Office Hours

Dear Faculty,

As the first round of Prelims finishes and some students are disappointed with their results, this is a good time to reemphasize the value of office hours. If you don't already have your or your TA's office hours scheduled for a room suitable for groups of students to attend and work together (such as an empty classroom), consider reserving such a room for the remainder of the semester. Here are some reminders you can share with your students and TAs as appropriate:

For students:

  • Plan office hours into your weekly schedule. This is a good time to have set aside to work on the course, whether or not you know ahead of time that you'll have questions.
  • Office hours near assignment deadlines tend to be more crowded, so plan ahead and get started early to have access to more focused course staff attention.
  • If you need to have a private discussion with the professor (grades, improving in the course, accessibility issue, make-ups from illness, etc. (but not private tutoring)) ask to make an appointment as office hours are often a shared time.

For TAs:

  • Avoid directly answering or providing solutions to HW problems.
  • Ask students to talk through their plan or solution process to uncover where they get off track or confused.
  • Take advantage of peer learning: if you helped one student understand a problem, ask them to explain it to the next student struggling with the same problem.
  • As you go over student work to locate an error, "think aloud," explaining your thought process. That can help teach students to debug their own work in the future.
  • If certain problems give many students trouble, let the course instructor know. It may be helpful to send a clarifying announcement, record a supplementary video, or spend a few minutes during lecture or section addressing the confusion.
  • Be cognizant of sharing your time across multiple students. It is easy to get “captured” by one student asking lots of questions. Answer one or two and then suggest the student work on the problem on their own for awhile while you help other students. Circulate amongst multiple students (advantage of a small classroom or conference room for OH).

Zoom Office Hours: Consider keeping the zoom call open rather than using a waiting room. Students also learn from listening to each other’s questions and the answers. Intentionally call on everyone. Break-out rooms can be used for students to work together. Consider a mix of zoom hours which can improve accessibility and in-person office hours.

Office hours can be one of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of a course. Enjoy that time with your students!

Hadas Ritz, MTEI Faculty Teaching Fellow and MAE Senior Lecturer

Kathryn Dimiduk, Director McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute

Alan Zehnder, Assoc. Dean for Undergraduate Programs