Office hours have always been a challenging experience. During my first few years of teaching, my office hours were not well attended, and in fact many weeks were downright lonely. I would schedule them as I built my syllabus, prior to the beginning of the semester, and then carrying on with the hope that the students would show. Typically, I would have one or two students stop by after they realized they had failed an exam or were not doing well in the course. Otherwise crickets. It was discouraging.
Over the years, I started trying different strategies to make that time worthwhile for my students and more effective for myself.
Use an online scheduling tool for your appointments.
There are a variety of online schedulers, like YouCanBook.com or Calendly, that are free and that work with different virtual calendars so that when a student signs up for a time, it automatically adds to my schedule for that week. Usually, I include the appointment URL link on my student emails, course homepage, and syllabus so that students can quickly and easily make appointments with me.
This action of “signing up” seems to be more effective in getting students to show up since they feel more accountable for that meeting. I am also able to quickly email a student that “no shows” their appointment. The use of the online appointment scheduler allows me to better manage my time by letting me see the exact time, number of appointments, and specific students who will be coming to me for 1:1 help. In many situations, this format has taken the place of my traditional office hours and have much higher attendance rates.
Try a new location instead of your office.
Getting out of the office sometimes helps certain students to feel more comfortable in approaching me. I think the traditional office setting can be seen as formal and at times intimidating to students. To address that issue, I try to schedule several weeks where I hold office hours at different, more relaxed locations on campus. Students are notified of the change of location by several different methods (email, appointment scheduler, text, face- to-face in the classroom) and with plenty of time to plan ahead to avoid any confusion. I select locations, like coffee shops, open lawn areas, and the library, where I am still able to have some privacy with regards to the conversation but that are more relaxed and enjoyable for the students. Depending on where I am at, students that are waiting to see me can also grab a coffee or something to eat!
Go Virtual - Try having a Google Hangout, Skype, or other online office hours.
If you’re already teaching online, this is probably a no brainer, but it took me a while before I started using online programs for my face-to-face class office hours. I found that no matter the official classroom setup, students enjoy being able to meet with their instructor virtually. The virtual office hours also allow me to schedule times outside of the regular 8 to 5pm workday, which suit many of my non-traditional students in particular. Virtual office hours also give students the flexibility of being able to meet from the comfort of their own home, which they seem to enjoy.
Use your classroom data, such as LearnSmart or Connect assignments, to personalize your 1:1s during office hours.
When students do start attending your office hours it’s extremely useful to maximize your 1:1 time through a personalized approach. For those in smaller classrooms this might be easy and self-evident, but for larger lectures or for those who teach several sections each semester relying on classroom and online data can be the key to getting quick student insights.
I regularly use the data I am able to gather via McGraw-Hill Education’s Connect to track my students’ progress. For example, LearnSmart assignments, which are adaptive exercises in Connect, are particularly helpful at providing insights like progress, mastery, time on task, missed learning objectives, etc. for when I’m meeting with individual students. Using this data-driven guidance, I’m able to give my students better advice and help based on what they are currently working on or have been struggling with. It also gives my suggestions more credibility and weight since the students can see the results of their work (or, at times, lack thereof) in simple empirical reports.