I have to be honest - I hate "office hours." We put them on our syllabi, usually because we are required to - but "office hours" are a terrible way to use time efficiently. It's just not practical to sit in my office hoping that a student will drop by. And when assignment due-dates start pressing, a line of students starts forming in the hallway who a) need help, and b) have other classes or responsibilities they need to get to.
Many of us have changed the way we do office hours. Instead of promising that I'll be in my office from 1:30-3:30, I might simply state that my office hours are "by appointment." But appointments are rarely scheduled face-to-face or on the phone - they are usually requested by email. The email exchange often looks something like this...
Sarah: Can I meet with you this week to review my paper?
Me: Sure - I have time open tomorrow between 3:30 and 5:00
Sarah: I have to work tomorrow
Me: Ok, does Wednesday morning work for you? I am free between 10:00 and 11:00
Sarah: Can I do 4:00 Wednesday?
Me: No, I'm busy then
Sarah: Nevermind, I decided I can do tomorrow at 3:30
Me: Sorry - another student just took that time slot
Multiply this exchange times the number of students who ask for help, plus the colleagues and administrators who also want some of your time, and this can become nothing short of insanity. But this is the kind of insanity we seem relegated to - especially if we don't want to post office hours.
The solution is a booking site. For example, youcanbook.me will integrate with your gCal so that you can send a URL to your students (or colleagues). When they click the URL, they can see what times are available to schedule a meeting with you. When they choose one, they fill out a short form (customizable) that places the appointment on your calendar. And since the booking site looks at your gCal in real time, it will not book appointments in times where your calendar shows "busy."
I've looked at several different services, but decided on youcanbook.me for several reasons.
- It's free - you can pay for premium custom upgrades, but I've never needed them
- Integrates seamlessly with gCal
- Allows user to modify the booking form and the details on my calendar entry
Tips and Tricks
Everyone in my office (including tutors in my tutoring program) now have booking sites with youcanbook.me. We've discovered a few tips that make using the service a real dream.
- Set how far in advance you require notice: I want a little advanced notice of a meeting request, so I set mine to 12 hours. This means that students cannot schedule a meeting with me any earlier than 12 hours from the time they are booking the appointment. When I get up in the morning, I know that my schedule will not change unless I change it myself.
- Add your URL to your email signature: My email signature includes a link to my booking site. Since students are always receiving email from me, they are always reminded that I am available to meet with them.
- Train others to use your booking site: I will not schedule meetings with students or colleagues on the phone or by email. I simply point them to my URL. As time passes, everyone becomes used to the idea of booking on your site - but you'll need to be consistent in the beginning.
- TextExpander Tip: I set my booking URL as a snippet. My booking site URL looks something like https://myacuusername.youcanbook.me I frankly don't want to type that every time - so I set a snippet (;book) that types it all out for me. This saves me a great deal of time and frustration.
- Block entire days: If I am out for a conference, I'll usually note that on my calendar as an "Entire Day Event" - on gCal, it shows up on the top runner of the calendar (where birthdays and holidays are displayed). These all-day events are usually show as "Free" - but if I am going to be out of the office, I change them to show as "Busy." It marks the entire day as unbookable.
- Keep your calendar updated: If you don't create an event on your calendar for your appointment with the dentist, it will show as free. The use of this kind of service really depends upon your discipline to keep your calendar up-to-date and complete.