With COVID-19 still very much a factor on college campuses, virtual office hours have become an increasingly critical aspect of the education that students are receiving in this hybrid world.
UNC’s Learning Center states the case plainly for its students: “Attending office hours, whether in person or online, can give you [the student] valuable time to better understand your class content and your professor’s expectations and can have a big impact on your academic success.” During the pandemic, virtual office hours have proven beneficial for student engagement and success at a time when both have been plagued by unprecedented challenges. And there’s reason to hope that this is a trend that will continue well into the future.
In a piece for Inside Higher Ed, Florida State University professor Michael Furman petitions for the continued hosting of virtual office hours even after campuses have fully returned to in-person classes. He discusses his own recent experiences, offering two encouraging takeaways: When office hours are held online, more students are showing up than ever before, and virtual access is especially beneficial for students who are balancing school and work, students with disabilities, students who do not live on campus and first-generation students.
Encouraging a diverse population of students to take advantage of office hours may be a key factor in advancing education equity. Scheduling links, for example, can empower students to take ownership of their learning experiences, which in turn leads to a broader range of students taking advantage of meaningful academic opportunities outside of scheduled class hours. In a sense, this is akin to the flattening of structural hierarchies that the business world has begun to experience during the work-from-home era. When access to high-level executives and key players at a company suddenly became available to many, thanks to communication technology, it no longer mattered whose office was located close to these individuals, or who ate lunch with them. Some of the unspoken rigidity of power structures implied by status was eliminated by conferencing technology. This same reality should apply to the dynamics of engagement between students and their professors.
However, as with any shift in traditional practices, there are some kinks to be worked out in terms of leveraging technology to our greatest advantage. For example, Nathan Hall serves on the teaching faculty for both Douglas College and Adler University—in addition to being the Education Technology and Pedagogy Coordinator for Douglas College. Teaching at two separate institutions means that Hall is balancing two different Outlook calendars simultaneously. As a result, when a colleague or student at Institution A schedules a meeting with Hall, this does not take into account what is already in Institution B’s calendar. Hall found that he could overlay the two calendars, but “people outside of myself cannot see that they overlay,” leading to double bookings, inadvertent no-shows, wasted time for Hall, his colleagues and his students, and a general trend of inefficient time management coupled with added stress.
Through research and trials, Hall found CalendarBridge, which addresses his scheduling pain point. He can now merge his two calendars; if an appointment is added to Institution B’s calendar, it automatically appears on Institution A’s calendar—and vice-versa. Quite simply, both calendars are communicating with each other, providing a clear picture of requests for Hall’s time. Additionally, auxiliary calendar management features, such as booking software and scheduling links, empower students to easily select days and times when Hall is available to create a meeting invite.
CalendarBridge maximizes the power of pre-existing apps and tech tools, and, in Hall’s words, “integrates [them] perfectly” for improved visibility, organization and efficiency—which is exactly what professors and their students need during the academic rollercoaster of COVID-19. Moreover, as colleges and universities continue to expand their use of the adjunct professor model, professors may find themselves juggling multiple schedules and the demands of several institutions, making CalendarBridge a critical part of their toolkit.
Maintaining multiple calendars is cumbersome and—especially during a time when so many of us conduct our affairs in a combination of online and in-person spaces—leaves too much room for human error and double booking. Use of a digital calendar management tool assures the elimination of overlapping meetings and additional scheduling mix-ups, allowing professors and students to sync their college or university email with their personal email accounts for the purpose of calendar comparison. Hall speaks to the power of leveraging CalendarBridge to merge Google and Microsoft calendars, tweeting: “This one tool has made my #WFH life so much easier. I literally use it every day. Perfect for office hours.”
Perhaps now, more than ever, the need for connection, clarification and individualized instruction is paramount to the educational experience. Taking advantage of all that digital calendar management has to offer is the logical next step to strengthen the organization and efficiency of schools and learning institutions, enabling them to increase clear communication and student inclusion—even during the most uncertain and difficult of times.