Exploring the Impact of Virtual Office Hours on Engineering Students' Learning: A Case Study in Higher Education

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Student-teacher interaction is a vital part of course design, for this reason many instructions in higher education have established office hours to further ensure this interconnection. However, office hours are often limited by time and physical space, creating a less than optimal learning environment for students who already have many other time commitments. For this reason, attendance rates are often low. A solution to these constraints was posed with the concept of virtual office hours. This low-stakes environment addresses the attendance issue and allow students the flexibility of experiencing meaningful learning from anywhere they choose. This study reports on the student experience of virtual office hours, as compared to the traditional face-to-face office hours, offered in three engineering courses. Students varying from sophomore to junior levels were enrolled in one of three semester-long courses, two mechanical engineering and one electrical engineering. 154 students between the two disciplines were enrolled in a course offering virtual office hours. The implementation logistics of these virtual office hours, key details on interactions during the sessions, and content presentation are discussed in this paper. Goals of this study were: to identify how virtual office hours impact engineering students' learning, ascertain whether the sessions were an efficient use of time for both students and instructors, and to determine the differences between virtual office hours and traditional face-to-face office hours. The student's perspectives were acquired through surveys administered at the end of the semester-long implementation of virtual office hours. Data analysis of the survey responses revealed that the implementation of virtual office hours within these courses was beneficial for both the students and instructors.

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