Staff Editorial: While they exist, take advantage of virtual office hours

In past years, visits to office hours have been fraught. Students have trekked across campus— often at times inconvenient for both them and the professor—to get help with their classes. For large classes, often these office hours can involve long lines of students waiting to get the attention of a professor or a teaching assistant (TA). Students with questions can find their issues unresolved, talked over by others who similarly need assistance. For small classes, too, office hours can be difficult, as setting up an in-person appointment to discuss what can seem like a minor or trivial question can easily be pushed aside in favor of leaving campus after class.

Due to the impossibility of physical meetings this semester and the reality that many students and professors are studying or teaching from home, those in-person office hours have been replaced with virtual ones. Having office hours virtually makes them accessible to all students, regardless of whether they are on or off campus this semester. Additionally, they keep students safe, and are much more convenient for students, professors and TAs.

The Student Life Editorial Board urges students to utilize these virtual office hours this semester. As we are beginning the sixth week of the semester, many students have already taken their first midterm exams. For others, those exams or projects are looming. Even if you don’t have an exam soon and are just a little confused about a homework problem, your professors and TAs are there to help with those problems, and this semester, it is easier than ever to get in contact with them. Students who had to walk in the cold and in the dark to campus for late-night Introduction to Computer Science (131) office hours, for example, can now simply connect via Zoom from their homes. Zoom office hours are more convenient for professors, too; without having to worry about exactly when they’re supposed to be in their office, professors no longer have to hustle across campus after class or stay late in the afternoon, as they can take a Zoom call from anywhere.

Additionally, the very nature of a Zoom call means that it is easier to get personal attention during office hours. Most STEM students recall the inefficiency of in-person office hours; those long lines have been transformed into small Zoom meetings. For some courses, office hours can act as a mini-lecture, covering topics students had trouble understanding during class. In others, like 131, students meet with TAs individually, ensuring that any questions they have will be answered.

The history department has taken the step of listing each professor’s virtual office hours on its website. That way, students from any major can connect with a professor even without taking their class, making things like asking questions about a professor’s research or even determining which classes to take next semester much easier.

Though we do not know how next semester will look, we can assume that the mixture of remote and hybrid courses we have this semester will continue. We on the editorial board hope that the virtual office hours will also continue, even after Wash. U. is able to return to in-person classes. The convenience and personalization that virtual office hours possess make them a better option for both professors—who can more easily share information like lecture slides with students—and students, who can ask more detailed questions and are better able to ensure they understand the material.

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