I used to set my office hours and really not be concerned about promoting them beyond the obligatory publishing the available hours in my course syllabus.
The video here (courtesy of PHD Comics which I highly recommend) is something any teacher or teaching assistant can identify with. We’ve all had this experience and we do our best to not have our head explode while in this scenario.
This year I have been working to make my office hours utilized and useful to my students and myself. Here I will share some of the tools and tips I have for this.
Tools to the Rescue
I found that students are more likely to come to office hours when they have an individual reservation. The student is assured a time slot for a one on one session and also has the commitment to not miss a session she reserved herself. I like to use the tool YouCanBookMe for this since it integrates with my Google calendar, allows students to book 15 or 30 minutes (customizable) time slots during my scheduled office hours as well as informing both the student and teacher about the appointment. The student has control to cancel the session with a simple click of a link in the confirmation email and it is all just so easy that it works.
The Office Setting
During the actual office hour session, I have my office setup to give the student simple access to power for their laptops as well as a wired ethernet connection to avoid any wifi problems (we have had quite a bit lately, at least in my office location). My whiteboard is available for sketching out ideas and algorithms and I ensure to have markers and eraser ready as well.
We define what they know, what they need to know for the problems they are working on and then tackle the problem at hand. I try to summarize what we went over at the end of the session to be sure we are clear on what we learned together. I also ensure to have space to pair program together although my office space is a little too tight for this and would prefer to not have the classic l-shaped desk that gets in the way.
What techniques are you using to make more effective use of your office hours for students?