February 18th, 2010

Office Hours and Participation


Kiren Dosanjh Zucker makes a great suggestion in an article on office hours we’re publishing in the March issue of the newsletter. She says that if you grade participation, you might consider letting students “participate” by coming to see you during office hours.

I think that’s such a good idea. It encourages the use of office hours. It offers a different way to participate—one that might help students who want to participate in class but still find doing so very anxiety provoking. An office visit gives them a chance to safely test the waters. Both instructor and student interact face-to-face and come to know each other a bit better. It gives the instructor the opportunity to encourage the student to participate in class by speaking about participation directly or by positively responding to the student’s ideas and insights.

Dosanjh Zucker does advocate giving students some guidance as to appropriate discussion topics for those office visit that “count” as participation. She doesn’t think students should get credit for visits focused on grade issues or assignment details. She recommends having them come to the office prepared to share an experience relevant to what’s been discussed in class or assigned in the reading. Or, the student could discuss one of their opinions that has been confirmed or challenged by course content. Or, the student might bring something they’ve read or heard in the news that relates to topics currently under consideration in class. I like how these suggestions put the onus on students to contribute to the conversation. Of course, they may ask questions, but they don’t get credit for asking the instructor to re-explain something as they sit there saying nothing. These conversations mainly focus on what students are thinking.

You might need to consider how much an office visit will “count” in the participation calculation, whether a student gets full credit for showing up or if the exchange is somehow evaluated. Does only one visit count or may they show up multiple times for participation credit? It might also be useful to make this an option early in the course and use it as a way to get to know students and convey the seriousness of your commitment to interaction. Or maybe it happens sometime during the course as a way of encouraging those students who aren’t speaking in class but would still like some participation credit.