Making the Most of Office Hours
Office hours have been an essential part of higher education practice for decades, and many institutions, Baylor University included, require them. Making the most of office hours, however, requires more than scheduling office hours and being present for them.
Purpose of Office Hours
Institutions require office hours to foster student-faculty interaction (Smith et al., 2017). Positive and frequent student-faculty interactions correlate with higher academic motivation (Trolian et al., 2016), and, in some circumstances, higher grades (Guerrero & Rod, 2013). Such benefits of office hours, however, can only happen if students take advantage of them. Clarifying the purpose can help.
Office hours serve two broad purposes: course-specific support and general student support. Instructors recognize that the main reason students attend office hours is for content clarification (Hsu et al., 2022). However, they also recognize that office hours can support students in other ways: time with professor (student-faculty interaction), study skills, and professional support (Hsu et al., 2022). Furthermore, office hours can provide space for “mentorship, discussion of a students’ future plans and career trajectory, fostering student persistence, or…discussion of related material” for greater understanding of the subject (Smith et al., 2017, p. 19).
Student perceptions of the purpose of office hours also factor into their effectiveness. Students generally believe that the purpose of office hours is to seek help in specific, often grade-related, circumstances (Cotten & Wilson, 2006; Smith et al., 2017). With this perception, most students seek alternative resources for less-concerning situations (Hsu et al., 2022; Smith et al., 2017). Hsu et al. (2022) found that not having questions was the most-cited reason students gave for not attending office hours.
Institutional and instructor communication can expand students’ views of office hours and encourage them to attend. Orientation or other similar introductions to college life could explain the purpose of office hours (Cotten & Wilson, 2006). Smith et al. (2017) find “students need explicit guidance about what office hours are intended to do: they need accessible models of what office hours can offer and how to make use of this resource” (p. 15). Verbally and in writing, instructors can provide more detailed explanations of the purposes of office hours and multiple reasons students may attend (Guerrero & Rod, 2013; Hsu et al., 2022). Additionally, instructors might design their course assignments to invite more questions and feedback, such formative assessment assignments (Hsu et al., 2022).
Scheduling issues often keep students from attending office hours. Students may have time conflicts or simply be too busy (Hsu et al., 2022). Instructors can address this by offering a range of office hour times or polling students to find times that work for more students’ schedules (Guerrero & Rod, 2017; Hsu et al., 2022). Instructors can also use programs like Microsoft Bookings to encourage students to schedule meetings at times that work best for both the student and instructor.
Virtual office hours can also mitigate scheduling difficulties. While this option may not dramatically increase attendance, it broadens accessibility and signals a welcoming, inclusive approach to teaching (Li & Pitts, 2009; Smith, et al., 2017). Students report higher levels of satisfaction for courses with a virtual office hour option (Li & Pitts, 2009) and would prefer an offering of both in-person and virtual office hours options (Hsu et al., 2022).
Attendance at office hours may also be hampered if students sense that the instructor is too busy (Briody et al., 2019; Cotten & Wilson, 2006), unapproachable, or intimidating (Briody et al., 2019; Smith et al., 2017), or if students have had prior negative experiences with office hours (Cotten & Wilson, 2006; Hsu et al., 2022).
Although lacking a reason or the time to attend are greater concerns for most students, instructors should not ignore any perceived inhospitableness, given the benefits of office hours for students. Trying a new location may help in decreasing students’ feelings of intimidation. Meeting in “‘neutral territory’ rather than in the confines of faculty offices” could help (Cotton and Wilson, 2006, p. 507), as can re-branding office hours to something more welcoming, like “student hours.” Meeting in a shared working space or a larger room could encourage students to attend in groups, which could also be less intimidating (Briody et al., 2019; Hsu et al., 2022).
In addition to telling students about the purpose of office hours, regularly reminding them of office hours and the logistical information could increase the sense that students are welcome to attend (Guerrero & Rod, 2013; Smith et al., 2017). Furthermore, instructors should reach out to students of concern and personally invite them to attend (Guerrero & Rod, 2013).
Planning to Use Office Hours Effectively
As you plan your course, consider what the primary purposes of your office hours will be.
- As you write your syllabus, consider how you will clearly and invitingly communicate the purpose(s) of office hours to your students, as well as the logistics. (For more on the emotional impact of syllabus language, see our Self and Syllabus tool.)
- As you plan the logistics of your office hours, such as times and locations, consider how you can address students’ needs and increase accessibility.
- As you begin the first few days of class, consider what your teaching persona communicates about your approachability and hospitality as an instructor.
- Throughout the semester, reissue the invitation to office hours.
Ultimately, not every student needs to attend your office hours, unless you have designed an assignment that requires it. But increasing accessibility and approachability, you can create a more hospitable and motivating learning environment for all students.
Briody, E. K., Wirtz, E., Goldenstein, A., & Berger, E. J. (2019). Breaking the tyranny of office hours: Overcoming professor avoidance. European Journal of Engineering Education, 44(5), 666-687. https:/doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2019.1592116.
Cotten, S. R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51, 487-519. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-004-1705-4.
Guerrero, M., & Rod, A. B. (2013). Engaging in office hours: A study of student-faculty interaction and academic performance. Journal of Political Science Education, 9(4), 403-416. DOI: 10.1080/15512169.2013.835554.
Hsu, J. L. , Rowland-Goldsmith, M., & Schwartz, E. B. (2022). Student motivations and barriers toward online and in-person office hours in STEM courses. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 21(4). https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.22-3-0048.
Li, L., & Pitts, J. P. (2009). Does it really matter? Using virtual office hours to enhance student-faculty interaction. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 175-185.
Office hours. Baylor university faculty handbook. https://provost.web.baylor.edu/faculty/faculty-handbook/faculty-responsibilities/teaching-and-related-responsibilities/office.
Smith, M., Chen, Y., Berndtson, R., Burson, K. M., & Griffin, W. (2017). “Office hours are kind of weird”: Reclaiming a resource to foster student-faculty interaction. InSight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 12(1), 14-29.
Trolian, T. L., Jach, E. A., Hanson, J. M., & Pascarella, E. T. (2016). Influencing academic motivation: The effects of student-faculty interaction. Journal of College Student Development, 57(7), 810-826. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2016.0080.
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