When you teach students in junior high or high school, you often have to assign work to be done outside school. Unfortunately, more often than not, the work has gotten to a level with which the students’ parents are no longer comfortable in offering help. If this is the case, your students will more than likely have many questions for you outside school hours. To avoid answering all the questions during class time, and therefore having to extend deadlines for assignments, you can set up virtual office hours for students when you are available to answer questions.
What are Virtual Office Hours?
When you go to college, professors have office hours that are times that they are available in their offices to answer student questions. You can usually stop by or email them during this time and they are able to answer your questions and address your concerns. They do this because university students only spend three to four hours in class each week, and do most of their work outside class. If you teach younger students, however, you see them every day and you often teach longer hours than professors do. Students also have to take busses home or have other obligations outside their full-time school day. In order to answer their questions, you have to get a little creative. This is where virtual office hours come in. If you and your students have access to the internet, you can tell them you will be available during certain hours of the evening. During that time, they can contact you virtually and expect a quick response.
Email is one of the most obvious ways to allow your students to contact you, and it has many benefits. First, there is a written record of your contact with your students, which is very helpful if there is ever a question about your professionalism. Second, you are able to respond whenever you can, which means you don’t have to sit in front of your computer waiting for emails. However, email is sometimes slower than some other forms of communication, and if you do not set times during which you will respond via email, you can find yourself responding to students during all hours of the night. Furthermore, you may find yourself stuck to your computer if you do not have your professional email setup on your smartphone, or if you do not have a smartphone at all.
Chat programs are wonderful, and they provide all the same benefits as email in keeping a written record of conversations. If your students have Gmail or Live.com accounts, they have a built-in chat program that signs on as soon as they start their email. All you need is an account on the same server as theirs and they can add you to their chat contacts, which allows them to see when you are online and chat with you. There are also several chat programs that allow you to use many accounts all at once, such as Nimbuzz or IM+. These programs are also available for most smartphones, so you can be on the go and answer questions at the same time.
If your students do not have access to the internet, it may be worth looking into having a Google Voice account. Google Voice gives you a phone number that is not your true number. Therefore, when you give it to students, they are not calling your personal phone. Students can text it or call it, and you can get messages either at your computer or your cell phone. This is a great way to help students when they need it.