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Office Hours App

Centralized calendar for professors' office hours, suggested topics for conversation, and goals checklist -- all made week-specific.

Photo of Sara Sligar
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

Many students don't go to office hours until it's too late. Targeted towards first-generation and low-income students, but open to all students, this app is designed to facilitate office hours attendance. The goal is to make getting help from instructors as easy and painless as possible, while still providing the one-on-one conversations that are often necessary to figure out exactly what kind of support a student needs.

A big problem in higher education is helping students succeed and graduate once they arrive. As an instructor at UPenn, I've found that many of my first-gen or low-income students are either intimidated by coming to me for help or don't realize how much I am willing to work with them. As a result, they often don't come to me until it's too late. This app would make attending office hours less intimidating in a few ways:

  • creating a centralized calendar, so students with free time can see who's available and instantly schedule an appointment with them, rather than having to look up every professor individually
  • suggesting weekly topics for discussion, which the professor would upload at the beginning of the semester when they write the syllabus -- so students who feel intimidated by the idea of going with nothing to say can have a place to start (and the conversation can progress from there)
  • a quick goals checklist that the student fills out on their way over to the office, to make sure they get all their questions answered
  • a reminder a few hours later that asks if their goals have been met and if they have any new needs for next week's hours


There would also be a computer version hosted on the university's website, so it could be used by students without smartphones.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I don't have the programming skills to build this app, but I can create manual copies of the questions and goals checklists for my own course in the spring. I can also look into getting the other professors in my department to add their office hours to a centralized calendar so we can test it out on a department-wide scale.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

The most useful would be help building the app, as I have zero programming experience!

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • Yes

7 comments

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Photo of reiner89
Team

Really useful app when flicking between multiple tasks throughout the day. Also great that you can track all things. All the latest apps available for free on vshare. Get it from https://iappsbuzz.com/vshare

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Hi Sara! Alex here from Path to Pitching, cool idea! Your next steps could be forming a team so you have some support and going out and doing some user and problem validation through interviews, then start prototyping! Have you thought about revenue streams for this service? Would a university purchase a subscription and offer it to the students? We've created the Human Centered Milestones to help you develop your idea, you can check them out here: http://bit.ly/1N6hgbQ

Photo of Sara Sligar
Team

Hi Alex, awesome, thank you! Those milestones are really helpful. I will start hunting for teammates, and I can start the user interview stuff on my own right away. Yes, a subscription-based revenue was exactly what I had in mind -- it's important that students don't have to pay anything upfront themselves!

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Hi Sara! Wanted to circle back around and see how things are going? Have you learned anything new from your research? Have you been able to do some prototyping? 

Photo of Sara Sligar
Team

Alex, Thanks for checking in! Yes, I've been doing some research with some information technicians at my university to test viability and learn more about the software purchasing process. I have learned that FERPA laws, which protect student information, may consider the times of student-professor meetings protected information. That means that the scheduling portion of the app would need to meet very stringent authentication guidelines that can only be met by a few very powerful companies (e.g. Google, Facebook, etc.). It might be possible to piggyback on other authentication services or have the app operate as a plug-in for established courseware like Canvas, and I'm investigating those angles, as well as corroborating the FERPA feedback. In the meantime, I am focusing on the app's capacity for conversation topics/goal-setting/reminders/etc, which would be less sensitive material.

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Thanks for the post Sara! It's great to see how addressing the specific needs of first gen college students. Have you considered how the issue of cost can also come into play?

Photo of Sara Sligar
Team

Hi Shane! Yeah, I've definitely thought about it. I was thinking about this app as something that could be used in combination with some of the other ideas about refinancing schools, because it aims to address one of the problems that results from the insanely high cost of higher ed. Basically, at every level of higher education, low-income students not getting enough institutional support during their studies. This is a major problem because low-income students often haven't had the opportunity to build certain academic skill sets that their peers have developed. So they end up doing worse in classes, which widens the gap between socioeconomic groups on campus. In the worst case scenario, students end up dropping out and are still left with crippling amounts of debt, and without the job prospects that would allow them to pay them off. (For example: http://www.pressherald.com/2015/05/10/hardest-hit-college-students-who-never-finish-school/) Even if students stay in school, this success gap can endanger their grades and harm their self-esteem, which can both make it harder to find high-paying jobs after graduation. Right now, some universities offer a 2- or 4-week program over the summer for entering first-years to build their research and time management skills. But this alone isn't enough to affect the gap that exists.

In short, I think that as we try to roll out more ambitious projects for re-thinking the higher ed funding structure, we also have to think about low-cost ways to provide support to low-income students. Otherwise we'll just prolong the cycle of debt and widen the socioeconomic gap. That's why I was focusing on the part of the challenge that's about enabling graduation.

Do you have any ideas about how to further address the issue of cost? One option might be to have the app grant certain monetary rewards for checking off "goals"; those rewards could be funded by a company that would advertise on the app. Some economic studies have suggested that paying students for their results actually decreases their interest in the activity, though, so I'm not sure it would be the best idea.