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Two Tips to Increase Students’ Use of Office Hours

I once heard a colleague explain that their office hours were intentionally scheduled from 8 am to 10 am because students are still asleep. The professor laughed, but I cringed. That thought process is so far from my teaching philosophy, which is dedicated to developing and supporting students, that the intentionality of the comment prompted me to reflect on my own process for scheduling office hours.

At the beginning of each semester, I review my teaching assignments and then create a balanced schedule based on course days and times, various committee and departmental meetings, services, and office hours. For several years, like many of my colleagues (maybe even you), I selected office hours based on my schedule.

Being available to students—especially first year students transitioning to college, first generation college students, and minority students—has been shown to increase retention, student satisfaction, engagement, a sense of belonging, and overall academic performance (Bowen, 2012; Kim & Lundberg, 2016; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, & Witt, 2010; Dika 2012).

Empty Office Hours

Historically, office hours were implemented as a response to good practices in higher education’s findings. “Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement” (Chickering & Gamson, 1986, p. 3). This is only true if students utilize office hours. Many faculty report empty offices during their designated office hours (Griffin, Cohen, Berndtson, Burson, Camper, Chen, & Smith, 2014). This could be because today’s millennial students would rather send an email than step into a professor’s office (Bowen, 2012; Rees, 2014) or possibly because faculty do not explain the purpose of office hours on their syllabus (Gannon, 2014).

The percentage of students who attend office hours has declined drastically over the past several years. In a 2014 study, Griffin et. al found two-thirds of students self-reported never using office hours. Interestingly, they discovered students who perceive office hours to be more convenient are more likely to attend. If we know student-faculty contact is important then we need to find a way to meet students’ needs even if the landscape has changed. It continues to be the faculty’s responsibility to be accessible to students.

Virtual Offices

Since I moved into higher education in 2012, I’ve always utilized a texting service as a mechanism to meet students where they are—on their devices.  I’ve also offered virtual office hours. Virtual office hours can occur through a video conferencing platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts and can be at any time but (for me) typically occur during the later evening hours.

Virtual office hours can benefit any student but are particularly helpful for student athletes, students with families, and those who hold jobs (Bowen, 2012). Faculty should consider defining specific virtual office hours for work-life balance (Tucker, 2016). I felt my approach was fairly cutting edge and proactive as I was seeking ways to be accessible and available to students. Positive results were also confirmed through student feedback on my course evaluations. I felt like I was winning!

However, for several semesters, my students requested appointments outside of my scheduled office hours or popped in unannounced. I had no problem with these meetings because I have the strong desire to support my students. It was a balancing act for sure, but as long as I knew in advance that they were coming, and didn’t have another obligation at that time, it usually worked out. I quickly realized, though, my time for scholarship and course development was being crunched due to student scheduled appointments and unannounced visits. I was not able to dedicate the time necessary to my other professional obligations.

Eureka! Scheduling Design

Similar to Griffin et al. (2014), I noticed very few students were coming to my office hours (and my office hours weren’t even at 8 am). It was then I realized my approach to scheduling did not align with my teaching philosophy. So, I asked my students, “Why aren’t you coming to the scheduled office hours?” Their answer was simple—we have class at that time. Eureka! I thought to myself if the original intent and purpose of office hours is to offer student-faculty time to support students, then I need to get students involved.  All I have to do is offer office hours when my students can attend. It was an obvious solution but one that I had never considered. Have you?

Here is what I did: It was already halfway through the semester, but I requested that my students document their academic schedule from 8 am to 5 pm. I cross-examined their schedule with my teaching load to ensure every student was able to attend at least one scheduled office hour each week if needed. I’ve implemented this strategy for three semesters and my students are genuinely shocked that I consider their schedules to design my schedule. I use this shock as an opportunity to explain my teaching philosophy to them and the importance of office hours. I’ll be honest, this type of scheduling can be a bit of a logistical puzzle, but so far it has worked out, and I still hold the required number of office hours recommended by my institution (not more).

Online Scheduler

Another mechanism I started to employ is the use of a free online scheduler. Little research is available on the use of these platforms in higher education. However, food service, retail, and even medical fields have been using online scheduling with much success. I use YouCanBookMe, but there are several other services available. I encourage you to review several options and select the platform that matches your needs. Each semester after my office hours are determined, I plug them into the YouCanBookMe program based on twenty-minute increments, and I then sync my preferences on YouCanBookMe to my Google calendar. Students have the opportunity to sign up for a twenty-minute slot within my selected office hour and virtual office hours dates and times at their own leisure.

Because of this platform, I rarely need to schedule appointments with my students. This is a huge time saver for all parties involved. When a student signs up, they select their time slot and indicate the purpose of the meeting. I am automatically notified via email and able to better prepare in advance for the students’ specific needs by pulling resources or reviewing their assignment submissions.  Calendar sync has been critical to my success—I live by my electronic calendar. Be sure if you have a schedule change such as an out of town conference presentation you add it to your calendar as soon as possible so students do not sign up when you are not there. I would also recommend not allowing students to sign up within 48 hours of the appointment. This helps you to know your schedule and encourages students to prepare in advance. I would not recommend opening your entire schedule to appointments either. 

Using an online scheduler can help faculty to support students, but as a teacher, we also want to make sure students know that we are not a 24/7 drive thru location. Students have self-reported they appreciate the sign-up process as they don’t have to wait outside my office unnecessarily, and they also know I am going to be ready for them.

The result of implementing these two tips has encouraged my students to utilize my office hours.

Jennie M. Carr, PhD, is the associate professor of Education, Elementary Education Program Coordinator at Bridgewater College. Carr has served on the AILACTE Executive Committee since 2015 as the South Regional Representative. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) since 2018.

References

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gannon, K. (2016, October 28). What goes into a syllabus? Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A40. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.bceagles.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=119123446&site=ehost-live

Griffin, W., Cohen, S. D., Berndtson, R. Burson, K. M., Camper, K. M, Chen, Y. & Smith, M. A.. (2014). “Starting the Conversation: An Exploratory Study of Factors that Influence Student Office Hour Use.” College Teaching. 62 (3): 94–9.

Kim, Y., & Lundberg, C. (2016). A Structural Model of the Relationship Between Student-Faculty Interaction and Cognitive Skills Development Among College Students. Research in Higher Education, 57(3), 288–309. https://doi-org.bceagles.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s11162-015-9387-6

Kuh, G., J. Kinzie, J. Schuh, & Whitt, E. (2010). Student Success in College: Creating Conditions that Matter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass

Nadler, M. K. & Nadler, L.B. (2000) “Out of Class Communication Between Faculty and Students: A Faculty Perspective”. Communication Studies. 51 (2): 176–88.

Rees, J. (2014, June 20). Office hours are obsolete. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A38. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.bceagles.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=96699630&site=ehost-live

Tucker, C. (2016). Five Tips for Avoiding Technology Overload. Educational Leadership, 73(8), 89–90. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=115591958&site=ehost-live