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Effective Office Hours

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The fast pace of the quarter offers little time to go over issues in depth or to talk about an individual student’s work.  While our conference schedule provides us with structured, individual time with our students, office hours can be rewarding because they allow you extra time and space to work with students who are interested pursuing additional opportunities to deepen their learning.

Increasing Attendance at Office Hours

While most instructors list their office hours on their syllabus, without additional reminders in place, office hours can be easily forgotten by busy students. As a side note, a 2019 survey of students indicated that having "by appointment" office hours actually creates a barrier to participation for some students. For this reason, all instructors should hold their office hours at a standing time every week -- 3 hours of office hours for a lecturer teaching two sections and 2 hours of office hours for a lecturer teaching one section. The "by appointment" can be a supplement to these standing hours.  Many lecturers hold their office hours exclusively over Zoom, though you certainly can offer in-person hours if you'd like.

In addition, consider these ideas for making sure your students make the most of this additional opportunity for one-to-one meetings with you:

  • In addition to listing your office hours on your syllabus, post the times and locations in other places as well: on your Canvas site, on your office door, and even in the signature line of your email
  • It's  possible that some first-year or international students may not be familiar with the concept of office hours, so especially at the beginning of fall quarter, take some time to explain their purpose and how they work.  They might even be apprehensive about the idea of an unstructured one-to-one meeting; be sure present it as an open and welcoming opportunity.
  • Extend invitations to students -- in groups or individually -- to attend your office hours to talk about a particular topic or writing issue that has come up in class. Make sure it is an invitation for continued conversation, not a punitive measure.
  • If you regularly come early to class or stay late to chat with students, they will become accustomed to talking to you outside of class time and may feel more inclined to visit you in your office.
  • While in class, refer to conversations you've had with students in office hours (even if you don't mention the students by name), so your class connects the learning inside the classroom with the learning outside the classroom.
  • Tell students they can pick up graded work during office hours to help them become more familiar with visiting you in your office.
  • Take your office hours out of the office, taking creative approaches such as holding walking office hours holding them on Meyer Green or a cafe.

Additional Office Hour Suggestions

  • Be courteous and attentive to students waiting to see you. Help students identify their goals at the beginning of the conversation so to give some structure to  your meeting, especially if you have a line of other students waiting.   If a meeting with a student is running too long, use the last few minutes of your conversation to schedule another time for the student to come back. 
  • While you should try to let the meeting be student-directed, you might find it useful to use this basic framework to scaffold your conversation:
    • Open by chatting with the student and making a connection on a personal level
    • Help identify the question or concern that the student wants to talk about and a goal for the session (if you know ahead of time that the student will be coming to office hours, you might ask him/her/them to write down their question or goals and even send it ahead of time via email)
    • Work together with the student -- by both conversing and listening -- to accomplish that goal
    • Make sure that, by the end of the session, the student has made progress toward the goal and is clear on next steps.  Follow up with an email that summarizes what you accomplished in the conversation, asks further questions, or offers further resources.
  • Reflecting on your office hours (who uses them, and how) can give you insight into individual students and also how you use class time.  Repeated and long office hours may signal that you should be referring students to other resources, like the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking.  Part of your students' work in PWR and as undergraduates is learning to use the variety of resources available to them effectively.
  • Consider creative ways to augment your regular office hours to provide more contact hours with students when they need them:
    • Hold informal group meetings with students
    • As a supplement to your scheduled in-person hours, try out additional virtual office hours using a chatroom or even videochat through Skype or Google Hangout.  These work really well as extra office hours in the evenings before a major assignment is due.
  • Use them as an opportunity to learn from your students about what's working and what's not working in class; ask them for informal feedback on assignments or activities, or use the conversation to help you understand the dynamic of the class from the student perspective.