Category Archives: 2. Featured Articles

Virtual Office Hours—A Win-Win

We recently wrote about ways to encourage students to take advantage of office hours. But it’s a reality that many simply cannot get to instructors’ spaces during scheduled times. That’s why virtual office hours can be a great way to reach students while giving faculty more flexibility.

Moving to an online version of the traditional face-to-face student-instructor meeting has other benefits. Instructors can cut down on replying to multiple e-mails on a similar topic, work from home, and set times advantageous to both parties. For students, virtual office hours can be especially attractive for a number of reasons:

  • Anonymity can encourage even quiet or shy students to participate freely.
  • Archives of discussions let all students reap the benefits of what was said and provide the opportunity to review the material at any time.
  • Chats or forumsallow students pop in on a discussion and leave when they learn what they came for.
  • Attendance during virtual office hours may facilitate reaching more students, especially those who work.

Instructors who successfully employ virtual office hours recommend a combination of both in-person office hours on campus for students who prefer the traditional one-on-one sessions and virtual office hours held at specific times set by the instructor. Experienced users of virtual office hours suggest establishing clear times of online availability and policies dictating what students can expect during virtual office hours, such as the timeframe within which the instructor will answer questions.

Another piece of advice is to anticipate times of high need (often before an assignment is due or an exam will be given) and to prepare a short, videotaped lecture or slides to address common questions. Finally, old hands urge new adopters to select easy-to-use technology. Many schools offer such tools through course management systems such as Canvas or Moodle.

Online availability can prod even the most reticent students to reap the knowledge instructors have and want to share. It’s worth a try!

Do you conduct virtual office hours? What’s that been like? Start a conversation!

Seven Tips for Getting Students to Read

Have you ever begun a class discussion or lecture assuming your students have completed the assigned reading—which you’ve selected after painstakingly designing your course and syllabus—only to be faced with vacant stares that can only mean the group has no idea what you’re talking about? If so, you’re not alone. According to Chronicle Vitae columnist David Gooblar, up to 70 percent of students attend class without having done the assigned readings.

When students skip this work, they miss out on a critical building block to their learning and retention of course materials. Below are some tips to help you gain student buy-in so they complete this essential aspect of your business communication course.

  1. “Sell” the importance of readings. Explain early in the semester that reading selections include information students need to absorb before your lecture so they can understand what you’re discussing. Tell students that readings include perspectives, information, and insights you cannot possibly address in your short time together in class but that those elements are integral to their understanding of the subject matter. Remind your class that when they don’t study the strategies of business communication, they won’t successfully complete the documents they will be asked to write, in class and on the job.
  2. Offer credit for reading. Assign a minimal amount of credit for completing readings using any of the strategies listed in the points below. Not all students will respond to this inducement, but many will want to take the opportunity to boost their grades.
  3. Begin class with small group discussions of readings. Prepare questions for students to discuss before your lecture. You can check off participation by walking the room.
  4. Assign reading notes or journals. Require students to take whatever type of notes are most meaningful to them: summary paragraphs, outlines, graphic or word trees, and the like. Similarly, journal entries about how students relate to the reading (or how they perceive the information about business communication will shape their future careers) can be thought-provoking and stimulating. Collect in each class session or at the end of the term.
  5. Give quizzes.Whether planned or pop, quizzes can act as a not-so-gentle reminder that doing the reading is part of a student’s grade in your course. The downside is that students can see this approach as punitive.
  6. Don’t rehash information. If students see that you will cover the material in the readings in class, they have no reason to do them.
  7. Prepare reading response worksheets. Have students answer questions about main points you want them to take away from the reading. Likewise, ask them to respond to discussion questions you want them to think about. Consider drafting prompts that allow students to write about the purpose they perceive behind the assigned reading. You can initial each set of questions as students enter class daily and collect all the completed question sheets toward the end of the term.
  8. Require only necessary readings. If students see the readings are redundant or too vast to complete in a reasonable amount of time, they will simply not attempt them. Be honest with yourself when assigning readings and keep only those you consider essential.

If students see you take their reading seriously, there’s a better chance they will, too!

  1. How do you encourage your students to do their reading? Start a conversation.



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