Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Professor for one year (week 14): Consultation-hours

When you teach and supervise student projects, students sometimes want to discuss something.  They come to your consultation-hours.

If you don't have a walk-in policy, because you don't want to be interrupted constantly, you have a dedicated time when students can come to your office.  I offer consultation two hours a week on Tuesdays.  However, sometimes nobody will show up, sometimes five students are waiting in line.  So some consultation management is needed.

The traditional way is to use a sheet of paper.  You print a list (or draw one by hand) with consultation slots and pin it to your door.  Students have to sign up for a slot beforehand and then they can come for consultation.  However, this means you have to remember to pin a new sheet of paper each week (or you need a secretary for this task), and students have to come by twice.  Sometimes they even have to stop by your office more often in case all slots for this week have been filled already.  This is very inconvenient, especially when your office is on a floor no student comes by regularly.  I also don't think it is a good idea that everybody can see who is coming when for consultation -- sometimes students even have to write the topic they want discuss.  And I don't want to pin paper to my door -- it's ugly and there are fire authority regulations.

For some time now, I have been looking for an electronic solution.  I have only a few requirements:

  1. I want to set up all the slots at once with as least effort as possible.
  2. Students should sign up some days in advance -- I prefer to plan my days and maybe skip the consultation-hours completely if nobody will come.  So no surprises an hour before, please.
  3. I want to be notified who is coming when.
  4. No costs.
  5. Oh, and I just want to have this tool only, no fancy add-ons.  No need to create a bigger structure.
I thought about using Doodle, but this would not meet the requirement #1, and also for requirement #2 it would not work.  Of course your LMS (learning management system) or your university's CMS (content management system) would be the perfect plase for a tool like this.  However, they usually don't offer this kind of functionality. 

The University of Konstanz uses ILIAS, and you can have a personal calender -- as for most LMS.  This calender also has a "Consultation hours" functionality.  Perfect!  And you can integrate this calendar into all your courses.  Even better!

But then it doesn't meet requirement #5.  Of course, it is nice to have this calender in all the courses I use for lectures.  But some students I supervise do not attend any of my courses.  So they cannot access this calendar.  Unless I create another course with this calendar only -- no, wait, I have to ask someone to create such a course, I cannot do this myself because of the right managament.  There is no structure element in ILIAS where students could access calendars for consultation-hours of lecturers.  They have to sign up for a specific course first and then they can access this calendar and book a consultation appointment.

So in the end, I do have a sheet of paper pinned to my office door -- a description on how to sign up for consultation.  At least I don't have to remember to print a new one each week.

1 comment:

mxp said...

As I wrote in my dissertation, these grandiose e-learning platforms often do not meet the real needs of faculty and students. And I guess this also goes for many of the digital research infrastructure projects we're seeing now: Often you just need a simple, reliable tool or service, but of course it may not be glamorous, only useful.

But hey, maybe you can get a student to build such a tool using BaseX?