Office hours are almost extinct

Emma Carew

>”Hi, this is ___and I’m in your ___ class but have been golfing in (sunny vacation destination) for the past couple weeks, so I have missed the first few classes. just wondering if there is anything important that I have missed … please let me know what I should do.”

Faculty and staff from universities across the country have posted e-mails like this one to a forum on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Web site called “favorite” student e-mails.

Although these messages may represent one extreme, professors seem concerned that their students’ reliance on technology as their primary means of communication is leading to the deterioration of an in-person relationship.

On the University’s campus, Laura Gurak, professor and chairwoman of the department of writing studies, has done research in the area of the social effects the Internet has had over the past decade or so.

Gurak said although she hasn’t done any formal research on office hours, colleagues have told her that students in the past few years haven’t been utilizing office hours as frequently.

“You certainly get e-mailed night and day,” she said. “Students still expect to interact with you online, and for some, it’s maybe a little more comfortable.”

Associate Vice Provost Laura Coffin Koch said she too has seen a decline of students interacting with professors during office hours.

Coffin Koch, who no longer teaches except for a global seminar during May session, said she tried to require her students to meet in her office at least once during the semester to discuss a class assignment or progress.

“Access to e-mail made a difference,” she said of students’ contact with her as the years have gone on. “Students felt they could ask questions more easily.”

Coffin Koch said things get lost in e-mails, but she understands that students are busy and may not be able to come to office hours.

Today’s students are “connected to anyone, anytime,” Gurak said. They’re used to “texting people while you’re doing something else, always having that connection with people.”

Years ago, she said, students needed to take their professor’s office hours into consideration and make it a part of their schedule.

“We have expectations of getting information anytime, anywhere,” Gurak said, which can create difficulties because not all professors check their e-mail continuously.

Art history and American studies professor Karal Ann Marling is one of those professors.

In fact, Marling said she doesn’t really check her e-mail at all when it comes to her students, preferring to see them in her office instead.

“I like to see a student in person, so I can see who they are,” she said. “It’s not a slam on a student; I just would like to know who they are.”

Marling said her motivation is based in her own education at a large public university – the University of Toronto.

“I always appreciated professors who had office hours,” she said. “There’s no reason why a big class needs to be impersonal.”

Political science sophomore Sarah Wall said she makes an effort to get to know her professors and utilize their office hours.

“Last year, I was that girl that sat in the front row and attended every class,” she said of her Perspectives in American History course.

Wall, who is a teaching assistant for the same class this year, said she went to office hours before every test and paper, and engaged with the professor during breaks in the class.

“I think it’s easier for students to send an e-mail than it is to walk all the way to office hours,” she said. “As a TA, I’ve had more students e-mail me than come in for office hours.”

Emma Carew is a senior staff reporter.