SITT 2020 Faculty Talk - Engaging Students and Building Community in Virtual Office Hours
From Debbie Fetter
Instructor-student interaction has been shown to be a crucial factor to promoting student motivation and success in a class. In an online class, there are fewer opportunities for the students to interact with the instructional team compared to an in-person class. Feedback from the students signaled they desire to interact with the instructional team and their classmates more in an online setting. I wanted to encourage students to attend office hours in a low-stakes setting to review the material. Thus, sparked the idea to give students a purpose to attend virtual office hours: Study Hall Office Hours.
For spring 2020, I turned one of my weekly office hours into “Dr. Fetter’s Study Hall Office Hours” held via Zoom on Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30pm. During the study hall, I reviewed weekly announcements and answered questions students had about upcoming assignments. Next, I went over a few main concepts from the lecture material that week that students historically have more difficulty with and/or that would be important for the class. I invited students to do an open question & answer and encouraged them to answer each other’s questions through the chat box and the audio. I then had our group work together to complete a practice problem set that I developed exclusive for the study hall office hours. For any students that would be unable to attend, I posted the office hour recording after the session.
Office hour attendance increased compared to past quarters from about 2-5 students in my virtual office hour to around 30 students each week. Providing a structure to virtual office hours seemed to provide students with a low-stakes settings to drop in and attend rather than having them feel they needed to have a specific question in order to attend. Preliminary results from the course feedback survey showed that students liked the flow and interaction of the study hall, as well as the practice problems. Students felt the study hall was a good opportunity to interact with the instructor and to see what questions their peers had about the course content. Students also liked how doing the problem set was a collaboration between the instructor and the students. The study hall office hours appear to be a useful addition to the class to provide another opportunity for students to review the material, get to know their classmates, and have their questions answered in an interactive environment.