I love social media. Blogs, email, podcasts, facebook, YouTube, Skype, even Twitter (in moderation, of course). With all these tools at our disposal, is there any reason to maintain traditional concepts of office hours? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply create a knowledge base or FAQ section of our course website, as is standard practice in corporate customer support? While these aren’t bad ideas, there are distinct things that only incarnational meetings can accomplish.
1. Encouragement – While supportive notes on an email can be meaningful, there is simply no replacement for having a mentor look you in the eye and being told you have what it takes to make it. When I met with Mick Boersma recently to discuss new media and Talbot alumni, his concern was rooted in the irreplaceable role face-to-face meetings play in encouraging students and alumni. Wise man.
2. Real-life training – While it is helpful to offer shy students some non-intimidating opportunities to express themselves, at some point we are coddling, rather than protecting, students. If students graduate from our school unable to speak while looking an authority figure in the eye, they will fail in the marketplace.
3. Small group discussions – Often, the best office hour discussions are with two or three students at once. While there are chat-rooms and forums that can replicate some of this experience online, the digital communication lacks the feeling of reality at times, without the excitement that can build in real-time. Further, incarnational office hours helps students learn to disagree without being disagreeable, another important real-world learning need, and one that rarely develops on message boards.