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What to Do About Office Hours (Part 1)

office desk with lamp, calendar, notes, notebook, pen, laptop, and coffee

This is the first part in a three-part series on office hours. Sign up for our newsletter, so you don't miss parts two and three!


If you like to spend your time (like we do!) researching office hours, you’re likely to come across an absolute deluge of materials that start with a seemingly simple question: why don’t students come to my office hours? It’s certainly a question that we’ve all asked ourselves before, and as a new semester begins, it’s likely we’ll be asking it again. But is it the right question to be asking?

We’ve learned that most questions that start with “why don’t students…” is probably the wrong question. The question itself shifts the burden to our students, and also makes it feel seemingly unknowable. After all, we’re not mind readers. But we do all have experience at being a student, and in that experience, we may find some of the answers we’re looking for.

Think back to when you were a student, and ask yourself:

  • Did you know what office hours were? If so, how did you know? Did an instructor(s) explain them to you? Another student?

  • Did your instructor(s) talk about them? If so, how? Did they encourage you to come? Discourage it?

  • Did you go to an instructor’s office during hours? If yes, why and when did you go? If no, what kept you away?

As a first-generation college student, I remember instructors mentioning office hours on the first day of classes, but they were usually part of a deluge of other critical information like textbooks, due dates, and grades. I also cannot remember any of my instructors emphasizing or encouraging them, especially on that first day. After the first day, we were told to come to office hours if we “had questions” or “wanted to talk about our grades”. I thought asking questions meant I didn’t understand what was happening in class and that talking about my grades meant I had a problem with my grade. Because these didn’t apply to me, I thought that office hours weren’t for me. It wasn’t until one of my instructors made it part of an assignment to come to office hours that I actually went--and learned that office hours were so much more than what I had been told in class. I felt, frankly, cheated.

In our own experiences, some of us likely experienced open doors with excited educators eager to discuss, support, and chat. Some of us likely experienced closed doors with educators who were frankly not keen on having company. All of us probably encountered a mix of both. Reflecting on these experiences can help us to remember what “office hours” means not only to us but also to those who now may timidly knock on our own (virtual) office doors.

Have your own office hours experiences you'd like to share? Tag us on social media or leave them in the comments!


And don't forget to join us for Spring-on-Call for more conversations like these!

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