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Office Hours Alternative

by Janice Florent

Faculty often report that most students do not take advantage of office hours. Usually the students who do take advantage of office hours are not the ones who need the most help. Consequently some faculty have come up with alternative offices hours to encourage students to seek help.

In a recent faculty focus article, Dr. Maryellen Weimer wrote about two professors who reformatted their office hours into something they called "course centers." The course centers are 1-2 hour blocks of time faculty spend in an unoccupied classroom. Students can come and go as they please and work on whatever they want during that time. If students want help, they can ask for assistance. Otherwise the faculty member just floats around the room.

The faculty wanted to create an environment in the course centers in which students felt like they were just spending time studying, rather than explicitly getting help; where students felt welcome getting together with other students for a study session; and where they felt no pressure to have a set of questions ready to ask the instructor.

It is important to note that the "course centers" did not replace traditional office hours, they supplemented them.

Additionally, Dr. Weimer compiled the following suggestions from the comments made in response to her “Why Students Don’t Attend Office Hours” article:

Schedule office hours when they’re convenient – for both the faculty member and the students.
Require a visit, preferably early in the course - one reader shared that she invites each student with a personal note (staggering the notes so she’s not overwhelmed). Those who don’t show for a meeting get a “missed you” note. Students make the choice albeit under conditions that make it harder to not show up.
Reward those who come with points - make the visit worth something; those who use this approach recommend just a small amount of points.
Meet someplace other than the office - suggestions included “student spaces” like the student center or the campus cafeteria.

For more information read Dr. Weimer’s "Office Hours Alternative Resonates with Students" and "Office Hours Redux" articles.

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