Written By: Michelle Bondy, Experiential Learning Specialist in the Faculty of Science, University of Windsor.
I am an #OLDFF fellow from the University of Windsor Faculty of Science and School of the Environment. In October and November 2021, I participated in the #OnHumanLearn project, engaging in a series of conversations with colleagues across the province about Humanizing Learning.
As I write this, I am sitting in my virtual office hours. Twice a week, I open a Teams call and wait. Rarely does a student show up. When they do, I get very excited and enjoy chatting with them and answering their questions. More importantly, I am able to ask them questions about how the course is going and share information and advice that perhaps they weren’t expecting when they joined the call. These small, unplanned interactions that help humanize the learning experience are (currently) lacking in my online teaching.
My courses are placement-based experiential learning, with no lecture or class meeting time. Students participate in a placement related to their degree and reflect on their experiences in assignments submitted to me through our LMS. It has been this way since before the pandemic, though in the “before times” I was able to meet each student at least once, as they delivered registration paperwork to my office. I also had an open-door policy, outside of my regularly scheduled office hours. I still technically have this open-door policy through Teams, but most students seem to prefer email.
I am not writing this to complain about students not attending virtual office hours, but to reflect on why that might be. Participating in the #OLDFF discussions about vulnerability, students as agents of diverse destinies, belonging, and care has brought up questions about the accessibility and intentionality of my office hours. Do students know they are welcome? What are the barriers to students’ attendance? Am I unintentionally signaling that office hours are not for them? Through the #OLDFF discussions, I learned about Liberating Structures (www.liberatingstructures.com). I was previously familiar with the W3 structure, but the rest are new to me. We used the TRIZ structure for one of our #OLDFF sessions, the goal of which is to come up with ways to achieve the worst result possible. It was a fun activity that resulted in a very thoughtful discussion. I have decided to use that liberating structure for my reflection on office hour attendance, particularly virtual office hours. Some of the items on my list are perhaps more tongue-in-cheek and exaggerated (such as acting like students’ presence is an inconvenience) but others are things I have been guilty of doing, even unintentionally (for example, I could send more reminders). Going forward, I will be more intentional about office hours and use this list as my guide for what not to do. I hope it leads to great conversations with students!
Experiential Learning Specialist,
School of the Environment, Faculty of Science