As classes start back up again, most lecturers will be informing students about the times for their ‘office hours’ – but what are office hours? Well, they’re not the only time we’re in our offices, that’s for sure. But they are times when we will be in our office and ready and waiting to see students (note: most lecturers will also be available at other times and so, if a student can’t make it to one of the slots, they can ask, perhaps by email or after a lecture, if there might be another time when they can stop by).
In my experience, and after teaching in Maynooth for five full years now, undergraduate students do not take full advantage of the opportunity office hours provide. Indeed, if I’ve allocated three hours per week of the teaching term over the last five years – totalling about 420 hours (84 hours per academic year times five years) – I’d be amazed if students have actually stopped by for ten of those hours. Most of the time I can stay in my office and work, read, or write undisturbed. That’s great for me, but at the same time it’s a poor outcome because (a) I can learn a lot from students who come to office hours e.g. about whether my teaching is effective; (b) students are missing out on the opportunity of chatting about one issue or another, perhaps by asking that question they think is really silly but actually strikes at the heart of what I’m trying to cover in class.
There is a problem, then, and something needs to change. For my part, I have begun defining office hours i.e. I tell students that these are times allocated to them, when they can come and ask a question or make a comment or just discuss an issue from the course. To the students, I say that they need to become active rather than passive learners if they want to excel, do well, and get the marks they want. This means asking questions in class – I know, hard to do when class sizes are often very large indeed but still do-able – or after class; reading before class and checking out follow-up suggested readings; interacting using Moodle (our online study space for students) or Twitter or whatever other technology they use; and, crucially, coming to office hours, chapping on doors, finding out more, filling in the gaps in their knowledge.
Being an active learner – chasing after the degree, finding out the answers to the many questions you have – means using office hours. And active learners do better. Their thinking is sharper, they identify the important questions that need answers, and they build up confidence in handling the sorts of social settings that necessarily exist in universities (and workplaces).
So, students: use those office hours, go to see your lecturers, become active learners, and make the most of the (privileged) opportunity university provides.