Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Using Skype to Increase Student-Faculty Interaction

Has this happened to you? You sit in your office for three hours between classes and no one shows up for office hours. Then five minutes before class students show up and want to talk with you about their papers or assignments.

Now it is true that our students lead very busy lives with family, school and work responsibilities. In addition, they are all commuter students so that none of them reside on campus and can simply pop over to our offices.

So how do we increase the opportunities for them to have discussions with faculty. Email offers some opportunity for additional interaction, but email is not a totally adequate solution for holding deep academic discussions. It is possible to have a back and forth discussion, but it is a longer process and is dependent on writing skills. Text might also offer some options, but I don't text. :)

This semester I am offering students the opportunity for online Skype appointments. Skype is a free internet video conferencing service that allows both individual and group web conferencing. It requires all the parties to have a webcam, microphone and internet connection and runs on smart phones, tablets laptops and desktops. I have set up a separate account for my school work and only open it when I am expecting to meet with a student. A premium account is required hold group videoconferencing. And if you are in your pajamas or haven't taken your shower yet, you can turn off the video portion and just talk online. This allows faculty and students to talk without disclosing personal phone numbers.

I have been opening this account during my real life office hours and leave it on in the background. Since my office computer has neither a webcam or and microphone, I use my ipad. 

To increase opportunities for students, I have also been offering them the opportunity to email me so that we can set up a specific time and place for us to have a skype appointment. Again I open my school skype account when I have a scheduled meeting. I am not available 24/7 on skype, but have blocks of time when I am willing to talk with students in addition to my posted office hours. So when they ask if I have office hours on Wednesday, I can say "No, but I can talk with you on Wednesday between 3-5 pm on skype. Would you like to make an appointment?"

So far no students have taken the opportunity. I wonder if anyone else has been using skype to increase their office hours.