Friday, February 1, 2013

A Friday Thirsty on Office Hours.

I am so fucking fed up with office hours. I'm required to have a certain number of hours. I started keeping track (roughly) of the actual amount of time I was engaging with students in any way - even if just to talk about Lady Gaga.

Last semester, I was totally alone, doing Facebook, watching Hulu, grading papers, or staring into the abyss for more than 90% of my hours.

This semester, though it's only 3 weeks in, I haven't seen a soul - and I've encouraged folks to come early in the term to discuss an early and difficult project.

I used to get more visitors, but in the time since email (roughly), nearly all of my interaction is through that avenue. And I see students before and after class. "Come  to my office," I say, when a line forms after class. And somehow they disappear.

Q: How successful are you with office hours? Are you required to keep them? What tricks do you use to make sure they're not just a dead spot in your day?

29 comments:

  1. I am required to keep them. I see one or two students a week at the very most, at least until the panic before finals. I bring other work to do at my desk.

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  2. I'll tell you this, and I recommend it for everyone: my department just this year switched from office hours to online hours. We have to do twice as many (four per week), but they are hours during which we are online and open to discuss things with students.

    We can choose whether to hold one or more of those hours in our office, but what most of us do is be on the university IM system for the four hours and then make in-face appointments as needed.

    It has made me SOOOO much more productive.

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    1. I like this idea a lot, but I'm curious: what happens at busy times when you have multiple students IMing you? And what if a student has a private concern and wants to phone you at that time? Do you have to stay available to other students on the IM system while you talk to that one student?

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    2. Honestly, this has barely come up. I usually have empty hours, then a student, maybe two at a time. When it does, though, I find it's really easy to check in with multiple students while the others are typing out questions or rethinking exactly what they want to say. And if you wait a minute to reply, they just think you're thinking about their question, or typing and proof-reading a response.

      As for phone conversations, absolutely not. I never talk to students on the phone. I can't imagine any "private concern" that would require an off-the-record conversation.

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  3. I've had some luck with holding them in the evening so they don't conflict with classes. I'll have 1-6 in the evenings compared to 0-2 in my daytime hours.

    However... this means I'm on campus late. Which bites.

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    1. You are a saint. I hope someone notices that you're going WAY out of your way to serve students.

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  4. Students don't show up to your office hours? I don't see the problem...

    I used to schedule office hours in the early hours (8-10) to specifically discourage students from visiting. It worked wonderfully.

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    1. I'll say this for office hours: I got most conference papers and journal articles written while waiting for students who never showed up.

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    2. Exactly. No one shows up = book finished!

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  5. I'm actually with CIT. I mean, don't get me wrong--I don't mind if a student or two pop by unexpectedly during office hour time if they want to talk about something involving their coursework or research--but I certainly don't mind having an hour twice a week in which I'm forced to sit in my office and either do other work or twiddle my thumbs when they don't. It's wonderful quiet downtime. I'd probably secretly resent it if I did have students lining up at the door for the entire time every week.

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  6. 1. Cal, I don't care which day of the week we get the fucking thirsty.

    2. Yes, I'm required to keep four office hours per week, and often I use them to eat a late lunch at my desk, grade papers, deal with email, or update my PowerPoints and Prezis. When students don't visit (about half the time), office hours aren't a "dead spot" but a much-appreciated respite in my day.

    The busiest times (of course) are right before deadlines and right after exams. But one or two students usually visit in the first two weeks of class, either to suck up, to try to add, or to ask for advice about transfers (I'm at a CC) and careers. The latter may be a form of sucking up, but at least they're showing an interest.

    As for "tricks", I try to address their fear of the unknown and give them reasons why office hours will help them:

    -- Verbal and written offers to help with assignments and look them over before deadlines (remember, this is CC and my students often are the first in their families to even attempt college). I repeat this for major assignments and run through some sample dialogs in class. "If you bring me a typed, double-spaced draft, I can look it over and say 'Yep, you're on the right track,' or 'You're tackling too much here, so edit this part down and add some more to this other part,' or 'This isn't what the assignment is about, so you need to start over.' If you bring me scribbled notes or come in the day before it's due, I won't be able to help you much. If you don't visit, I can't help you at all because this doesn't work by email."

    -- Private notes on graded assignments to my Asian students who have an accent. "First name, please visit me at an office hour for help. In the U.S., this is a sign of respect for the professor." A Chinese student last semester told me this was the key to her understanding American professors' office hours.

    {You said: And I see students before and after class. "Come to my office," I say, when a line forms after class. And somehow they disappear.}

    Yeah, this frustrates me too. But Rebekah Nathan explained it in her book "My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student" (BTW, a very interesting ethnography of the Freshman Experience). Students often try to block all their classes together so they have reasonable blocks of time for their jobs. They don't schedule time for faculty office hours, and don't get that we have limited time between classes just like they do.

    Now I figure, if I spend 3/4 of my office hour answering student email, well, that fits my schedule as well as theirs. It's not nearly as useful as an in-person conversation, but it's better than nothing.

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  7. My system requires two office hours per course taught. With permission, we can do half our hours online, but they want us on campus so they can see us. Because you know, seeing us with our butts in a seat grading papers proves to them that we are actually doing something, and we would never grade papers if left to our own devices to do so anywhere other than within 20 yards of an administrator. Supposedly all these students are going to show up and need advising, but so far this term I have not advised any. I had two show up for that purpose last semester.

    My online hours are much more productive. Students actually show up because they know they can get instant answers to their questions wherever they are. I always hold these hours in the late evening because that's when most of the students have time to log on to a computer. In my campus office time, if I ever reach double digits in a semester, I may keel over from shock.

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  8. I like office hours. It's quiet time to work on class prep and grading so I can go home and read for fun. If students come in, they usually learn something. If they don't come in, I get my work done. Win/win.

    I tend to have fairly busy office hours, though, because I force every single student in my classes to come to my office once in the first couple weeks of classes. I meet with them for about ten minutes, chat a bit, and then thank them for coming in. Usually it's on the pretext of some easy assignment I can give them mostly positive feedback on (well, most of them). Then they know where my office is, don't have to worry about getting lost, see that I'm more or less human, and get all their anxiety out at once.

    A lot of students avoid office hours because seeing their teachers outside of class in high school meant they were doing something wrong. I had a student in my office yesterday who was literally shaking, and his voice was cracking, as we made small-talk about the weather. I don't know what he thought I was going to say or do, but he acted like he thought he was in trouble. I mean, I'm socially awkward, but that was something else. Poor kid.

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  9. Get some god damn work done. If you want to piss away your time watching youtube, that's your problem. If the students don't show up, that's there problem.

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    1. But you can watch "Kin-Dza-Dza" on the Mosfilm channel of YouTube!

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    2. Ben,

      Thank you for your response.

      I like to work at home. I'm required by the college to spend hours in a room that is inhospitable. I inquired to see if some folks could offer some suggestions to fill my office space with bouncing snowflakes to help kill some of that time in my office so that I don't eat a revolver one day.

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    3. Also, I'm not watching cat vids on YouTube, I'm watching stuff like the Universum series on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/orf-universum-documentaries

      But your point is taken. Still, I work at home, and my office hours are for my availability for advisees and students. I would like to do a better job of getting them the help they need.

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    4. Oh! I misunderstood. There is no way known to man that entices students into office hours. Sure, you can require them to show up and maybe a student stops by so that you can summarize the last three chapters so he can do well on tomorrow's exam but none of that results in anybody learning anything. There's nothing you can do.

      Except.

      Well, I don't guarantee that is would work. I've just heard rumors among the education faculty that there's a way to get them to show up.

      Bake them cookies.

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  10. I once worked at a CC where the dean strolled around campus making sure faculty were in their offices during their posted times. Once I was in the bathroom when he came by and I received an email message saying I had been negligent of my duties by leaving my desk unattended.

    I do my required office hours between my other classes, so it's during a time when I'd likely be in my office working anyway. Maybe 1-2 majors who just happened to be in the building already stop by to chat (it's a SLAC) per day, but students in my GE classes rarely put in an appearance (unless they're failing, want an extension, or need a letter of rec.). I manage to get 1/4 of my work done during office hours. The rest gets hauled home with me...

    I've never had time to watch YouTube or spend time on Facebook during office hours because of the grading load.

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  11. I very rarely have students show up. I just view the office hours I have set as "grading and lecture preparation" time.

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  12. I don't have office hour requirements, but the expectation is about 2h/wk for a 3h/wk class; I also take appointments. I'm in my office most of the time anyway, so if nobody comes I work on other stuff.

    Basically the only time I get customers is the day before homework is due. They want "help getting started on a problem", which means they want the key idea, the same as solving it. I give it to them anyway (hey, they care enough to show up) and they take notes. Even with that, in lower-div service courses I rarely have takers. In upper-div courses for majors I tell them (like Prof Chiltepin) they all have to come see me early in the term regardless, and so they do. Just so they learn it's not a big deal, and might even help them.

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  13. My office hours are usually very busy. However, I have about 400 students every semester. I also encourage them to come and not to feel embarrassed if they have questions because I would like to help them, so I think that plays a part too. I do this because I remember, when I was an undergrad, that I always felt intimidated going to ask a professor a question.

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  14. I hold them, but, with the exception of a single over-eager/overdependent student who appears every few years and monopolizes my time (and who is usually registered for an online class), very few students come unless we have a scheduled conference (this, of course, magnifies the problem with the overdependent student, since there's no one to chase hir out). Once I have held scheduled conferences, a significant minority come in again. I should probably hold conferences earlier in the semester. Or perhaps I shouldn't; how I feel about that depends on whether I'm thinking about how I can maximize my value to my students or how I can ensure my personal survival while teaching a far-too-heavy load. So if you really want them to come, that's a tip: require them to come at least once, early in the semester, for some sort of conference, and some of them, now that they have found the place and discovered that you're not an ogre (or a pervert, or a pathetic loser looking for college-age friends), will probably return.

    I think we're supposed to hold an hour of office hours per 3-credit class, which means the full-time contingent faculty are supposed to hold twice as many office hours as TT faculty, but a contingent colleague pointed out some years ago that nobody was checking up on this, so now I, too, schedule 2 office hours, plus the required "by appointment" (which in practice has to be on a day I'm already on campus). This semester, because I have an online class, I've also scheduled a separate hour or two of virtual office hours, when I sign in to Skype and sit in front of the computer waiting for someone to come looking for me that way.

    Whether the office hours are actual or virtual, I usually end up doing course prep, and/or answering email (usually while eating lunch). Even though I tell students that I answer email pretty much immediately during office hours if there's no one in the office, I haven't noticed a particular uptick in email during or immediately before office hours. Honestly, I don't think they're paying attention to office hours at all.

    I do encounter 1 or 2 students each semester who assume I should be available whenever they want me to be (which is often late in the afternoon or early in the evening; Isis is right about that. On the other hand, I've found that people who schedule appointments during those hours, or any hours, often end up not making it, and wanting to reschedule, sometimes multiple times). For my students, I think Rebekah Nation's explanation, as paraphrased by Proffie Galore, probably applies. They really don't write prep/study/writing time, let alone time to confer with me, into their weekly schedules. As far as I'm concerned, that's one of the biggest issues interfering with my students' educations, and it's at least partly linked to the rising cost of tuition and the declining value of the Pell grant.

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    1. And now it looks like I may have one of the office-hours over-users this semester. A student in my online class wants to see me twice next week. Aargh.

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  15. I have to have six office hours per week, officially. In reality I have 4 and no one has said anything to me.

    Sometimes students show up, other times they don't. I'm mostly alone, most of the time, but I love my office so I don't mind being there. It has all the comforts of home.

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  16. I've stopped worrying about the silence. I get some course prep done, make photocopies, catch up on quiz grading and BlackholeBoard stuff. We also meet face to face with advisees before they're cleared to register, so that makes things busier for a couple of weeks. I have probably two students each term who will take up half an hour each week.

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  17. I'm required to keep a significant number of hours per week at LD3C. It's a total waste of my time. I'm lucky if I get one student per every three weeks or so. Really. I always schedule my office hours to provide the most opportunity for students to use them. They never come.

    In another institution, this might not be a bad thing as noted by others here. If I worked where full-time faculty were valued enough to have individual offices, I would use office hour time to get work-related things done; however, I share my small (ten feet by ten feet) office with another full-time faculty member whose schedule is similar to mine. Additionally, our shared office is located in a noisy, high-traffic corridor. It's never quiet, it's never private, and it's the least conducive-to-work space I've ever occupied. I can't think in my office. Having to waste so many hours per week in my office, in fact, contributes significantly to my very significant job-related misery. It's awful.

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