Students disregard office hours

Communication between professors and students is changing with technology.

Conrad Wilson

Libby Smith has long attended her professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours.

“I feel like office hours are a much better way to get to know them,” she said.

Smith, an English and political science junior, will also be a TA for a law school exploration class this semester and will hold office hours. She said discussing paper topics and rough drafts are the most beneficial aspect to attending office hours.

At the University, Smith is the exception, not the rule.

In a survey conducted by The Minnesota Daily, three out of four students said they would rather e-mail a professor or TA than go to his or her office hours.

Thirty-four percent of students agreed with the statement that “responding to e-mail takes up too much of my time.” Graduate students agreed with the statement more often than undergraduates.

There are significant benefits of meeting a professor or adviser face to face, said Bob Flagler, an assistant professor who coordinates the college study strategies course at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“The advantage of going and seeing the faculty members is that you build that relationship,” he said.

Flagler said he always encourages students to meet their professors and advisers in person.

“The bottom line is that in our society that is still No. 1; that is what you’re going to do the most and (college) is a good arena for doing that,” he said.

Students should also consider that meeting someone can go both ways, Flager said.

“If you come into my office, that description (of the student) mushrooms,” for good and for bad, he said.

E-mail communication is good for simple questions, Flager said, but different generations prefer different types of contact.

“I think that the older faculty are less comfortable with e-mails and younger faculty are more comfortable with e-mails,” he said.

Any question would be better answered in person, said Thomas Augst, a University English professor. The English department, like many other departments, requires faculty to hold at least two office hours per week.

“I think all faculty report -especially over the last few years – a huge increase in the number of the e-mail queries and questions from students, which perhaps in another day might have been asked in person during office hours,” Augst said.

E-mails, although convenient for students, are time-consuming for professors and sometimes disrespectful and demanding.

“Students send these e-mails in a very casual manner,” Augst said. “They don’t put a lot of reflection into composing their questions or comments and typically the tone that students assume in e-mails is more appropriate to, say, corresponding with a friend than a professor.”

Augst said he acknowledges that the tone is also a consequence of the medium. The Internet is “all about speed and convenience,” he said.

“All of us, I think as faculty, recall in the not-so-distant past when students used to act as if their professor deserved a certain amount of respect,” he scoffed. “Somehow these basic tools of the education road are being thrown out the window for the sake of students having this hyper-convenient access to their professors.”

About the Survey

The Internet Use and Privacy Attitudes Survey was conducted from November 15 to November 22, 2006. 378 students responded to the survey for a response rate of 18.9 percent. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.54 percent with a 95 percent confidence level. Additional information, including a description of the survey methodology and data results is available online at www.mndaily.com/survey/survey.php. Questions about the survey can be directed to Dana Adams at The Minnesota Daily Survey Research Department: E-mail: [email protected]; Call: (612) 627-4080 ext. 3846.

Any question can be more effectively answered in person and the meeting can develop into a personal relationship, Augst said. E-mail does not allow for a conversation.

“If you want to be more than a number, or one of 200 faces in a classroom, why not go to an office hour,” he said. “It seems perfectly obvious to me and yet it’s true: Students never show up for office hours; it’s absolutely stunning.”

Still, David Bruce, a mechanical engineering senior, said he rarely goes to office hours.

“I’m more apt to just send an e-mail,” he said, but acknowledged that it would depend on the question.

Bruce said he sometimes has to wait in line at office hours.

“I don’t like to wait to have my questions answered,” he said.

Smith said attending office hours will give students “more bang for their buck.”

Professors “are such an amazing resource not only because of their knowledge in the field or the course you’re taking, but also in terms of career options, networking and again, as someone that’s looking to go to grad school, a great resource for letters of recommendation or other courses I might be interested in.”