Add Skype Contacts, Increase GPA

A new way to minimize the awkwardness of office hours

Tatsunori Hashimoto

A videochat with the hunchback of Notre-Dame.

While the Medieval era is called the Dark Ages by some scholars, one Harvard professor is making the Middle Ages modern.

Michael McCormick, professor of History 1101: “Medieval Europe,” is known for his talent of engaging students with largely unpublished information about Medieval Europe. But McCormick has found yet another way to make his class stand out: by offering Skype office hours every Monday from 10-11 p.m.

Skype, a software program that enables users to make phone calls over the Internet and communicate via instant messaging, is a popular program that many college students use to talk cheaply with friends overseas.

While some History 1101 students were apprehensive about McCormick’s unique office hours, others were more appreciative: “I thought it was cool—an innovative idea that shows how he is trying to...reach out to students. It’s a nice touch,” said Andrew J. McCarthy ’10.

Unorthodox though they may be, Skype office hours are especially convenient for students who don’t have time to attend typical afternoon office hours between lectures, labs and sections (and, on rare occasions, a life). Evening hours also enable budding Medievalists to get a better feel for the material (i.e., look at the readings) before meeting with McCormick.

“I feel that with Skype hours, students have a few more hours to skim over materials—students will have deeper questions,” said head teaching fellow Kelly L. Gibson. “I think it’s something they can prepare more for.”

Students further praise the cyber-meetings with getmedieval (McCormic’s online identity) for giving oft intimidating office hours a more laid back tone: “It was very casual,” said Jenny D. Wanger ’09 of her Skype experience. “We were chatting and he was in his office and I was in my room.”

Even though face time with Harvard professors can often be hard to come by, props to Professor McCormick nevertheless for indulging in medieval times by day while keeping up with the times by night.