Encouraging Students to Use Office Hours

Do you find yourself sitting alone during office hours, waiting for a taker to show up? Or perhaps your students visit in desperation the day an assignment is due, leaving no time to thoughtfully revise before turning in their work?

Encouraging students to take advantage of your expertise during office hours can be one of the best ways to help them learn. But how to get them through your door?

Experts offer a handful of strategies that can help. First, reach out to new and first-generation students who may not be comfortable asking for help instead of waiting for them to come to you. In the office, create a space conducive to private conversations, where “dumb” questions cannot be heard by others. You might even keep a bowl of candy on your desk to “sweeten” the experience.

Likewise, initiate discussions about assignments casually. Research shows that starting informal conversations with students before and after class can lead to productive sessions in your office later.  And while it may sound obvious, make it easy for your students to attend your office hours by holding them at times students can actually get there. Finally, some research supports keeping office hours in neutral spaces such as the library or an on-campus coffee shop as an alternative to the more formal office, especially in cases where instructors must share office space.

It’s also beneficial to discuss the value of one-on-one help with your students during class from time to time to remind them you’re available and willing to help.

The tips below can help make your office hours less lonely for you and more helpful for your students.

Publicize office hour times. List your availability on the syllabus and on the board early in the term. Post times for extra office hours when you expect more students will require help.

Create a friendly classroom space.Starting early on in the term, make yourself approachable so students feel comfortable making the effort to visit your office.

Consider one mandatory office visit per student.If done early in the semester, this initial visit will encourage future meetings.

Schedule individual meetings for important assignments.Mandatory one-on-one meetings can be the best way for students to gain from your insights. If you can schedule these during class time, better yet. Some instructors cancel class and have set appointments with students. Others hold these one-on-one sessions in the classroom while other students work individually or in groups.

Make office visits productive.Instruct students what they should have ready for your meeting, and don’t be afraid to end the session if a student comes unprepared.

Be gentle when identifying errors.Students visiting your office for help are probably already feeling insecure. While you must point out errors, try to find something the student did well, too, to encourage return visits.

Finally, consider circulating a handout such as the one below that explains the reasons for making use of office hours. We’ve created a PDF you can download at the end of the post.

A Student’s Guide to Making the Most of Instructors’ Office Hours

 Instructors want you to learn—that’s why they hold office hours. Remember that even if it feels intimidating to seek your professor’s input, getting one-on-one assistance helps you make the most of your education. Follow these guidelines when visiting your instructor’s office hours.

 Visit early in the writing process. Come before you feel the pressure of a deadline. Doing so will give you the time to make the revisions your instructor suggests.

 Come prepared. Have your work out and ready so you don’t waste time digging into your backpack or firing up your laptop. Your instructor is happy to help you but will not appreciate your coming unprepared.

 Ask specific questions. If you are coming before an assignment is due, think through what you want input on. And remember office hours are learning opportunities, not a time for your instructor to edit your work.

 Initiate the conversation. It’s your meeting. Start it off with your reason for coming.

 Take notes. Jot down pointers your instructor offers. That way you won’t have to rely on your memory to make use of the advice you sought.

 Obtain clarification. If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor to rephrase it or explain it another way.

 Use your best manners. Be polite and thank your instructor for his or her help. Professors are people, too, and such niceties are good business etiquette.

A Student’s Guide to Making the Most of Instructors’ Office Hours



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