Course Planning for Spring 2024: A Mandatory Office Hour Visit

On a recent episode of Teaching in Higher Education, “The Ones Too Often Left Behind”, Todd Zakrajsek, PhD, author of many pedagogy books, spoke about his journey uncovering the many different obstacles and challenges students encounter in their learning that make succeeding in class – not because of lack of trying – harder than their peers.

Having taught at various types of higher education institutions, this resonated with me immensely. None of us are omniscient and all-powerful to anticipate all the things, and so when trying our hardest we still encounter each year plenty of unknown unknowns about our students, their lives, and their learning. Here is another attempt of mine to adjust my syllabus accordingly.

This past week, my campus had its finals week, including one review day on which I decided to offer an additional office hour session, providing my students one last opportunity to check in with me face-to-face regarding the final paper that was due at the end of this week. I had a steady flow of students coming and going.  But I realized after that they were my steady “customers”, who had come in frequently throughout the semester. Approximating, I would say they account for maybe 20 – 25% of my students. Where have three quarters of mine students been this semester?

The benefits of office hours are much talked about (see for instance: Academic Success Tip: Rebrand Office Hours; Do Your Students Know What Office Hours Are For?; and our own Why does no one come and talk to me anymore? And From formative feedback to assessment outcomes ) . So, for next semester, as part of their participation grade, all my students must come to my office hours at least once (or schedule a separate check-in session if our schedules collide). Modeling this on what a professor did for one of my grad classes, I recall clearly this professor’s explanation for making it mandatory for us at the time as well. The goal was to overcome the barrier of anonymity between students and professors, reintroducing the purpose of office hours as a social network building tool that can do more than just explain an assignment or that admonishes for some sort of behavior.

My 20 – 25% seemingly get it (and need it). Most come with concrete questions, but a lot of them also like to chat. This builds better relationships between us and strengthens our learning environment. This does not have to just stay contained to the confines of our classroom: students have asked for letters of recommendation, graduate school advice, general learning tips and tools, or they just wanted to chat about current events.

The majority, though, is MIA. There are many reasons for that, right? They are busy with other classes/responsibilities; they don’t need it; they don’t think they need it. And yet, and hopefully, I am not projecting too much, they might also just not know what it is or be embarrassed about coming by and asking “stupid” questions. I have encountered amongst my students a lot of fear of failure or embarrassment from having to ask for help – particularly in this semester. It is stifling and can cause way too many problems down the line. My one mandatory office hour visit is for now an attempt to catch those with challenges in my class that I am not able to catch/see in our class sessions.

Has anybody else revamped their approach to office hours in their teaching? How has it gone for you?

One Reply to “Course Planning for Spring 2024: A Mandatory Office Hour Visit”

  1. This really resonates, Jennifer! I did a small qualitative project with students in my Faculty over last summer and one student mentioned that they had a timetabled, compulsory office hour slot with a tutor in their first year to go over feedback for an assessment. The student said: ‘I thought it would be completely useless? What can you achieve in 15 minutes? It turned out to be the most useful 15 minutes in my whole degree.’

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