I wrote about office hours three years ago, and I have noticed that my office hours less attended than my colleagues’ (some of them, anyway). I used to have packed office hours, but that slowed to a trickle a couple of years ago.
This concerns me a bit. While I am happy that students might be learning on their own, I have somehow internalized the message that “being a good professor means having a lot of students at your office hours.”
But then I learned of something that might make me feel better. I had the pleasure of meeting Andy Rundquist (and Matt Wiebold) for lunch last week, and he commented that has not had many students in office hours recently, either. We talked briefly about why this might be. Here are some possibilities:
- I am somehow intimidating, and students do not want to come to my office hours. Or, even if I am not intimidating, I am sending some message that students are not welcome.
- Neither Andy nor I collect homework that is graded for accuracy.
- Both Andy and I use something akin to Standards-Based Grading.
I never realized it before, but my conversation with Andy makes me wonder if SBG and/or a No Homework Policy might naturally lead to a decrease in students coming to office hours.
For instance, I have found that while I have a smaller quantity of students in my office hours, I typically have a much higher quality interaction during the office hours. Students tend to come with specific questions about why they are stuck on a problem, or (better yet) specific questions about something they are just curious about. I remember this happening a lot less previously. Before, it seemed like there were mainly requests that I do homework problems (or problems similar to homework problems). So it seems like the No Homework policy got rid of students coming to office hours for the sole purpose of finishing busy work (I think this is a good thing).
[Edit 10:38 pm CDT: This is not just a matter of “the course is easier because there is no homework,” which was my first thought of how to explain this. The students have closed notes quizzes on the SBG topics, so students still need to understand the material; they just demonstrate it on quizzes rather than on homework, which is harder to do.]
A plausible explanation for why SBG might lead to fewer students attending office hours is that students are being supported just enough to learn independently. When I used a Traditional Grading scheme, it likely was not clear what the most important ideas of the course were. I could see a student wanting more guidance if every detail in the course seems as important as every other detail (it probably did not help that I would typically respond with “Everything” when students asked what they should be studying for an exam). My hypothesis is that SBG gives students just enough guidance that they can determine what to study on their own.
This is a balancing act, of course: I do think that most everything that I do in class is important, and that students should know it. However, I would be willing to sacrifice students learning some of the course topics if it resulted in students learning the most important topics more deeply and becoming more independent learners. So I hope that this is what is happening.
Have other people noticed that office hour attendance is correlated with how you structure class? Can anyone think of any other explanation for the change in office hour attendance?