Where I teach, most students do not like visiting faculty during office hours. Athletes who need progress reports signed will typically approach faculty before or after class, and random questions about course material or assignments will often be posed during random run-ins with students in the library or coffee shop. Most of my colleagues have experienced the same thing.
During my first year of full-time teaching, I met with ten students in my office. (I know this because I keep track of every student who comes to visit me; it’s a quirk.) During my second year, that number rose to twelve. At the end of my second year I started asking students in my classes why they don’t use faculty office hours more. I received two answers time and again:
- They are afraid that when they just “drop by” that they are going to be interrupting something, and
- Many of their professors actually aren’t in their offices during office hours to begin with (presumably because not many students stop by, because of the reason noted above).
As I entered my third year I decided to try something different: set aside office hours as I had always done, but request that students make an appointment before dropping by. To
accomplish this, I used a scheduling app called “YouCanBookMe” (see image, below). There are a few other options out there, but this one is free and it works well enough.
With this app, you set up what times you want to be available, connect it to your iCal or Google Calendar, and then anyone with access to your scheduling link can reserve a meeting time in ten or fifteen minute increments. When they set a meeting, the app adds the event to your calendar and sends you and them a notification e-mail. It works flawlessly and instantaneously.
The first semester I used this app, I met with over forty students over the course of the SEMESTER (compared to a total of twenty two over the previous TWO YEARS), and many of those came to meet with me several times. The second, third, and fourth semesters that I used this app brought the same or even better results.
At first, a number of my colleagues expressed concerns that having students set appointments for office hours would make me seem less “accessible.” But the data would suggest the exact opposite: this practice makes faculty more accessible, not less. I’ve since converted a number of colleagues to this app, and every one of them has seen similar results.
Nowadays, my office hours availability is posted on my course homepages so that students can check, week by week, when I’m going to be available to meet with them. On the first day of class I show them how they app works, and I have a few students set fake appointments during class while I broadcast my calendar page on the classroom projector. They like seeing how the process works, and it affords me the chance to emphasize that I want them to stop by, and that this makes it easier for that to happen.
I still advertise “drop in” office hours on my office door, and I’m always clear with students that they are more that welcome to stop by unannounced. But I remind them that the best way to ensure that they have my undivided attention is to give me a heads up that they’re coming.