant messenger service open all the time on my desktop, allowing me to stay in touch with friends all over the city and indeed, world. The questions I shoot out to friends across the city are generally social: are you free this evening? Or, meet at 9 at Union Square in front of the statue. But sometimes they contain complex social questions regarding global politics or joint projects.
In my last two jobs, internal IM systems were set up to ask pressing work questions as well, “do you have so and so’s phone number,” or “what is the credit on so and so’s photo?” (I worked at a magazine), or the ever-popular “cake in the conference room in 30 minutes.”
It made me wonder how my students might respond to online office hours. Well after my first two terms at a university, and thousands of emails later, many with questions such as, “should I double space my paper,” (in advance, the answer to that question is yes)…I’ve decided to try the online virtual office hour. I’m hoping that an hour per class online everyweek will be helpful to students in that they have a live and immediate response and helpful to me in that it will cut down on the 8 hours a week or so I spend answering emails.
Here are a couple of good articles I finally found on the issue.