I have had office hours for many years now. Until reading the article below from my guest blogger Elaine Hirsch I never really thought about how I could utilize them more to the benefit of student learning and student-teacher relations. I’m so glad Elaine shared her ideas.
One of the cornerstones of effective higher education, especially at the undergraduate level, is contact and collaboration between professors and their students. Professors who are accessible to students consistently receive higher marks on teaching evaluations and support their institution’s efforts to foster a learning community. Holding regular office hours also provides an important example for teaching assistants and master’s degree candidates who plan to pursue careers in higher education. Offering regular office hours is an essential part of the learning process that benefits both professors and their students.
The National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) provides valuable information about student involvement to colleges and universities on a yearly basis. In recent years, the NSSE has placed stress on understanding “high-impact practices.” These are practices with highly positive affects on student retention and satisfaction. The ability to work with professors is considered a practice with particularly high impact. The NSSE has repeatedly shown that students who have access to their professors outside of regular class periods are more satisfied with their education, do better on graduate school entrance exams and are more likely to pursue opportunities to study abroad.
Students receive many benefits from office hours. Popular student blog Campussplash has highlighted a number of these benefits in a recent post. First and foremost, students who are struggling to understand complex topics in a course can gain valuable clarification from professors. Students who bring questions to professors are also more likely to be viewed favorably when the time to grade final papers and exams rolls around (teetering between an A and B? Attending office hours just might give you the small bump you need). Visiting professors during office hours offers benefits outside of individual courses, too. Students benefit from identifying faculty in the field in which they plan to study and forging relationships with them. Faculty members often know of other professionals and organizations in a student’s field and can help locate internship and employment opportunities and write letters of recommendations.
In addition to supporting student engagement and learning aims, professors and TAs also benefit from holding regular office hours. A recent study in “Observer,” the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that professors who use office hours effectively enjoy increased student attention during class hours. TAs and professors can use office hours to set the tone for their courses and to reinforce their roles as dedicated, caring professionals. Presenting a positive image to students also boosts course evaluation scores. These scores can be especially important to TAs who plan on pursuing faculty positions, and to faculty who are attempting to secure tenure.
Many professors and TAs dread holding office hours. They perceive them to be cumbersome and a waste of time. In contrast to their structured lectures, office hours may hold unpredictable questions and pushy students looking for answers to tests. However, many studies have shown that regular office hours benefit students and professors alike. Creating a strong presence in the classroom and on campus is an excellent way for faculty to assure their continued success in their profession. For many students, office hours are crucial to survival in a learning environment that is new and challenging. Professors and TAs who dedicate themselves to using office hours effectively are assets to their universities and students and generally enjoy long and successful careers.
Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites (including Master’s Degree.net) and writing about all these things instead.
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