Importance of Office Hours

Professors talk a good deal about office hours, mainly as one more requirement they have put upon them by administrators.  Several years ago, we had a campus debate about them, as the faculty had pushed to have them lowered from 10 to 6.  The argument centered around the changes in technology, as they (I wasn’t here the year the change happened) pointed out that more students email than actually come see us in person.  A few years later, a faculty member pushed to raise that number (he didn’t win a lot of friends), and the number ultimately ended up at 8.

What’s interesting is that, during that debate, we were asked to calculate how many hours we were actually in our offices.  Most of our faculty hit double digits, and there were some of us who were above twenty.  Thus, the debate, at least in the faculty’s mind, turned into a discussion about whether or not we needed to have required office hours at all, as those people who want to do the minimum always will, while most of us will go beyond that because we want to help the students.

That brings me to a blog post I wrote this week that talks about the importance of office hours and getting students to our offices.  In a blog post from The Chronicle, David Goobler looks at research from a couple of articles.  My favorite is from a 2013 study in the Journal of Political Science Education.  The authors, Guerrero and Rod, write that students who didn’t visit a professor’s office at least once could expect to finish with an 82, while students who visited more than five times during a semester could expect, on average, an A.

Now, Goobler points out that lack of causality here, as would I.  There’s no guarantee that simply showing up at a professor’s office seven times during a semester would lead to a student’s getting an A.  We’ve all had students who have darkened our door on a weekly basis, yet failed to pass the class.  We’ve also all had students who never came to our office, never even spoke to us, earn the highest grade in a class.

However, most of the time, those students who come to our offices during a semester do better than they would have done if they didn’t come to the office.  We have students who need to talk through paper topics, who don’t understand a particular set of homework problems, who just aren’t understanding some basic concepts, or who just need affirmation that they’re on the right track with some aspect of the class.  Even the best students can benefit from talking through parts of the class with us.  There is no way it hurts students to come to our offices.

However, they seldom come.  They don’t think they need to talk to us, even if they’re struggling, but especially if they’re not.  If they’re making the grade that satisfies them, then they’re not going to come see us, and we’re not going to suggest they do.  Perhaps we should.  When I taught an introductory class to the major several years ago, I required students to meet with me about their first paper.  That paper was the easiest assignment, and they really didn’t need to talk with me about it.  I really just wanted to get to know a bit about them, why they were in the major, specifically, and what they hoped to do with a degree in English.  It helped me get to know them early in the semester, and it also forced them to learn where my office was, should they ever feel they needed to come see me.

I’m not sure I’m ready to go with required office hours, especially for all of my classes, but I’m curious now if I shouldn’t do something similar, especially in first-year writing classes, where students are more likely to need my help before they get behind.  It would take a few hours in one of the first weeks of the semester, but the time invested just might be worth it.


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