Recently, I’ve been involved in a few discussions related to office hours and how to make them more accessible. There are many instructors, myself included, who would love to have more students come to office hours—I think lots of students would benefit from coming, but most don’t come (and that’s even though we have a relatively good turnout at office hours for a class our size). There are many, complex reasons why students do not come to office hours, but probably some key things are:
- Not realizing what (or who!) they are for
- Not feeling safe showing up to them (e.g., out of fear of looking bad in front of the instructor)
- Not being able to make it to them (e.g., because of work or childcare)
The solution to the first one seemed so obvious once I saw this tweet:
From the twitter reactions, I know I am not alone in wondering how this never occurred to me—it’s a great idea! It, along with having some more information in the syllabus about what student hours are for, starts to address the second point, too. But that point and the following one can’t be fully addressed by a name change. When I was emailing about this with a colleague, she jokingly replied that maybe we should call them “FREE ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTION THAT SOMEONE ALREADY PAID FOR WHY DON’T YOU COME???”, then immediately added: “Just kidding – I never went either. I always had to work and was too shy to ask someone to adjust around my work schedule.”
So, I was really intrigued to learn recently that a colleague of mine at Michigan, John Montgomery, records his office hours (which he calls “Open Discussion”). Michigan has a lecture capture system set up in classrooms. I use this for my lectures, which are all recorded and made available to students via the course website. Recording my lectures helps students review material, plus makes it easier for students who need to miss lecture (e.g., because they are sick) to catch up. It had never occurred to me to recording office hours/student hours, but, imilar to the “student hours” solution, it seems obvious in retrospect.
John said that, when he first considered the switch, he polled his class about it to see if it would make some students feel less comfortable coming. He also explained to students that he would be the only person who was being recorded (he restates questions that students ask so they are captured by the recording), and, according to him, students still feel comfortable coming to office hours even knowing the session is being recorded. He also stays after class to talk one-on-one with students and sets up one-on-one meetings if needed and as time allows.
When John polled students, he asked which they would prefer: 1) that the whole office hours session recording be made available, 2) that it be trimmed to just the most important content, or 3) they wouldn’t use it. The responses were roughly equally distributed across the three choices.
Still, in the days after hearing this suggestion, I couldn’t make up my mind how I feel about this idea. Right now, my office hours are in a conference room (so more students can attend than would fit in my office). Students come and ask questions. I spend a fair amount of time up at the board, but there’s also a fair amount of students answering each other’s questions (which is great for learning for both the student with the question and the student who asked the question).
I’m not entirely sure of how to deal with this, but also suspect that I am creative enough to figure something out. The part about what I do at the board is easy—I can just use a blank slide and the annotation tool to do that, and I don’t think it would have a big effect on the experience for students who are attending the office hours in person. For the part where students answer each other’s questions, I can paraphrase both the question and the answer.
That leaves one other main thing that happens in office hours that couldn’t be recorded: the meetings that I have (especially right after exams) where students are seeking support and reassurance and advice on whether to stay in the course. I could turn off the microphone so none of that is recorded, but I don’t know that students would fully trust that. (John turns off his mic as he walks around the room to talk with students about their individual work and it sounds like students are fine with that.) Another option would be not to record the office hours sessions that happen right after the exam or right near the drop deadline, which is when most of those questions occur. (In case it’s not clear: I have those conversations with students one-on-one. I ask the other students to wait in the hall while I have those conversations.)
When I spoke more with John about this as I worked on the post, he noted that he heard from lots of student-athletes and people who work saying that they found the office hour recordings invaluable for their success in the course. He also received feedback from students with disabilities that the recordings (of both lectures and office hours) were particularly useful, since they allowed them to move through the material at their own pace, including to take breaks when needed. Students who had illnesses and family emergencies also gave specific feedback about how helpful having the recordings were.
So, at this point, I’m planning on changing things for this fall so that I 1) call them “student hours” rather than “office hours” (and add a section in the syllabus explaining what they are, and 2) record the student hours in addition to the lectures.
In thinking about this more generally, I think the approach of recording student/office hours might not work as well for classes where office hours are primarily sitting alongside students as they work on problems. But, instructors in that sort of course could record themselves (or a willing student) working through a sample problem to give the idea of the way to approach it.
Do you think “student hours” (or some other name) is more likely to draw students in to your office hours? If you use a different name, or are thinking of changing it to a new name, I’d love to hear what you use. Do you think it would work to record your office hours (or have you already done this)? And what other things do you do to make your office hours more accessible (especially in classes with hundreds of students)?