What To Do About Office Hours (Part 3)

This is the third part in a three-part series on office hours. Catch up on part one and two now and sign up for our newsletter, so you don't miss more blog series like this one!

In the first part of this series, we did a little time traveling to think about our student experiences with office hours. Our goal was to use our reflections to help us to rethink and refresh our approach to office hours for our own students. In this part of the series, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the design of office hours by using the ADDIE Approach to course design. In this final part, we're going to put theory into practice and talk about strategies for rethinking and refreshing your approach to office hours.

Let's talk about ten ways you can design more effective (and efficient!) office hours that will encourage students to use the most valuable resource in the classroom--you!

Demystify them. For many students, office hours might be a completely new concept. And even if it’s not a new concept, they’ve never heard your explanation of it. Remember to explain the concept of office hours in general, talk about what they mean to you, provide some suggestions on how they may use this time, and of course, encourage them to come. You may be their first instructor ever or the only one to give them a holistic sense of how to best utilize this support in all of their classes. In addition to these first conversations about office hours, remember this is ongoing support in your class and should be talked about frequently throughout the semester.

Rename them. The old saying here is most certainly true: words are power. The term "office hours" often doesn't connect with our students in the way we might think it does. Some students may misread this term as the time that you are in your office and should not be disturbed. Other students may view them as punitive based on their previous educational experiences of having to be “sent” to someone’s office. Instead, try something like student hours where the emphasis is on them. Depending on your course, you may also decide to call them conversation hours or feedback hours. Not only are these names more welcoming than “office hours," but they also give students a clear sense of how they can use this time.

Make them accessible. It’s hard for students to take advantage of the opportunities that office hours provide if the hours themselves are not accessible. Before setting a time for office hours, you may want to briefly survey students to find out when they are most available so that you’re not setting your office hours at a time that makes it impossible for most students to attend them. Another thing to consider is office accessibility. For physical office hours, you may want to think about providing a map or a description of where your office can be found in your syllabus and note any accommodations (parking, elevators, ramps) that are available. For virtual office hours, in particular, provide a brief walk-through video of how to access the virtual space.

Leverage the digital. We all know it’s important to meet students where they are and often where they are is a digital space. No matter the platform you teach on you can leverage digital and virtual spaces so that you can be even more accessible to your students. Use video conferencing software so that students can pop into your office no matter where they happen to be. This is particularly important for students who may have tight schedules due to work or family obligations or simply may be at another part of campus and can’t make it to your physical office location with enough time to make it valuable.

Send reminders. We all are in the habit of putting office hours on our calendars, it’s unlikely that our students are putting all of their professors' office hours on their calendars every day. So setting up just-in-time reminders can help students remember when your office hours are and maybe even give them a little nudge to come. These can be automated emails that you set up at the beginning of the semester that our time to go out 10 to 15 minutes before your office hours are set to start. Or at the beginning of the semester, you can send out your office hours as calendar appointments that have the alerts already set.

Schedule them in. In addition to reminders, you should add office hours to your class calendar. This may be a class calendar in the learning management system or it may simply be the class schedule that you create in your syllabus. Adding them to the class schedule also elevates the importance that they are to you and to your class and it helps students to also see them alongside other important things in your class calendar like due dates and deadlines.

Break the ice. Let’s face it, going to someone’s office for the first time can be difficult and awkward. To help students to cross this threshold for the first time, create a first week activity that requires them to come to your office. This should be a very low stakes positive assignment that allows you to connect with your students individually or as a group. This activity might be something as simple as bringing a list of questions with them, setting up their learning goals for the semester, or turning in the first assignment. The key to all these activities is simply that they meet with you in your office and have that opportunity to connect.

Encourage the buddy system. Another way to reduce the awkwardness of office hours is to encourage group office hours. That way students can bring a friend from the class and not feel quite as intimidated to cross your threshold. This can also be a great way to increase your effectiveness and efficiency when it comes to giving feedback and providing additional support.

Incentivize support. Another way to encourage students to come to office hours is to make an alternative to an assessment. You can give students the option of submitting a response in text, audio, video, or in-person. Students wishing to respond in-person can do so during your office hours. The in-person alternative may be less formal than the others to further incentivize them to come. Another approach would be to allow students to use office hours to make up work or to increase their score on a previous assessment by going over it with them and talking through some of the questions and answers.

Use word of mouth. One of the easiest ways to encourage students to come to office hours is by hearing about positive experiences from their peers. If a student comes to office hours and finds it valuable, they will encourage (and sometimes bring!) others. Keep office hours informal, prioritize conversation, and embrace fun. For virtual hours, in particular, play music while you wait, use fun or meaningful virtual backgrounds, and share the screen with a pet or two.

If you're finding that your office hour refresh still isn't getting students past the threshold, remember that the best way to find out what is working and what isn't is just to ask! Students will appreciate that you're asking for their feedback and will also see that you're sincere in wanting to support them.

Have suggestions you'd like to share? Tag us on social media or leave them in the comments!

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