Going to office hours was such a simple thing during the online school year.
After getting out of a class that ended at 2:20 p.m., I could grab some snacks and take a bathroom break before hopping onto an office hours session at 2:30 p.m. — one minute earlier than the TA — to ask my five-minute question. After getting a thorough 20-minute explanation from the TA and fully having my problem clarified, I could leave the meeting with a solid ten minutes before my next class at 3 p.m.
But since returning to campus in the fall, I was hit with just how something as simple as going to office hours was made much harder just by the fact that most of my classes returned to hosting in-person office hours and stopped hosting them online.
Of course, it should be recognized that many students prefer having in-person office hours sessions. A student in COS 226: Algorithms and Data Structures (who wishes to remain anonymous) shared that he particularly enjoys the experience of checking psets with classmates in a little corner during office hours while cracking jokes.
However, these in-person sessions are unaccommodating to the group of students for whom Zoom would be a more convenient option. A student in ORF 245: Fundamentals of Statistics (who wishes to remain anonymous) shared this sentiment: “If [office hours] were on Zoom I just hop on, ask my question, and leave. But I don’t want to walk 20 minutes both ways just to ask a question that only takes two minutes to answer — I don’t have time for that. And the office hours are always held at such inconvenient times, like when I have class.”
It’s true. Like this student’s experience, the consequence of office hours being held in person is that some sessions that would have been accessible are made inaccessible due to transportation and time constraints.
And it’s not just the students who find in-person office hours inefficient. A graduate TA for ORF 245 explained that the other TAs for the course have argued for online Zoom office hours as well, but it's not up to them whether or not to utilize Zoom for office hours; instead, it depends on the professor or head instructors of the course. While in most cases professors are open to setting up the option of going to office hours on Zoom if several students voice their desires, this is not always the case.
In addition, safety and health may still be a concern for some students. Yes, in-person interactions are valued. However, at a time when a great number of students in the undergraduate community are hit with illnesses, and when COVID-19 is still lurking somewhere in the air — strong enough to make Harvard suspend its in-person MBA classes — having the option to attend office hours on Zoom just seems like a better option.
It’s delightful knowing that many classes have adopted hybrid office hour models. Courses like COS 126: Computer Science: An Interdisciplinary Approach and JPN 305: Integrative Advanced Japanese I, for example, are offering some office hours in person and others on Zoom. COS 226 has adopted a hybrid office hours model where office hours on Zoom are offered concurrently with the in-person session. Since the technology already exists, course instructors ought to rethink the office hours options and utilize them to the fullest extent so that it makes everyone’s lives easier and provide better support for students’ success.
Kelsey Ji is a sophomore from Cambridge, Mass. She can be reached at email@example.com.