I often don’t have time to keep up with the various teaching articles and publications during the semester. So, these off times are often when I get to check in with what has happened outside of my classroom during the semester.
So, I’ve been doing some reading over the last week or so, and I have some blog post ideas lined up here for the summer.
The first thing that came to my attention was a recent post in Inside Higher Ed titled “Office Hours: Why Students Need to Show Up.” It was the first paragraph that really got me considering my own experience. As the author describes her experience with office hours:
Office hours: those moments when we are held hostage by our students, shackled to our desks, unable to tackle our mountains of other responsibilities. At crunch times, to better handle the line of students queueing outside my door, I’ve thought about installing a ticket dispenser, like at the deli: now serving number 17.
This is very much not my experience. And it goes back to a broader sense that I have about one of the challenges of teaching at a community college versus a more traditional four-year university. I have sat in my office week after week with almost no students ever coming by my office for thirteen years. I see students most often when they need a drop slip or a mid-semester grade check signed. Students certainly do not line up at my door, and I certainly do not feel held hostage by them. Instead, I have a required 10 hours of office hours every week, where I spend the majority of my time sitting there doing my own work and not interacting with students, except for what I do in my online class during that time.
I have my office hours clearly posted on my syllabus and in my online classroom. I sell my office hours to students at the beginning of the semester. I remind them of office hours multiple times in the semester and offer up advising time and draft-reading time often throughout the semester. And still, I have almost no students at my office hours.
And, do I complain about this? Of course. Instead of phrases like being held hostage, I instead bemoan the “students today” who don’t take advantage of the opportunities offered to them. However, I have more recently come to a realization that I need to approach the lack of students at my office hours differently, much like I have been trying to approach other things in my course differently. Although I can’t place the exact place that triggered the idea, I would say it probably came from one of the podcasts I listen to regularly:
The thing that I think is the biggest issue is the idea that if students are not doing what I would think is in their best interest, then it probably means the they do not know it is in their best interest. Instead of complaining that they don’t come to my office hours, I need to see the problem as one of them not coming from the academic tradition of understanding what it means to be a student. Students at a community college are often from families without a long tradition of college education. To them, we professors are unapproachable and intimidating. They do not see me as offering an opportunity for them to do better. Instead, without a culture of understanding academic life, like those of us who teach them who have become very comfortable with the ways that academic life transpires, many of them are first timers who are not comfortable with meeting a professor one-on-one in his or her office.
So, I know that I need to do something different to help bring students into my office hours. That’s because the article I started off is correct, the one-on-one interaction is important and often makes a big difference in student success.
Here are some of my ideas:
- Making an initial office hour visit a requirement at the beginning of the semester.
- Having students meet to discuss a project or paper as part of a progress report in the semester.
- Having more active office hours where there is a theme or object each week for students to participate in.
More radical ideas than that are currently not allowed by our office hour requirements – as I have to have 10 office hours on campus in my office each week. But I would be open to suggestions? Does anyone have any more success at getting students to office hours? Are there any things that we could do differently to get students in office hours?
Ok, so I’m a bit behind. Our life has been a bit upside down, as we are coming up on the last month before our baby is due, and the urgency on getting things done is ramping up on a daily basis. So, it makes sitting down and getting extra things, like this blog, done hard. I actually have to go back and see what I did in the second “week” of the hybrid class, as that was a while back at this point. I put the “week” in there because it is technically the third week of the class, but the first week really didn’t count for the activities. This will be the last time that I put in the quotation marks, but I wanted to keep it consistent for the moment.
In the second week, I had the students go online to watch some pre-developed lectures. I decided to use the site to see if having the students access the same material in several different locations and forms made a difference. In this case, they have my own lectures, which are both written and in audio podcast form, the textbook reading, and these lectures. While these outside lectures are somewhat cartoony and simplified, the basic ideas are delivered well and they are at least moderately entertaining.
After reviewing five of the lectures in addition to the normal lectures and textbook reading, the students had to come ready to do a group activity. The activity was to be done completely in class, and each of four groups of 4-5 students was to create its own successful colony. They were to apply the lessons from American colonial development and create an ideal colony. I left it pretty much open from there except that I did stipulate that their colony must be a real one, as in it must be reasonable in presentation and must relate to the other existing colonies at that time. They were to discuss the people who would have come, where they would have settled, what their economic basis would have been, what religious ideas they would have had, and what type of government they would want.
So, how did it go?
Well, it was the first time for me for an assignment like this, and it was the first for my students in this class as well. The major issue was that all of the work was to be done in class. That was tough for a 75-minute class. I took out about 15 minutes at first to talk about the reading and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That gave about 45 minutes of work time and then 15 minutes to present. In all ways, it would be nice to have had more time. I did not keep as good of track as I should have the first class, and we had to do one of the presentations the next class. I graded them on the basis that they only had limited time to work on it. The other issue is that it is hard to hold the discussion to just 15 minutes for the first part, and if that goes long, then we really don’t have enough time to complete everything.
Overall, I think it was reasonably successful. I graded it on two things — the presentation and the group work. The presentation grades were all reasonable, as I had to be lenient considering the limited time to prepare. On the group work, I went around and observed each group and came up with my own grades for each person. I also had them grade each other and send me the information. I averaged their grades as one with my grade to come up with a group work grade for each student. It was a bit complex overall, but I think the grades were somewhat reflective, if a bit high for most people.
The problem for giving more time to prep for the students is that this is still early in the semester. I didn’t want to get them going too deep into pre-class prep yet, as that will come later in the semester, which does put a limit on it. What do you think? Am I being too cautious there? Should I have higher expectations of the work ahead of time or keep it as something that is done in class? I just don’t know.