Professors, students must work together to make the most of office hours


The Appalachian Online

James Branch

In more than two years of college, I have found that meeting with professors during their office hours has consistently brought me success in my classes.

No matter what class it was, if I just took the time to meet with my professor outside of the classroom, my grades improved afterwards.

For example, I am currently enrolled in a biology class and not doing well. I went to my professor for help and he not only went over my quiz with me, explaining why my answers were wrong, but he also gave me some extra points after I explained to him why I chose the answer I did.

He also offered to sit with me and ask me questions pertaining to the next quiz, like a study group. But instead of a group of students guessing about the material on the quiz, it came from the person who makes the quizzes and tests.

So if talking to my professors has helped me so much, what has kept other students from doing the same?

Only eight percent of students out of a group of 625 reported that they have gone to a professor’s office hours more than once a month, according to a 2014 study published in College Teaching. The study’s result was in line with previous research on the subject.

As Maryellen Weimer of the Faculty Focus blog noted, one reason students do not come to office hours is fear.

The thought of talking to someone who has the type of mastery over a subject that a professor does can be intimidating. This also makes asking for help embarrassing when the professor can explain an answer so easily and obviously.

This fear factor is certainly a problem, but there are experimental ways of engaging students that bypass any intimidation.

Weimer discusses an alternative to traditional office hours in her blog: course centers.

Instead of one student going to a professor’s office alone, a group of students can go and get help either collectively or individually.

Being in a group setting can take a lot of the fear out of the equation, and lets students see that they are not the only ones having trouble.

Two professors conducted a small test of this concept which yielded positive results. A survey of participating students revealed that 54 percent preferred the course center concept to office hours. The professors involved added the course center idea in addition to their regular office hours, not as a complete replacement for them.

Here at Appalachian State, I feel we pride ourselves on thinking outside the box and would love to see our professors adopt the course center idea. It would be a great way for professors to try to engage in a way that might be more effective than traditional teaching methods.

Of course, students themselves also have to take some initiative in going out and discovering the benefits of office hours, to see what help is available and how it works for them.

While professors should be accommodating to the needs of students, the study makes clear that there are some factors that are out of the control of professors.

These include schedule conflicts, office location, whether the class was a major or general education class and class size.

It can be difficult getting around these obstacles, but it is worthwhile to do what you can to attend office hours and to work with professors to make the process more convenient.

Whatever reason is holding you back, keep in mind that a study done by Harvard University and Panorama Education has shown that knowing and meeting with your professor can lead to better grades.

While professors will not likely shift your grade up an entire letter grade, going and meeting with them can show you care and in turn might put you over if you are a point or so off from an A. Demonstrating your effort and concern to the professor can do a lot of good.

All professors want from us as students is to learn the material and pass so we can move on to bigger and better things. I believe that professors truly care about their students’ grades and want to see us succeed.

No professor is out to fail you. They will not give you bad advice on what to study, and they might even help you study if you ask for it.

Of course, there will be a minority of professors who do not care and are not willing to help. You cannot know for sure until you go and find out. At that point I would suggest going to a different professor who teaches the same class and see if they would be more willing to help out.

Until you find the help you need, do not stop. College is about learning and nothing should discourage you. If your professors see that you care, they will care, too.

In the end, it will take students and professors working together to create an effective setup for office hours. Each side has to do its part to help reach the common goal of student success.

Branch, a sophomore journalism major from Brunswick, Ga., is an opinion writer.