March 10th, 2010

Going Beyond Office Hours to Improve Student Learning

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Two of the big buzzwords in higher education are “student engagement” and “teacher effectiveness.” One way to address these intertwined issues is to improve the quality of student-teacher interactions both inside and outside the classroom.

The research indicating interaction outside the classroom as key to promoting student academic success and personal growth is voluminous. I’d like to share with you how I’ve moved beyond office hours to create a more productive learning experience for my students.

Last year, I started meeting informally with small groups of students for one hour each week to review class content. In the beginning a handful of students showed up for this optional meeting, but by the end of the quarter, three quarters of the class met regularly each week outside of class.

I termed the time we met as “study hall.” I would ask the students to email me sample topics for study hall they were having trouble grasping. During weeks when the emails waned, we would work on additional case studies, critical thinking activities or we would discuss broader topics, such as time management skills, test taking anxiety, etc.

Some of the “rules” for study hall include remembering that if study hall is truly optional, then delving into new course content is not fair to those who choose not to attend. Additionally, I avoid inadvertently divulging tips about the upcoming quiz or exam. I also refuse to talk about the non-participating students with their peers.

I strive to be approachable while maintaining the professional teacher/student relationship. I expected frustrated students who were performing poorly in the class to show up to study hall wanting to gripe and complain. After allowing a little venting I would redirect the learning and move on. After the first couple of weeks, the complaints died down. In a couple instances, I had to direct a student who was spoiling study hall to meet with me during office hours, but for the most part students arrive at study hall ready to learn.

I conduct a brief study hall survey at the end of each quarter and the feedback has been positive. Excerpts from some of the comments include:

  • “less stress in study hall”
  • “helps to touch base and see what questions and concerns are out there”
  • “allows more time for questions and answers”
  • “seems like extra class time”
  • “another opportunity to be exposed to the material”
  • “like the class input and hearing how someone else remembers it”
  • “reinforces and highlights topics.”

Offering study hall one hour a week has positively influenced how students participate during class, too. They are more relaxed and comfortable with interactive activities. They know we can elaborate on their individual concerns in study hall. I can report that on the University evaluations under the “effectiveness of instructor” category, the students have identified study hall as helpful and comment that it’s something they’d like me to continue offering. I see study hall as a way to show our students we are on their side. Ultimately, study hall has resulted in an opportunity for reflection and development of interpersonal skills for the students and me.

Elizabeth Delaney, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, is an assistant professor of nursing at Ohio University Southern School of Nursing.