I got a request to do a writeup about hybrid office hours, so here’s a quick rundown of how 61C and 161 held dual in-person and remote office hours in Fall 2021.
Our classes were committed to supporting both in-person and fully remote students that semester, which meant that we had to ensure remote support during office hours. There were several approaches you could take to support remote office hours (OH) in a hybrid setting:
- Remote OH only: In-person students can call in remotely too, so this setup supports everyone. It’s nice for flexibility because you don’t need to worry about room bookings or overcrowding in-person (especially relevant during the pandemic). One big downside is the bandwidth for remote OH tends to be lower for many students–it’s harder to facilitate peer interactions, help students in groups, and work through things on a whiteboard together. Maybe we’ll do a later writeup comparing in-person and remote OH, but in short, the general consensus seems to favor in-person OH for most students.
- Remote-only and in-person-only OH: The OH schedule could be split so that some hours are only staffed in-person, while other hours are only staffed online. This lets staff focus on one mode of OH, which is probably more efficient than the next option. However, this reduces flexibility for students–if someone is remote, they can only attend a subset of the available time slots, and if someone wants to attend in-person, they also only have a subset of time slots to choose from. This might not be as big of an issue now that classes are mostly in-person. It may also not be a huge issue if you have very frequent OH throughout the week.
- Hybrid OH: A hybrid OH slot is one where students can attend either in-person or remotely. In short, staff work in-person but can hop on a Zoom call if a remote student needs help. This probably has the most overhead for staff, but it gives students the most flexibility and preserves the benefits of in-person OH as well, so it’s what we went with in Fall 2021.
The staff-side setup isn’t too difficult logistically. Most staff either took their computer with them to resolve tickets or had their computer open somewhere, so if they needed to take a remote ticket, they could join a Zoom call as needed.
We processed tickets in FIFO order using the 61A online office hours queue system (example: https://oh.cs161.org). You could probably implement some sort of priority system if you wanted to prioritize one type of ticket, but we didn’t have an urgent need for that last semester.
If space allows, it helps to have a quiet place where staff can take remote tickets, such as a smaller room nearby, or some hallway outside the room. Taking the tickets directly in the OH room is possible, but some staff did mention that it was a bit hard to communicate with the background noise.
The biggest time sink when holding hybrid OH is having to switch between in-person and remote help, which definitely adds up when taking a lot of tickets. Ideally, if an OH slot has multiple staff members, the work can be split so that one person takes all the in-person tickets and the other takes all the remote tickets. (You could also think of this as having an in-person-only OH and a remote-only OH stacked at the same time.)
It can definitely be a little awkward when all the staff members are taking remote tickets and while in-person students watch, but anecdotally I don’t remember hearing student complaints about this.
We have exact data for this from the office hours queue, but I haven’t scraped it yet (maybe in a future post). My estimate would be around 60-70% tickets being remote. Since a majority of students showed up in-person for the exam, the remote tickets probably consisted of some students in Berkeley who didn’t show up in-person, in addition to fully-remote students who actually couldn’t show up in-person (e.g. students not in the US).
I would probably estimate that in-person tickets were faster on average, because of the higher information bandwidth available when working with someone in-person. With in-person tickets, you can also ask the student to try out something and come back later, which is harder when the student is remote (leave them in a Zoom call or breakout room? doesn’t work as well, if you ask me).
I tried to incorporate feedback I heard from other staff about hybrid OH in this post, but this is definitely influenced by my own experiences doing plenty of hybrid OH last semester. Ultimately, different people have different preferences when holding OH, and the context-switching between tickets is easier for some and harder for others.
If possible, I think the most streamlined hybrid OH workflow we’ve found was having at least one person work exclusively in-person and at least one person work exclusively remotely, but it’s something we’re still experimenting with. 161 is continuing with hybrid OH this semester with two TAs per slot, and 61C is trying out exclusively in-person and exclusively remote OH this semester.