Monday, September 14, 2009

Sayonara to office hours?

I was surprised by this discussion of office hours over at Reassigned Time. Like I suspect is the case for most of you, I'm required to hold office hours in proportion to the number of classes I'm teaching (about four hours per week usually). I'm also supposed to hold them on at least two different days, etc. But I don't get a lot of visitors during those hours. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that my students (like me) don't want to be at the university nights and weekends and have other courses or responsibilities that conflict with daytime office hours. (I've also tried bribing them with cookies, provocative philosophical discussion, liquor, etc., to no avail!) But the discussion at RT suggests that in this e-age, scheduled face-to-faces with students may be superfluous. I always add "and by appointment" to my line about office hours on my syllabus, and some students do arrange for appointments to discuss specific concerns. But more often, I feel like the Maytag repairman, waiting forlorn for someone to patronize my philosophy shop.

So: How do you all feel about office hours? Useful, essential, indispensable -- or an inconvenient relic? Does anyone out there do anything unusual with office hours? Shall we write the obituary on office hours?


  1. M:

    I can see where the "e-Age" has perhaps contributed to the death of office hours, but as far as I can see this is a corpse that's been rotting for a very, very, very long time (in fact, maybe it's always been in a state of decomposition?).

    When I was in college in the 80s (before 'teh internets') the only time I really used office hours was (a) to hang out in the office of my favorite professor(s) and (b) when I was required to, for whatever reason. My fellow classmates followed the same course, pretty much.

    Now that I'm on the other side of things, nothing has changed. There are some philosophy students who just want to come and hang out and chat (not about class work, just general philosophical chat or about life in general) and then there are those who come because I require them to come (for a tutorial or something).

    Everyone once in a blue moon I get someone not for those two reasons.

    I think students then (in the 80s) and now are (a) busy with the day-to-day of life and (b) are intimidated to stop by and (c) feel as if stopping by means letting the fact that you don't understand something mean that "the cat is out of the bag." I think some students think that if they don't _tell_ you they don't understand something, the default assumption is to assume that they do. So using office hours means taking a hit to your "public persona" in a way.

    Just some thoughts, anyway. I have nothing interesting to say about alternative ways to use office hours, though I'd be interested to hear what such people do.

  2. This is my first time serving as a graduate TA for an upper-level undergraduate course. I am expected to hold a single office hour per week; thus far this semester I haven't seen a soul. Obviously in my case the students have the option of seeing the professor during his office hours, but to my understanding his hours have been unattended as well. This seems not uncommon.

    We do, of course, expect to see some students nearer to exams. But this still seems like a gross inefficiency.

    For my part, I am instituting a measure that will mean much more work, but will make the whole experience much more valuable. We have a large paper due sometime later in the semester. I assume many of the students would value feedback on drafts throughout the semester. Therefore, I am offering such feedback to all interested students with one caveat: in order to receive feedback they must attend at least one of my office hours to discuss their work.

    I doubt this idea will be as workable for faculty, adjuncts, etc., as most will not want to increase their workload this significantly. But for those TAs – graduate or undergraduate – who actually wish to gain some teaching experience (even 1:1), this seems like a good way of ensuring that some work comes your way. The caveat above has the benefit of eliminating those who are unserious about using feedback in a philosophically constructive way.

    I'm open to other suggestions about how to make use of office hours while we live in a world where they're still required. Meanwhile, I hope my approach can help others.


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