Creating Inclusive Office Hours

Hosted by: Aaron Schips

Did you know that low self-esteem can be a driving factor in student hesitancy to attend office hours? In this podcast, we will explore why office hours are so important, and offer some easy strategies you can use to switch up how you conduct them.

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Hi this is Aaron Schips,  an Instructional Designer at CETL (C-etl) with another episode of the Cerebro Series.  Today we’ll be exploring ways you can create inclusive office hours experiences for students. Did you know that low self-esteem can be a driving factor in student hesitancy to attend office hours? Students, especially those that are first-generation, may not know what office hours are, or how to approach professors if they make it to the office. Since CU Denver has a large percentage of first-generation students, making office hours inclusive and accessible can have a positive effect on retaining these students. This podcast will show you why office hours make a difference, and some easy strategies you can use to switch up how you conduct them.  

When I was in college I remember taking a freshman history class that was one of the most challenging of my whole degree. I thought the professor was smart, the content engaging, and his grading strict. I remember getting my first paper back and getting a grade on it that wasn’t ideal. I knew that I could go visit the professor’s office hours to chat about the grade, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. To 18-year-old me, the thought of talking to someone I thought was so intelligent was terrifying. I ended up going, and sat down with the professor. I asked some polite questions about how to improve, and he gave me some good advice. There was so much more I wanted to ask him, about careers or college in general, but I didn’t know how to bring it up. To me, there was a barrier between professor and student with conversations like this, and I didn’t know what to say.  

Students around the country experience thoughts like these, but sometimes it’s more severe. They may not know what office hours are or why they’re important. In this case office hours become part of a hidden curriculum. Students that are aware of how college works will know what they are for and how to use them. Students that are newer to college or are first-generation may not. For example, one professor noted that some students thought his office hours were the times he was working and didn’t want to be bothered.  

Worse still, students may think that their professor will treat them poorly because of their gender or race. One international student visited her professor’s office hours. When she arrived, she asked her professor a question. Instead of answering her, the professor wrote their response into Google Translate, translated it to Spanish, and showed her the answer. Interactions like these made the student feel like she couldn’t ask questions in her classes, and made her uncomfortable speaking Spanish on campus.  

So, what strategies can you use to make your office hours more inclusive? The first step is to consider how you hold them. Do students think your available times are convenient? Are they held in person or do you offer virtual meeting times as well?   

During your first day of class, try clearly explaining when your hours are, the way students can contact you, and why they are beneficial. This can go a long way in making students feel comfortable about attending. Students need to know that it’s okay to just drop by, even if they don’t have a pressing question. They also need to see you as an ally, and not an imposing figure.  

If you don’t offer virtual office hours, it might be beneficial to explore them as an option. Telling students that you are available by appointment via Zoom, or hosting monthly group meetings where students can build community, is a way to ensure inclusivity outside of normal office hours. These group meetings could also be a great way to hold study groups for finals or final projects. This practice could be beneficial for larger lectures, where it is harder to see each student individually. It can also be done virtually or in person.  

Finally, surveying students about what they want out of office hours can help you spend your time better utilizing them. Send out a quick survey via email to your students explaining what office hours are and asking what students might want to see. You could include information like whether they should be done in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid. Other ideas for inclusion could be times that work best for students, or what their impressions of office hours are. You can spend five minutes at the beginning of the next class discussing the results.  

Once a student decides to attend your office hours, use active listening techniques to show students you are attentive. Things like taking notes, making eye contact, and nodding at appropriate times can make the difference in whether students decide to come back again. Think about the professor with the international student discussed earlier. Besides never putting something into Google translate to reply to a student that is proficient in English, this professor could have used any of the active-listening techniques to show the student they were present. Actions like this could have made the difference between the student feeling comfortable in class and on campus or feeling alienated.   

Taking any of these actions can go a long way in ensuring students understand what office hours are, and your attitude if they decide to attend. Students love using their professors as an outlet to discuss academics, or even just as a resource for anything related to college. Finding out what works best for students and office hours can take away their hesitancy to attend, and increase their comfort level. Additionally, once they attend, ensure they feel listened to by actively listening and validating the experiences they are talking about.  

If you are unsure of how you can make your office hours more inclusive, or would like to explore other ways you can, head over to the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning website for additional resources.  

Thanks for joining me, Aaron Schips, as I explored ways you can make office hours more inclusive.  Be sure to check out another insightful tidbit at The Cerebro Series.