I’ve noticed a trend over the past three or four semesters: fewer current students visit during office hours. In prior years on the day before exams my office would be filled with students for the entire scheduled time. I often stayed late to accommodate the demand. Before this semester’s first exam only a handful of students visited my office. I’ve tried to explain it without success. (“My teaching is so good that no students are confused” was not on the list of possible explanations.
I mentioned this to a student today. He’s representative of most of my student visitors. He is not currently in one of my classes. He visits regularly to talk about whatever is on his mind. He’s smart, disagrees as much as he agrees with me, and I’m always happy to talk to him. He recognized the trend and had an instant explanation: “we all use Blackberries. (or iPhones).” I didn’t understand. He spelled it out: “we’re all used to getting information instantly, whenever we want it. There’s no reason to get it face-to-face. We don’t even talk to our friends face-to-face.” His classmates don’t comprehend why he visits me and other professors in their office. He noted that the students who entered university in the past few years grew up with texting and instant always-on web access. He has noted the same trend that prompted my question.
A few hours later I was talking to another student who is currently in one of my courses. I mentioned this trend to her, along with the proffered explanation. She was nodding her head in agreement before I finished the sentence. She said that everyone is busy with team meetings, clubs, extracurricular events, and other activities, and that given the choice between meeting a professor face to face and asking a question via email, they choose email. As a group her peers do not see compelling reasons to visit office hours.
If you are of similar mind, consider these points:
- It’s easy to feel lost in a school as big as BU. Office hours provide a personal connection to faculty that make the school smaller.
- Some questions are readily answered via email. (Some of those questions are readily answered by reading the damned syllabus before asking, but that’s another post.) Many are not. They require give-and-take, nuanced explanation, face-to-face communication–you know, a conversation.
- If you ask most of my prior students how to do well on Intro to Law exams they’ll tell you to hang out in my office asking and answering questions the day before the exam. Such small-group teacher-student discussions have been regular events during my office hours–until the past year.
- Read Explanation Wanted. Some day all of you will want a professor’s recommendation for graduate school, employment, the parole board . . . If you have never talked to a professor outside of class, if the professor’s only recollection of you comes through your transcript, your recommendation will be two-dimensional.
I could continue but in three minutes I must be available downstairs to answer students’ questions about the law concentration at SMG. The event will not be podcast, YouTubed, or texted. Live face-to-face interactions only.