Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Are Face-to-Face Office Hours Dead?

The age of quick and convenient communication is upon us.  One recent study conducted by CNN researchers found that more than one third of Americans prefer receiving text messages to phone calls.  Phone calls and face-to-face interaction have been on the decline in favor of the often more convenient email correspondence.
It’s no question that these societal changes have infiltrated the ways in which we handle out-of-class communication with students, and often times they help instructors answer questions quickly and efficiently from the comfort of their keyboard.  However, one writer and educator Margaret Sargent decided to put the concept of communication best practices to the test by surveying a diverse group of 33 students, and asking them to report on their perspectives, experiences, and preferences concerning out-of-class communication with instructors.  Surprisingly, most suggestions didn’t discuss the reliance on email, but instead dealt heavily with providing opportunities for face-to-face interaction.
Here are the top ten suggestions that students came up with, noting that they were among the most effective and productive for communicating with instructors, and encouraging out-of-class contact.
  1. Be there for office hours, keep scheduled appointments, and make time for students when they need additional help.
  2. Arrive to class early and stay after class, even if only for a few minutes.  This is the time when students with questions are most likely to ask them.
  3. Include an invitation in the syllabus to visit during office hours.  Give students a “by appointment” option, since your set office hours may conflict with their class or work schedules. 
  4. Tell students on the first day of class and regularly that you are available for extra help.  Let them know that you enjoy talking with students, particularly about the course, current research, and your discipline.
  5.  Regularly remind students what your office hours are, maybe even write them on the board during each class.  Say more times than you think necessary that you welcome questions, comments, and the chance to interact with students. 
  6. Use email in a way more than just to convey simple information.  In addition to prompt, brief responses, include a friendly opening and closing.  Students appreciate the time you take to address them in a friendly manner. 
  7. Work to learn students’ names, and make an effort to know them all towards the beginning of the semester.  Say hello to students when you see them around campus.  This acknowledgement doesn’t go unnoticed.
  8. Make your feedback specific on course projects, and provide opportunities for revisions prior to assigning a final grade on major assessments.  Tutorials or review sessions were also mentioned as helpful things for students to attend. 
  9. Schedule midterm consultations with each student.  Use these meetings to review the students’ progress in the course, talk about what they think is going well and what they would like to improve on, and set goals for the rest of the semester. 
  10. Consider providing an “emergency” contact to students.  This could be a home or cell phone number or some other means of communication that students know they will be able to reach you at during any time of the day.  Although most students will never use it, they appreciate this caring gesture and the accessibility it conveys.
Generally, students are looking for an accessible way to ask questions, clarify assignments, and work more closely with you during their time spent in the course.  As these suggestions prove, office hours aren't dead, and students still appreciate as much time that you can provide them to assist in achieving their academic goals. 

Adapted from: Magna Publications
Tip Provided By: Jessica Moser

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