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Making the Most Out of Office Hours

Nothing is more frustrating than having a student come into your office with a pile of unorganized notes and not even sure what questions to ask. Not only is it a frivolous use of the instructor’s time, but it doesn’t help the student out. Everyone’s time is precious, and a wasted office hour visit leaves both student and instructor alike frustrated. But before we go blaming the students for being disorganized, let’s take a look at how we approach our office hours and the expectations we put on our students.

Communicate the Value of Office Hours

  • Encourage visits.

Office hours are one of the few opportunities students have for one-on-one interaction with an educator throughout their entire college career. Encourage them to utilize this “free resource”. This message could be discussed on the first day of class, included in the syllabus, or posted on your course homepage.

  • Post your hours in your email signature.

This can be a frequent reminder to students that you are available to them.

Plan the Availability of Office Hours

  • Plan your hours carefully.

While it’s tempting to create a convenient schedule for ourselves, we want to ensure we’re accommodating to students’ various schedules. Try offering hours at a variety of time slots in the morning and afternoon and on different days of the week. You could also consider hosting “virtual” office hours for students who can’t make it to campus or for evening-specific help.

  • Consider alternative meeting spots other than the office.

Some students feel intimidated coming to office hours. Meeting at a “neutral ground” location, such as a coffee shop on campus, student union, library, etc. can make the student feel more comfortable.

  • Offer group sessions.

Some students may also feel intimidated due to the one-on-one nature of office hours. Offering group sessions, where students with similar questions and issues can come together, can relieve this pressure and encourage student to student interaction.

Aim for Productive Office Hours

  • Instruct students on how to prepare.

When they make an appointment, ask them to make a list of specific problems they want to address during office hours. This can help the student get organized, and ensure a productive meeting takes place.

  • Help the students as much as you can, but also get them involved.

Office hours should not be a condensed version of the class, nor should it be a painful session of practice and error for the student while they try to determine the answer while you watch. Get the student involved in working through the problem or brainstorming a solution but then allow them time to do the work on their own. Have them book follow-up appointments to better review their work with you.

Encourage Them to Come Back

  • Provide a welcoming and safe environment so that they feel comfortable to return if they still need help.
  • Follow up with students in class or via email with additional resources or to see if they are still struggling.

Implementing just a couple of these strategies can help you develop more productive and meaningful office hours, not just for the student but for you as well.

About the Author

Kyle B. Moninger instructs the Quantitative Business Curriculum at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. He teaches and plans undergraduate courses in statistics and business calculus, serves on the Quantitative Business Curriculum committee, and supervises the college's math and stats tutoring center. Kyle has been a visiting instructor three times at Tianjin Polytechnic University in Tianjin, China, and was previously a data scientist at Owens Corning in Toledo, Ohio, where he designed and implemented a corporate training program on business intelligence and analytics.

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