you prefer that your students really use your office hours? Ask about
the material? Talk about their future plans? Consult with you about
their work? Are you interested in helping your students individually,
as people? Many of us, both faculty and TAs, believe that our teaching
and students' learning improve when we devote some attention to individuals
and small groups of students outside regular class time. The reasons
who are confused or lagging behind can better catch up.
we know something of students' lives, we can better present our
discipline in ways relevant to them.
individual encouragement, particularly talented or enthusiastic
students will likely learn more about our discipline.
who believe they matter in a group tend to put forth more effort
and take more responsibility.
Yet too many
students hesitate to take us up on our availability during office hours.
They may not think their questions or problems are important enough
to bother us; or they don't realize they have problems; or they don't
realize the variety of interactions they can have with us; or they are
simply timid or overly impressed by our eminence.
If you number
yourself among those who prefer productive office hours, try one of
the following approaches, thus showing students explicitly that you
are interested in talking with them.
an office visit.
With an enrollment of 20 or fewer and ten-minute appointments, you can
meet with each student in less than four hours; that's your regular
office hours over a two-week period, time that might otherwise go begging.
Tell students that you'd like to get to know them and their concerns
about the course. Or you might prefer to focus the meeting on a current
course requirement, such as choosing a paper topic, defining a project,
fine-tuning an oral presentation. To set up interviews, pass around
a sign-up sheet in class and ask students to choose a time slot. Here
are some of the benefits for students:
learn where your office is.
find that it is less intimidating than they imagined to talk with
become more of an individual in your eyes.
learn more about you and the course.
for you include these:
become acquainted with your students as people.
can get a better sense of which students are struggling in your
course, which are most excited by the course topic, which are not
yet very motivated.
the rest of the semester, students will be more likely to take advantage
of your office hours to a greater extent.
appointments with individual students.
But such small courses are relatively rare. If you have a larger enrollment
or aren't inclined to talk individually with all students, focus on
students who could most benefit from a conversation with you: those
having trouble and those showing the most interest in and/or talent
for your field. Simply announcing your availability-whether in class
or on your syllabus-is relatively unproductive. Instead, target students
who have done especially well or poorly on an exam, paper or assignment.
Talk with them individually before or after class, mentioning your interest
in their situation and suggesting meeting during your office hours.
Be sure to propose a specific day and time, get agreement, and ensure
that the student writes down the appointment and can find your office.
Many people learn organization as undergraduates; you can concurrently
help your students learn time management and reduce your frustration
about missed appointments.
meeting with a few individuals, you may well find that more students
take advantage of your office hours, even without appointments. Apparently,
students recount that such meetings were valuable, thus encouraging
others to consider one-on one conversations
Another way to engage with smaller groups of students-again focusing
on those who need help and those are particularly interested or dedicated-is
offering optional review sessions before major exams. These garner much
praise from students writing in support of faculty and TAs for teaching
awards and have several benefits for all:
appreciate their teacher's recognition that they may need more explanation
or review of major points after much material has been covered.
- As in
office hours, students can ask individual questions.
- You see
which students make the effort to attend an optional review. Granted,
some may be looking for easy answers; but others are struggling and
working hard to succeed, and still others aim to learn as much as
who have seen how helpful you are with a smaller group may be more
willing to come to your office.
To work well,
optional review sessions must be offered when students can attend; in
many cases, this means the early evening. Schedule them close enough
to the exam to get students' attention, yet far enough in advance that
they have time to review material the session showed they don't understand.
through e-mail and the web.
Although not done in person, individual e-mail communications can offer
similar benefits. Some people are more open about their problems and
their perceptions of a course when writing e-mail. Thus your being available
through e-mail may provoke some students to unveil difficulties you
might not otherwise have seen. And a written answer to a specific question-or
feedback to an idea-can greatly help a student. In addition, like review
sessions, with e-mail exchanges you can efficiently teach a larger group
of students. After removing identifying information, send an individual's
question and your answer to all students and/or post the question and
answer on your course web site. As we know, if one student asks a question,
a number of others have wondered the same thing.
the time commitment your schedule allows, you can connect with a number
of your students individually, even in courses numbering in the hundreds.
Particularly at a large research institution such as U.Va., many students
assume that they won't matter in the crowd. Working with even a few
individuals in a course sends the message to many more that they do
count. And we reap the benefits of greater student engagement in our
classes and with our discipline.