This is more-or-less a stairwell conversation recently had about the nature of academic office hours or meet-the-tutor drop-in appointments for students at the university. “Office hours” are a simple idea. Some people call them “drop-in hours” and “appointments” and “meet-the-tutor” time and so on. It’s all the same thing.
Office Hours or Drop-in Hours
You: Hey Joe, what are “office hours”?
Me: It’s time when I’m in my office.
Me: Sorry. It’s time reserved for students to visit me to talk about whatever they want to. The way it works is, I’m in my office. I don’t pre-book appointments for that time. I’m there for drop-in visits from students.
You: Yeah, but I can knock on your door whenever I want. Sometimes you’re in; sometimes, not. What’s the difference?
Me: That’s hit-and-miss. You’re taking your chances, and my office is at the top of a very long staircase. I’m in my office during my office hours for sure. Also, come on! I deserve a bit of respect. My office is a workplace, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. Random, spontaneous visits can be great. But they also can be disruptive to marking, researching, writing, and even eating my lunch. Office hours help me balance the many demands I have on my time and give extra time for those students who seek out that opportunity. I hate sending people away when they appear randomly at my door or when I’m in the middle of something else that is time-sensitive. After all the effort you took to get there… but my time is finite, and I need to prioritise.
You: What if I can’t make it to your office hour? Can I never visit?
Me: You’re never stuck. We always can book an appointment for a chat. Lots of people make appointments. You can too. Simply ask. I know my preset office hours don’t always work for everyone, which is why I’m as flexible asI can be. Remember, I want to be helpful, and we’re in this together. Don’t be shy.
You: Can I phone you, instead?
Me: Yes. Give it a go. Details in the UCL directory. But if I’m talking face-to-face with someone, they get priority. If I don’t answer, leave a short message, give me a number, and I’ll phone back.
You: You want me to use the telephone? Man, you’re a geezer. What about my apps? Can I use my apps?
Me: No. Apps don’t work on the UCL phone system. You know you can access Microsoft Teams through UCL, yeas?
You: Yep. I don’t like it, but I can use it. And I have that on my phone.
Me: I have time each week that you can pre-book online appointments using Teams. You access the pre-booking system through the link profjoecain.net/booking. You select what works for you, and the system automatically set it up in our calendars.
Me: I’m also keenly aware that 22 Gordon Street is not an accessible building above the basement. If you hear someone with a mobility issue prefers in-person, ask them to get in touch. We’ll organise alternatives. That’s easy.
You: What can I use your office hour for?
Me: Try these:
|Topic||OK for Office Hours?|
|pastoral needs and assignments||Yep. Top priority.|
|module content, degree planning, academic advice||Yep.|
|careers stuff, help from a mentor||Yep.|
|you just aced something and you want to brag||Yep. I love to hear this kind of news.|
|you got some feedback and want to talk about how you might improve – any module||Yep. This is one thing we really want to be helpful with but find students rarely ask about.|
|you want to “pick your brain” or “bounce an idea” or “use you for a sounding board” – whatever metaphor you want to use for talking about an vague idea you have.||Yep.|
|-A place to sit for lunch,
-A charge point for your phone,
-A cup of tea?
-Yep, but I’m going to talk with you about stuff like careers, modules, and your coursework. Juice isn’t free.
-Maybe. If you like black tea with no milk and no sugar, you might have a chance with that.
|NetFlix choices, new dance moves, anything about dogs, music, or politics.||I’ve got nothing here. I’m simply going to tell you to read New Scientist. (You should read New Scientist, every week.)|
|You’ve read one of my articles and have a few suggestions on how I might reframe the research question to make a stronger point.||Best make an appointment. Bring biscuits.|
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