SIP 11.2 Demystifying Office Hours

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Close up of instructor pointing pencil at stack of papers.

Overheard on campus:

Student 1: I am so confused about this assignment. I don’t even understand what the professor is asking me to do.

Student 2: Maybe you should go talk to her during her office hours about the assignment.

Student 1: Oh, I don’t want to bother her.

This conversation illustrates how baffled students can be about exactly what office hours are for. While you are sitting in your office waiting for students with questions, they may be avoiding your office hours because they don’t want to bother you or they are embarrassed about not understanding something. Or perhaps you have a student who wants to come to office hours but their schedule precludes them from coming during those particular hours.

Take a SIP of this: demystifying office hours

It may be self-evident to faculty and some students that “being bothered” by students is what office hours are for, but many students, especially first-generation college students, students straight out of high school (where office hours typically don’t exist) and international students find office hours to be mysterious.  They are not sure what constitutes a good reason to go to office hours, what happens during office hours or even the logistics of how office hours work (do you need an appointment? Do you sit out in the hallway waiting to be called in? Are you supposed to bring anything?). Other students may understand what office hours are for but find that scheduled office hours don’t fit their schedules, as they dash from a job to class to another job.

Talking to professors during office hours is a powerful way for students to develop relationships with faculty, which is connected to improved retention (O’Keeffe 2013; Schreiner, Noel & Cantwell, 2011). Conversations during office hours can lead to opportunities for students, such as participating in undergraduate research (see SIP 8.10 for more on undergraduate research) or being a student representative on a committee.

There are some simple steps you can take to help demystify office hours:

  1. In addition to listing your office hours in your syllabus, include a note about the reasons students might come by during your office hours. You might have a statement like, “I welcome you to come to my office hours to talk about any aspect of the class, including assignments and lectures, that you want clarification on or simply more discussion.”
  2. Have an assignment, either required or for extra credit, that depends on students coming to your office hours. For example, you could ask students to come by during the first two weeks of the semester for a brief conversation with you about their goals in the course.
  3. The first time a student comes to your office hours, regardless of the reason, welcome them warmly and praise them for self-advocating.
  4. Consider having virtual office hours so you can be available to students who aren’t able to be on campus during your office hours. You can do this using Zoom, Skype, an instant-messaging platform or FaceTime. See SIP 3.14 for more ideas on expanding your office-hours offerings.
  5. Include references to conversations had during office hours in your lectures to help students understand the variety of issues that can be addressed during office hours.

 Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: demystifying office hours

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