Posts Tagged ‘Office Hours’

Scheduling Large and Small

October 30, 2014

I have always known that I kind of like scheduling things. I will be department chair relatively soon, and I am looking forward to making making the teaching schedules for people. When I was a kid, I would schedule fake professional basketball and baseball seasons for fun. This is a sort of macro-scheduling, and I enjoy doing it.

What I have recently learned about myself, though, is that I hate micro-scheduling. I don’t like emailing back-and-forth to find a time that works for all people. I have embraced tools like Doodle to some extent, but I usually have to schedule one-on-one appointments, and Doodle seems like too much work for that.

I have a lot of appointments right now with my advisees to choose classes for next semester. I decided to use the Google Appointments replacement youcanbook.me, which I have written about before. This has worked ridiculously well, and it has saved me a lot of stress (Note: Neither Google nor youcanbook.me has contacted me, and I am not getting paid to write about this. I am just a simple user).

For the last several years, I have not scheduled office hours. I stopped doing this because it actually made it harder for me to meet with students. Regardless of when I schedule office hours, most of my students cannot attend. This means that I have to make individual appointments with them and still attend my regular office hours. Because I need to attend my office hours, I cannot schedule meetings during this time. So I have to schedule the meetings during times when I could have been meeting with students, which means I cannot meet with students during those times.

So I have just been scheduling “office hours” individually as students need them (which is getting to be less and less), and I hate schedule this stuff (although I like meeting with students).

So my plan is to schedule “open hours” when I plan my work day. I will use youcanbook.me, which I will post on my website and Moodle page. Students can sign up whenever they want, and I don’t need to do the scheduling, save for the random student who absolutely cannot meet with any of my preferred times. I think that this is going to greatly increase my quality of life.

Two things: Each morning, I am going to remove options to sign up for that day. This is because I don’t always re-check my calendar, and I don’t want any surprises. Also, I am going to start doing this after advising is done, since I don’t have any time between now and then anyway.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Any tips?

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Office Hours Again

April 3, 2014

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Neither Andy nor I collect homework that is graded for accuracy.
  3. 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?

Make Yourself Expendable

February 15, 2011

I recently had a discussion with a friend who prided herself on having students come to her office quite frequently. She took it as a measure of how she was doing as a teacher: the more students came to her for help, the more frequently each student came to her for help, and the longer each student stayed, the better she thought she was doing. Moreover, she thought that this was a fair metric to use on anyone.

I would like to argue the opposite. Now, I definitely think that a good teacher should be approachable, willing to help, and frequently available. However, this can go too far. It seems that—taken to the extreme—this could create a co-dependent relationship. A student who does not learn to think/work/whatever without the professor present is not really learning what they should. A happy medium must be struck.

When I worked in industry, my supervisor told me that my goal should be: “Make yourself expendable.” This seemed a little ridiculous to me at the time, since I was a little concerned about my job security (I was never laid-off, but lay-offs came in droves soon after I left for graduate school). However, I think that this is fantastic advice for teachers. A teacher’s goal should be to produce independent thinkers. Somewhat paradoxically, this frequently requires students to work with others (including the teacher) first, but the students should get there eventually.

A quick aside: I am under the impression that she might be providing yet another example of Campbell’s Law. She is asserting that “total number of student-hours in office” is a measure of teaching effectiveness. She also has a reputation of giving out hard and numerous homework assignments, which many students want to discuss with her. It is possible (speculation forthcoming) that she designs her homework assignments so students have to visit her to get them done, giving her the impression that she is a better teacher.

I would love to hear what you think. I think that this is a balancing act, but you can definitely tilt too far in either direction. I believe that she would disagree; you can only spend too little time with students, but not too much.

What do you think?