I was lucky enough to attend the HERDSA (Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia) Conference 2019. At this conference I learnt a great deal which I could not possibly capture in a single blog post. However, there was one thing that hit home during the questions following Professor Peter Felten’s keynote: “Relationships matter: Moving relationship-rich experiences from the periphery to the center of undergraduate education.” That was about office hours.

A fellow delegate mentioned a study which found that a large number of students do not know what an office hour was for. Additionally, several students were under the impression that office hours were for academics only and that students should not approach academic staff during this time.

In his keynote, Professor Felten encouraged us to reflect on the research which indicates that many students “do not routinely experience educationally meaningful relationships with peers and academic staff,” and consider how we can move to ensuring that “our institutions are places of relentless welcome, deep learning, and whanaungatanga for all students.” The impact of two words, one term, on student’s access to a valuable student support structure, and a way of building meaningful relationships with academic staff, truly shocked me. 

Easy solutions were readily found – altering to the term “student hours” rather than “office hours” was suggested to place an emphasis on the student and the relationship, not the location. But this little worm had firmly embedded itself into my head. As I am part of the team that runs the Ako Aronui: Pathway to HEA Fellowship, problems with office hours weren’t a new concern. Although our participants are familiar with the purpose of the concept, we very rarely have attendees to our virtual office hour.

So, when I opened my RSS feed reader later on the next week and found the article Two Tips to Increase Students’ Use of Office Hours by Jennie M. Carr, sitting near the top of the list, I knew I had to have a read.

Despite the title, I found three useful tips in the article:

  • offering a virtual office hour, by skype, zoom or similar, for students that might not be able to come to their office physically;
  • scheduling office hours when their students can attend;
  • and using an online scheduler for booking appointments.

As a result, we have just started exploring a few booking systems, including Qualtrics and Microsoft Bookings, to see what works well with Outlook and what is embeddable within Blackboard. Switching toward an appointment-based system should encourage productivity and allow for relationships to flourish – watch this space!

If you are thinking about giving this a go with your students, consider the Blackboard Booking System (found under Course Tools).

Emily Whitehead