NITOP 2019 Teaching Slam: Revamping office hours to create a collaborative, low-pressure learning environment
This year at NITOP, I gave a Teaching Slam Presentation about how I revamped my office hours to make them more accessible for students, and more productive for both myself and my students. Read more below to find links to the presentation slides and handout!
After incredibly low attendance rates for my office hours, I created "weekly review sessions" for my students. Replacing office hours, these weekly review sessions are a space for students to ask questions about assignments, readings, or lectures. You may be thinking "Wait, Karly, this is exactly what office hours are", and you aren't wrong. However, there are a couple key differences.
I talked about how these review sessions differ from office hours at NITOP 2019 during my Teaching Slam. Didn't attend NITOP this year? Missed the presentation? Loved the presentation so much that you want the slides/handout in electronic format? Use these hyperlinks to find my presentation slides and handout! Below is a blog-version of my presentation.
My first semester teaching statistics, office hours attendance was incredibly low. Students would email with questions, make plans to attend office hours, talk to me about it after class… but then never show up to my office. I found a couple common reasons as to why students weren't attending office hours:
What are review sessions and how do they work?
Similar to office hours, review session are a regular weekly time for your students to meet with you. Unlike office hours, these reviews are held outside of your office. In the past, I have reserved classrooms or booked a conference room available through my department. The key here is that it is a meeting space that accommodates groups of students. Holding the review sessions in a neutral space (i.e., not your office) that allows for groups, creates a low-pressure environment for your students.
At review sessions, students have the opportunity to ask questions, or listen in on other students questions. Students can also work on their homework or other assignments, either in groups or independently. This allows them to study in a structured environment, where you (or other classmates) can chime in if they have questions. If your class has group projects, review sessions can also serve as a good place for groups to meet to work on the assignment.
Depending on your class, you also have the option to make your review session open to multiple sections of the same course. At my university, we usually have 5 sections of Statistical Methods each semester. In order to make review sessions more accessible, students from any section can attend any review session. So, if a student can't attend my review session, they also have the opportunity to attend a session held at a different time by a different instructor. This is helpful for students with busy schedules, as well as students that may need extra help.
How do review sessions help students?
I've noticed three main benefits to review sessions:
How do review sessions help instructors?
OK, so I have (hopefully) sold you on the benefits of review sessions for your students. But how do these sessions help instructors? Are they more time consuming than regular office hours? To answer the latter question, no, they aren't more time consuming. If students come to reviews sessions and working independently on assignments, I still have the opportunity to work on my own stuff (just like I did during office hours when no one showed up). So while students work on homework or other assignments, the instructor has a chance to answer emails or grade papers.
In addition to this, there are a couple other ways review sessions benefit instructors. First, they help streamline your efforts with students. Rather than answering the same question with multiple students individually, you can address that question with a group of students. This also gives students a chance to problem solve together, and explain concepts to one another.
Depending on the course, there is also the option to co-host review sessions. As I said before, the Statistical Methods class at my university had five different sections, each with a different instructor. Instead of each instructor holding their own review session, instructors can work together to hold joint review sessions a couple different times a week. This allows multiple sessions for the students, without overburdening the instructors. By rotating which week each instructor hosts the reviews, it can reduce the instructors workload, without sacrificing time with the students. For those of you fortunate enough to have TA's, you could have a TA host the review sessions to save you even more time.
Finally, because of the low-pressure environment, I've also found review sessions help build rapport between instructors and students. As students become more comfortable in the review sessions, they also start becoming more comfortable in class, asking more questions and participating more in discussion.
Full disclosure, everything discussed during the teaching slam at NITOP and in this post is based on my own personal experience. While I have found review sessions to be beneficial, I don't have concrete data to back up my claims. If you are curious about these sessions, and also interested in doing a SoTL project to investigate their effectiveness, let me know!
Have you done anything like this before? Wonder how you could apply this to your class? Comment below or email me!
Written by Karly Schleicher