This semester I decided to experiment with Skype on my online – and f2f teaching. I should note that I teach one in class course, but it has a course web page because we meet only once a week on a campus a good hour from my home.
In the past I have communicated with students using an ‘ask the Professor’ forum on the course sites, email, facebook [I have a History of Religion page] and a blog which is linked to my course sites. These were not bad – in fact quite heavily used. But every term I received requests for f2f meetings – which for the purely online courses I would not assent to as those students who lived to far away would be omitted by necessity. This term I decided to level that particular playing field and post my Skype ID for any student who wanted to ask questions live, in real time. Skype offers an easy and free means of communication, and if a student desires, video as well.
I am into the last weeks of the term now and would say that this has worked very well indeed. I am not inundated with requests for Skype meetings, but not ignored either. Roughly the number of students who used to show up for office hours, now ask me questions on Skype. All IM services have the advantage over office hours in that students can ask a question at any time, and I can answer at any time. Using a commercial messaging service has for me the added advantage that I am not tied to the university system – both in requesting that an IM link be provided by their tech people and also that I can stay in touch with students who have a real interest in the subject matter.