By Frances Wintjes Clarke, MA, LSSC Instructor
As the instructor for the asynchronous Langara Student Success Course (LSSC), I have grappled a lot with how to best connect to and engage with the approximately 3000 first year students who are automatically enrolled into the course each semester. Pre-Covid, I began to host regular office hours to connect with my online students. I did it as much for myself as for them. I became a teacher because I love engaging with people in a learning environment, and I wanted to have that with the LSSC students. I had very little traffic, and I was lucky if one student showed up in my office every couple of weeks looking for help with the course or wanting to find out about available student services.
Then Covid happened and the move to college–wide online learning and Zoom meetings changed everything. For many instructors and students, this pivot online has been a steep learning curve and stressful period of adaptation and adjustment. One thing that can get lost in the online classroom is our student’s ability to ask emerging questions about course content and assignments in real time, and it becomes easier for details to get missed when students can’t easily turn to their instructor or one another for help and clarification. We also need to work harder to build rapport with our students and they with one another. It is easier to feel isolated in this learning environment, and that lack of connection can lead to lack of engagement in our courses.
In an effort to combat this, I continue to hold regular office hours–but now virtually–and they have been well-attended. I host a combination of group sessions and one-on-one consultations to maximize the time. In a group office hour, I focus on FAQs, including how to find course information on Brightspace and how to access college services and resources. I find these group sessions are most needed at the start of the semester when students are navigating online course content for the first time. I then shift to one-on-one office hours where students drop in to address specific areas of concern. It is during these one-on-one meetings that I can make more meaningful connections with students. It may be here that a student reveals they are dealing with food scarcity or that they are suffering from insomnia and falling behind in their course work. As much as I am answering questions about course content, I am referring students to social and mental health services and supports on campus. My favourite hours in the week are when I am meeting students during office hours and making these important connections.
“Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for connection”
I have continuously adapted my approach to office hours to try to remove barriers for the students. Here are a few things that I have done that seem to be working:
- I hold some office hours from 7:30-8:30 am to accommodate students out of the country. Without the commute, this seems manageable for now.
- I send out a weekly reminder email through Brightspace and make sure to include the Zoom address. Students are always looking for those Zoom links!
- I offer to meet students by appointment if they can’t make office hours. So far, this has been used by a few students and I haven’t been overwhelmed by requests.
- I offer to correspond through email or by phone if Zoom is not an easy option.
- In Zoom, I always have my camera on but let students determine their own comfort around showing their face in the meeting.
- I do a lot of screen sharing to show students where I am finding the information for resources and services at the college. I paste links into the chat for them.
- I have students share their screens with me to more easily describe an issue they may be having in their Brightspace course.
We are all working in unprecedented times and continuously needing to adapt, and it’s not easy. What guides me through the work is building relationships with students, and holding regular virtual office hours is one way that I can do that.