Daily Archives: May 31, 2008

Office Hours?!

I just completed a semester-long experiment in which I held a office hour over in my department’s building, which is a 10-minute walk from the library. The dean gave me a converted janitor’s closet, my own key, and the administrative assistant made me a door sign to match everyone else’s. Now that the semester’s over, I’m evaluating that experience, wondering if I should do it again.

I officially saw 8 people during the semester, a mix of undergraduates, grad students, and faculty. Unofficially, the stats are much higher: I ran into people in the hallway, bathroom, and going in & out of the building. Some faculty popped their heads in & said “oh! I didn’t know you were here! great!” while others apologized for the janitorial-closet nature of the space. I confess that I worked some librarian magic. My favorite example was when a grad student came in looking for an “unpublished dissertation;” her advisor suggested she get in touch with me, and she’d been so busy, blah blah blah, but now that I was *here*, did I have any ideas for her? She was getting frantic! I efficiently pulled up ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, asked for the author’s name, and … found the dissertation. Disbelief and joy on the student’s part. She copied the pdf dissertation onto her USB drive and went on her way. A few minutes later, the advisor came in and repeated the story. I told her I’d just met with the student and given her the dissertation. More disbelief and joy.

So yes, the office hour was definitely a success – especially combining the actual work with the PR value of being in the building on a regular basis. If I do it again (hopefully I’ll still have time next semester), I expect more business.

I was curious if traditional faculty were talking about office hours in their blogs and was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of discussion about it. (How did I find out? I created a Google Custom Search Engine for the faculty blogosphere, which is in early beta) Tenured Radical struggles with how to get students to know when her office hours are, and how to avoid the last minute rush: “I will sit in my office reading for two and a half weeks, give or take a student here and there, and then seventy or eighty people will try to see me in a window of about 72 hours and/or try to make appointments when I can’t possibly be there.” There are 25+ comments from folks offering support and advice.

Many commenters mention putting office hours in your sig file; another says he tells his students in EACH class when his office hours are; others require students to sign up in advance and giving preference to those who do. I like Lesboprof‘s suggestion of creating an online calendar for students to access and set up their own time to meet with you; that’s on my list of things to try out this summer. The best set of comments, though, are those from Tenured Radical’s students at “Zenith University.” It’s great to see their side of the office hours conundrum; most striking is one from a student who reminds us all that college students are right out of high school, and in high school, you only went to see the teacher if you were “bad” — explaining why first-year college students might have an aversion to meeting with their professors. (The student comments are towards the bottom of the comment section)

There are other interesting posts about office hours as well. Over at Tomorrow’s Professor Blog, which is a partnership between MIT and Stanford, they’ve excerpted an article called Teaching in the U.S. Classroom (from Stanford’s Speaking of Teaching newsletter) that discusses the difference between office hours in the U.S. and in other countries:

“The U.S. model differs from more traditional uses of the office hour as a tutorial in which the instructor takes more of an authoritative role, lecturing and guiding the conversation, rather than letting the student’s needs set the pace for the interaction.”

At the end of the article is a handy set of guidelines for international students about holding office hours.

And Dean Dad, at Confessions of a Community College Dean, talks about office hours in the context of online courses. Anonymous comments “I feel I am more available for students and have more contact with them online than in my office;” her/his comment contains some additional ideas about communicating with students online, which might resonate with librarians … Dr. Free Ride comments

My online students come to my “live” office hours in much greater numbers than my “live” students ever have. And, they don’t just come when they’re desperately confused; they actually come just to shoot the breeze about the issues raised by the course.

As a librarian, do you hold office hours? Do you get involved in your faculty’s office hours?