Here are 10 quick tips to make office hours powerful learning opportunities

I just finished my first week of class for the fall semester. Whew. The highlight: Eight students stopped by my office hours my first week. Yes, 8!

Were students freaking out about an assignment? No (I don't have exams). Did they miss the first day of class? Nope, none of them. Are my office hours required? Absolutely not.

So, why did 11% of my students come to my office hours? To connect.

Don't squander office hours. Make them the richest learning opportunities for students, even from Week 1.

How do you make the most of office hours? Comment below and let me know.

P.S. You'll receive my emails on Thursdays for the rest of the semester, so I can focus on my teaching – and most importantly, my students!

 

Office Hours = Connection Hours

 
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education:  Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

 

I love office hours. How often do you hear that from professors or students? Across the 11 semesters I've been teaching in higher education, 9-11% of my students come to my office hours every week.

Far too often, I hear college professors say, "I bet no one is going to stop by office hours today. Want to grab coffee?" We can do better. Turn your office hours into connection hours, student hours, and learning hours. Students will learn from you, and you'll learn a lot about the world from them, too. Keep in mind that the more students who stop by, the more they can learn from each other. I’ve helped connect students who have similar interests, struggles, majors, and backgrounds. They become fast friends and stay in touch – which is incredibly rewarding for me, too.

Here are some quotes from my students about office hours:

“I was always afraid and too shy to come in to office hours. Pooja’s was the first I went to, she was so warm and welcoming, now I don’t fear them anymore!”

“Thank you so much again for the chat during your office hour :) It was really helpful and interesting! I really liked it, not just for discussing the class assignment, but the vibe as well. I'm going to visit many more times for sure!”

Note that these are quotes from international students, for whom English is a second language (ELLs, or English Language Learners). Office hours are a perfect time to connect one-on-one and give them the opportunity to practice their language skills.

There's some research on office hours and small grants to conduct research in psychology classrooms (Deadline is October 1). To keep things practical, here are my top 10 tips for turning office hours into connection hours.

1) Put your office hour date, time, and location in your email signature

2) Put your office hour info on reminder slides at the start and end of class

3) Have students retrieve your office hour info (and space it out) on quizzes

4) Describe what office hours are (and are not) in class and on the syllabus. Give examples of things you like to talk about (see tip #5 below). You could rename them (“student hours,” “connect hours”). You could even host them online (e.g., via Zoom, Google Docs, Twitter, etc.).

5) Ask questions and listen. Not sure what to ask? Ask not just what they’re majoring in, but why. Ask if they did anything fun last weekend. Ask what other classes they’re taking this semester. Ask if they have any pets. Ask about their favorite Netflix/Hulu shows. Ask about whether they like to cook and if they have a favorite food. These might seem like “small talk” topics, but they’ll open up a flow of conversation more quickly than you might expect. I encourage you to share your thoughts, too. Make the conversation a two-way street. You don’t have to share anything personal (I don’t discuss my family, for instance), but foods, TV shows, and where you’d like to travel to next are all fun topics. Think of it like sharing recommendations and receiving recommendations.

6) Create "teaser" topics. Something come up in class that would be fun to discuss, but you don't have time? Give students a teaser and tell them to come to office hours for more. (My go-to: I show pictures of my dog, but only in office hours.)

7) Schedule your office hours in a block (e.g., two hours straight), rather than an hour here and an hour there. Many of my students hang out for longer than an hour, and students don't have to remember multiple dates and times.

8) Make office hours no-stakes. My office hours are optional – but they are an option. It's an opportunity for students to participate outside of class.

9) Reinforce the benefits of office hours in class. "We had 8 students in office hours yesterday! I learned all about the mandolin." (I teach cognitive science at a music conservatory.) Students will be intrigued and want to know more.

10) Play music. It sets the tone and it's a great conversation starter.

 

Share These Resources with Students

 
 

Another tip for office hours: Share resources with students!

Here are a few I recommend:

1) Share NPR's new Life Kit podcast series, How to Succeed at College. I share the science behind effective study strategies in the second episode. Additional topics include office hours, mental health, job searching, and sleep.

2) Share our run down of effective study strategies – all by scientists (direct link: retrievalpractice.org/students).

3) Share your favorite Netflix and Hulu shows. I'm always looking for recommendations, and so are my students!