Gone are the days when professors would sit in their office for hours, waiting for students to show up at their doors. With e-mail as an easy alternative, fewer students are taking advantage of the professors’ required office hours.

Through e-mail, professors are essentially always available to their students, for it allows student-teacher communication in the evenings and on weekends. The convenience of e-mail has made it a more viable option. “I prefer to e-mail my teachers over going to their office hours,” said Sean Cribbin ’09. “It is more informal and a quicker way to communicate with them because they can check their e-mail at their homes, whereas with office hours they may not be around when I need them.”

Academic Vice President Orin Grossman said that professors are expected to make themselves available to handle student concerns for at least four hours a week and that the specific hours should be posted on the course syllabus.

Grossman is teaching a course this semester and said that he has found e-mail to be an effective means of communication to his entire class and to individual students.

“The main thing is that students believe that faculty members care about their learning and are willing to work with them outside of class to achieve the learning objectives of the class,” said Grossman.

Those out-of-class meetings are not nearly as easy or convenient as sending an e-mail; it is the actual trip to the professor’s office that holds many students back.

“I feel as though office hours are not used by students because it is such a nag to find out when and where they are,” said Cribbin. “Students don’t want to be chasing down their teacher when they just had class with them or finished classes for the day.”

Lauren Wood ’08 cited her living situation as a deterrent, saying, “Living off campus this year definitely makes me less likely to go to campus to track down a professor when I can just e-mail them.”

James Shanahan, chair of the Communication Department, acknowledges that it is now common practice to use e-mail in dealing with quick questions as well as setting up meetings, but still feels as if face-to-face communication is essential in building meaningful relationships between students and professors.

“For more complex advising issues, it’s obviously better to meet face to face. Also, I think it’s important for students to establish relationships with their professors,” said Shanahan.

Communication studies suggest that nonverbal cues communicate as much as 90 percent of the message, the downside of an e-mail. Therefore, the physical action of showing up to a professor’s office sends a message in its own right.

“Nonverbal communication is difficult to convey using e-mail only,” Shanahan said. “I think if a student comes to see you about a problem, it conveys a greater level of personal concern, and the professor will probably take that into account when deciding how to help the student out.”

David Schmidt, chair of the Management Department and program director of the business law and ethics program, agrees with Shanahan, but also thinks that e-mail’s promptness has made students too expectant of quick replies.

“There’s a personal aspect to communication that is lost in e-mail, especially when dealing with potentially problematic or emotionally-charged situations,” said Schmidt. “Also, e-mail tends to promote an expectation from students that faculty should always be available. Like when a student shoots me an e-mail at 2 a.m., then gets annoyed if I haven’t responded by breakfast.”

Whether students send e-mails or show up to office hours, their communication with professors should still be formal. “I think that a student should still be professional and respectful when they are writing an e-mail to one of their professors, but it also may be true that people in our generation don’t know how to act professional in a face-to-face situation because we don’t have to deal with it as much,” said Wood.

Being able to properly communicate with someone is perhaps the most useful tool that one could have when entering the business world.

“Speaking as someone with over 25 years’ successful consulting with corporations, I’d say that effective oral communication is one of the most important skills for getting ahead in business,” said Schmidt. Students need to realize that professors make themselves available to them so that they can help aid them in their learning process.

“I think e-mail is a great tool to contact professors, but at the same time putting in the extra effort to actually go and see a professor can go a long way,” said Wood. “Sometimes students should really consider the office hours because it may really be worth it in the long run for them.”

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