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Teaching Tip: The Importance of Office Hours

January 25, 2015

office hoursWhy is it that so many students don’t take advantage of this opportunity to interact with you? In a recent survey (Faculty Focus, Jan.21, 2015), 66% of students reported that they had not attended office hours for the course in question. The remaining 1/3 had been to the instructor’s office once. Only 8% reported attending office hours more than once a month.

The researchers claim that factors influencing student decisions to use office hours are largely beyond your control (for example, course level, class size, whether the course is required). But instructors set their own office hours. Obviously, on any given day they have other commitments, but still there are discretionary time blocks. And true, instructors usually don’t get to pick their office locations, but that doesn’t mean that’s where the meeting has to take place. Lastly, faculty members most certainly control the kind of feedback offered during office hours.

Perhaps we underestimate the fear factor. Most of us have a hard time imagining how we could provoke fear in a student, but we do. First, we have deep subject matter expertise, and that alone can be intimidating. In addition, we evaluate their work, which they often see as connected to their character. Plus, it’s embarrassing to have to ask for help, especially when the person you’re asking talks about how it’s easy and obvious. And what if the answer leaves you more confused, not less?

The researchers do recommend that faculty “educate” students as to the benefits of office hours. What about topical office hours? Say there’s something a lot of students are struggling with, schedule some office hour time when you’ll work on that topic with individuals, pairs, or small groups. The study also recommends soliciting feedback from students as to the “convenient” scheduling of office hours. Identify 3 or 4 possible times that work with your schedule and see which students prefer. Office hours can occasionally or regularly be convened in other locations.

Although we hold office hours as a way of supporting students, they benefit us as well. That time together helps strengthen our connections with students.

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