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Helping Students Get More Out of Office Hours

Holding office hours can be both rewarding and frustrating. While students can have real
insights--or even breakthroughs--when meeting individually with an instructor, many are reluctant to come to office hours for fear of disturbing or imposing upon their professors. Here are a few tips for getting students to office hours and making good use of this one-on-one instructional time:

Encouraging students to come

  • On the first day of class, make a point of inviting your students to see you during office hours or to make an appointment with you.
  • For small classes, make an office visit in the first three weeks of the term a course requirement. After an initial meeting, students will feel more comfortable returning later in the term.
  • Hold your office hours in Café Vivian, Small World, or somewhere that feels less formal to students than your office. Doing so may help to break down barriers for undergraduates intimidated by the prospect of speaking with a Princeton faculty member.

Making the time productive

  • Advise students on how to prepare for meeting with you. You might suggest that they write down specific questions, mark difficult passages in a text, or identify recurring difficulties in a problem set.
  • Ask students to specify why they've come to see you. Knowing the purpose of the meeting will make it more focused and cut down on vague explorations--and time!
  • Guide students to a deeper understanding of course material through active questioning rather than by explaining the material. This sort of guidance gives students a template for critical inquiry they can put to use later on their own.
  • For quantitative courses, use office hours to teach problem-solving strategies rather than to provide students with answers to particular problems. Help them work through the conceptual basis of the problem, recognize and classify types of problems, and predict logical solutions rather than focusing on algorithmic calculations.
  • If you have a number of students waiting to see you, poll them to see if there is a common question or concern and then address those concerns with the entire group.