Designing Student Hours (aka: Office Hours) for Success
Student hours, or office hours, are a dedicated time during the week for students to ask questions or engage in discussion about course content with their faculty member, TA, or other learning assistant. Not only is it shown that students benefit academically from student hours, but it also helps instructors gain a deeper understanding of where their students are struggling. This can allow instructors to better address common misconceptions in class before students struggle on an assessment. It can also help instructors better clarify grading expectations for assignments based on the questions students ask. Overall, student hours not only help students achieve greater success, but they can also help instructors improve their overall course.
Recent guidance suggests rebranding traditional “office hours” as “student hours, help hours, open door hours, or tutoring” to help overcome students’ negative perceptions of traditional office hours (Joyce, 2017; Briody et al., 2019). Student hours can serve multiple functions, allowing for students to ask questions or engage in discussion about course content, assignments, and upcoming (or past) assessments. In this changing instructional climate, student hours can be offered in-person or online. However student hours occur, they are intended to build better student-faculty interactions. It’s been shown that student hour visits positively correlate with student academic success (Geurrero & Rod, 2013). So why don’t more students attend?! There are a number of reasons ranging from scheduling conflicts to fear of judgment (Geurrero & Rod, 2013, Abdul-Wahab et al., 2019). The following guide provides evidence and suggestions for how you can improve student attendance at student hours to your benefit as well as your students.
Small (but mighty) tips for successful student hours
- Introduce student hours/office hours at the beginning of your course. Being explicit at the beginning can help overcome student misconceptions (Geurrero & Rod, 2013).
- Personally invite students who are performing poorly. Some instructors may find it helpful to identify and contact students who are struggling in their course. Often these students are either a) unaware that they are struggling, or b) afraid to come to see the instructor out of fear of judgment. Approaching these students in a positive and constructive manner can help them know they will not be judged, and you want to see them succeed (Geurrero & Rod, 2013). Robertson and Smith, 2020, refer to this as ‘active inclusivity’ and provide some suggested framework for how to best achieve this.
- Giving consistent and frequent reminders. Reminding students weekly or bi-weekly of your student hours time can help keep these times at the forefront of their minds (Geurrero & Rod, 2013).
- Term rebranding: the term ‘office hours’ can sometimes bring a negative connotation with it. Some instructors may choose to rebrand their ‘office hours’ by calling them: student hours, open door hours, help hours, or tutoring. These rebranding terms can help redefine what the time can be used for, for both students and instructors (Joyce, 2017).
- Differing blocks of time. Some students may struggle with attending particular student hours time based on their schedule. Providing differing blocks of time can help instructors reach the students who may not otherwise be able to attend (Griffin, et al., 2014).
- Provide both in-person and online options. Both forms of student hours can have benefits to students. Providing students the flexibility to attend either in-person or online may increase the number of students who attend (Li & Pitts, 2009, Lowenthal et al., 2017).
- Move student hours out of your office and into a common area. Moving student hours to a common area can help this time feel more informal. It can also facilitate larger groups coming to seek help (Cafferty, 2021; Glynn-Adey, 2021).
- Offering drop-in student hours during some evenings and weekends can help increase student attendance (Joyce, 2017).
Different styles of providing student hours
There are a number of different ways you can provide time for your students, no matter what you choose to call it. What works for one instructor, may not work for another; and each style for student hours has benefits and challenges associated with it.
In-person open student hours
The most traditional style of student hours is ‘open student hours time’, or a block of time in the week when professors allow students to come to their office.
The benefits for this type of student hours include:
- access to all course-related materials/books should the need arise
- a location within an academic building
- the opportunity to talk informally with other faculty and students in your academic building between meetings.
The challenges can range from students’ perception of formality in coming to an instructor’s office, to an inability of students to find the office location.
In-person individual student meetings
One way some instructors allocate their student help time is by making meaningful one-on-one meetings with students. This enables students to come to discuss more personal challenges they’re having like concept knowledge gaps. In a group setting some students may be reluctant to bring up these challenges for fear of judgment by peers. These individual meetings can be created in Canvas through sign-up slots on your course’s Canvas calendar.
In-person group student meetings
In courses where assessment relies heavily on group projects, group student meetings may be of more benefit. This allows the instructor to gain a better understanding of where the entire group is in their project development, identify any group dynamic challenges, and speak with all group members at the same time.
In-person exam preparation student hours
Closer to exam time, some instructors may choose to hold open large-format student hours specifically for exam preparation. Depending on the size of the course, this can enable many students to meet at once to receive guidance from the instructor, and ask each other questions.
Online student hours
The styles of student hours outlined above can not only be utilized in-person but also successfully in an online environment. By using zoom, google chat, or another video conferencing tool, instructors can connect with students virtually. This mode, while sometimes lacking a personal connection, can still provide a great deal of help for both the instructor and student.
UD’s Information Technology Academic Technology Services (IT-ATS) provides a guide for how to set up online student hours via Zoom, and Canvas (Setting Up Online Student Hours). Used in concert with in-person student hours it can greatly enhance the number of students an instructor can accommodate (Li & Pitts, 2009, Lowenthal et al., 2017).
Preparation tools for students
One challenge many students (and therefore instructors) face is how to effectively prepare for student hours. Students may not know what questions to ask that will help them achieve the outcome they’re looking for. There are a number of strategies instructors can employ to help guide students to come prepared for student hours. Any of these strategies can be applied to in-person, online, individual, or group settings.
Describing what they know
- Having students write or describe what they know about a concept can help them identify what they don’t know (their knowledge gap).
- This strategy can be used in the moment during individual student hours when a student is struggling to think of questions.
- It can also be used in a group setting. Instructors can facilitate this by asking students to first individually write out what they know, then share with their group and identify any differences in the knowledge that’s identified.
- Having students draw out their understanding of a topic can also be of benefit.
- A concept map is a visual representation of interconnected concepts and can help relay complex systems or themes. The concept map can be used to identify misconceptions between concepts and foster conversation between students and instructors. In person, a concept map can be drawn by hand on paper, or on the board. In an online format, a concept map can be created through Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Google Drawing.
Outlining: Reading Guides and Learning Objectives
- A way to help students identify the main concepts they need to focus on while reading materials for the course
- These reading guides can be especially advantageous when it comes to student hours. Instructors can ask students to outline questions they still have about the concepts on their reading guides and bring them to student hours to help frame the discussion.
- Instructors can ask students to identify/gather and categorize the different learning objectives taught in a specific module. Having students physically identify and categorize the learning objectives helps students to see where they may have questions or difficulties. Instructors can then ask students to identify areas of the content where they specifically have questions and focus their attention there.
Template Grade Discrepancy Discussion sheet
Grade discrepancies can be a touchy and uncomfortable discussion for both students and instructors. Having a guide to help students discuss their thoughts in a professional manner can help guide the conversation.
Typically the guide can include:
- what assignment students are referring to
- specific details about the assignment they’d like to address
- the rationale for why they’d like to discuss a grade change for a particular part of the assignment.
Other aspects can be included depending on the complexity of the assignment, but these basics help students rationalize why they’d like to see a different grade. Instructors can ask students to provide this written document before a one-on-one meeting, giving the instructor time to understand the student’s request and review the assignment in question.
Are guidelines for student hours necessary?
In some cases, instructors may want to stay away from boundaries around student hours so students feel comfortable to come to them about anything. However, there are instances where boundaries may be appropriate and help the instructor provide better guidance for students. In the end, these possible ‘guidelines’ can help instructors avoid frustrations and communication challenges.
"Due Dates" for requesting assignment feedback
On larger assignments, it may be worth it to set some boundaries on when students can contact you with questions or requests for feedback. Generally speaking, if it’s going to take you some time to respond, it’s fair to ask the student to give you a minimum amount of time to review and respond.
Be explicit with what type of feedback you’ll provide
Being explicit with students on the type of feedback you’re willing to give on a specific assignment can save you time and headaches. Even informing students why you’re being specific can help them understand the kind of help you’re willing to provide. If you won’t ‘pre-grade’ an assignment before they turn it in, let them know.
Preferred mode of communication
Letting students know what types of questions or discussions should be had ‘in-person’ (or zoom) versus email can help with communication. If you would like students to email you specific questions about homework assignments, but come see you for questions on exam problems, let them know! The more explicit you can be with your preferred mode of communication the better.
- Guerrero, M., & Rod, A. B. (2013). Engaging in Office Hours: A Study of Student-Faculty Interaction and Academic Performance. Journal of Political Science Education, 9, 403-416. DOI: 10.1080/15512169.2013.835554
- Abdul-Wahab, S. A., Salem, N. M., Yetilmezsoy, K., Fadlallah, S. O. (2019). Students’ Reluctance to Attend Office Hours: Reasons and Suggested Solutions. Journal of Educational and Psychological Studies, 13(4), 715-732. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24200/jeps.vol13iss4pp715-732
- Broidy, E. K., Wirtz, E., Goldenstein, A., Berger, E. J., (2019). Breaking the tyranny of office hours: Overcoming professor avoidance. European Journal of Engineering Education, 44, 666-687. DOI: 10.1080/03043797.2019.1592116
- Cafferty, P. (2021). Taking the Office Hour Out of the Office. Journal of College Science Teaching, 50, 3-7.
- Glynn-Adey, P. (2021). Public Space Office Hours. College Teaching, 69(3), 180-181. DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2020.1845599
- Joyce, A. (2017). Framing Office Hours as Tutoring. College Teaching, 65(2), 92-93. http://dxdoi.org/10.1080/87567555.2016.1189393
- Griffin, W., Cohen, S. D., Berndtson, R., 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, 69, 94-99. DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2014.896777
- Li, L., & Pitts, J. (2009) Does It Really Matter? Using Virtual Office Hours to Enhance Student-Faculty Interaction. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 175-185. https://aisel.aisnet.org/jise/vol20/iss2/7
- Lowenthal, P. R., Dunlap, J. C., Snelson, C. (2017) Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning, 21(4), 177-194.
- Robertson, K., Smith, T. (2020) For Those Who Need it Most: Using Active Inclusivity to Increase Office Hour Attendance and Extracurricular Activities. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/equality-inclusion-and-diversity/for-those-who-need-it-most-using-active-inclusivity-to-increase-office-hour-attendance-and-extracurricular-activities/ (accessed 10/4/21).