Scaling Office Hours: Managing Live Q&A in Large Courses

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Scaling Office Hours: Managing Live Q&A in Large Courses

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Title: Scaling Office Hours: Managing Live Q&A in Large Courses
Author: MacWilliam, Thomas Matthew; Malan, David J.

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Citation: MacWilliam, Tommy and David J. Malan. 2011. Scaling office hours: managing live Q&A in large courses. Paper presented at the 28th Annual Conference of the Eastern Region of the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges, Galloway, NJ, November 2-3, 2012.
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Abstract: Computer Science 50 (CS50) is Harvard University’s introductory course for majors and nonmajors alike. So that students have an adequate support structure with which to tackle the course’s weekly programming assignments, we offer weekly “office hours,” during which students can receive one-on-one help from teaching assistants. In Fall 2010 and years prior, office hours were held in a basement-level computer lab. However, this environment did not appeal to staff or students. Moreover, this format for office hours suffered from logistical inefficiencies, repetition of questions among students, and lack of communication among staff, which led to high wait times for students. We relocated office hours in Fall 2011 to dining halls to create a more social and collaborative workspace, with more staff on duty at once. We also developed CS50 Queue, a web- and iPadbased system for managing office hours’ logistics. Overall, the new format proved a success. Attendance at office hours grew more than linearly, with an average of 120 students attending per night, up from 30 students in 2010 despite only a 23% increase in enrollment. Even though Queue enabled us to scale, new logistical challenges arose, and wait times for students still sometimes exceeded an hour. We intend to address those challenges in Fall 2012 in order to reduce wait times to 15 minutes at most.
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