By Tonya Krause-Phelan, WMU-Cooley Law School
Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings
By DeShun Harris
57 Duquesne Law Review 43 (Winter, 2019)
In her article Office Hours Are Not Obsolete: Fostering Learning Through One-on-One Student Meetings, Professor DeShun Harris encourages professors to rethink how they use office appointments to enhance student learning. Professor Harris addresses the current notion that technology has reduced, if not eliminated, the need for in-person office hours. While research shows that students tend to typically underuse, or even avoid altogether, the in-person office appointment, professors can overcome students’ perception that office meetings are not worth their time. Because one-on-one meetings provide rich learning opportunities, improve student performance on assessments, and potentially improve grades, legal educators should use effective learning strategies, many of which are being integrated into law school classrooms, to provide students with one-on-one learning opportunities during office hours.
Using strategies to encourage office meetings, professors can overcome the underutilization of office hours. One common misperception students have is that faculty are unavailable or not interested in hosting office meetings; consequently, professors must explain why one-on-one office meetings are important to students. Professors can convey a message through an invitation to attend office hours in the course syllabus; the message can be reinforced during the first class and before and after assessments during subsequent classes.
Once students decide to attend an office meeting, professors must create a welcoming office setting. Doing so conveys a message that the professor is available and does not think the meeting is an interruption. Things to consider when creating a suitable office atmosphere are ease in scheduling the meeting, an uncluttered office, a blank computer screen, and arranging furniture in a way that does not form barriers between the student and the professor.
The student meeting itself should be structured according to the common office hour framework. While there has been little research in the law school setting, Professor Harris points to research conducted at German universities where it was noted that most one-on-one conferences take on a five-sequenced framework. First, the prefacing sequence, involves inviting the student into the office; this can be done by general invitation or a specific request for the student to meet with the professor. The invitation must be extended in a way that is non-threatening. Second, the identification sequence is typically the beginning of the meeting, where the professor greets the student and engages in small talk. Flowing naturally from the identification sequence, the third sequence is outlining the academic business the student wishes to discuss. This sequence should be task-oriented to address the student’s concern/goals. Once the academic business has been outlined, the professor and student can move to the fourth sequence is negotiating academic business sequence. Here, the professor guides the student to a solution. Attention should be paid to writing, thought processing, and behavior that can lead to academic and career success. In working toward a solution, the professor is encouraged to use research on learning science to foster student learning. The fifth and final sequence is the closing sequence. Here, the solution is acknowledged.
Finally, professors must use effective learning methods to create a learner-centered meeting. One method professors can use is retrieval, the act of trying to recall information once learned from memory. Retrieving information is a powerful way to retain information because it strengthens the memory and association with the material, even when students give wrong answers. Another effective learning strategy to use in the office meeting setting is problem-solving. Professors can ask students to answer something that is new to them; then the student explains their thought process in reaching the answer. This also allows professors to give constructive feedback. As a way to aid students in becoming self-regulated learners, professors can also discuss professional development concepts like training, self-study, critical reflection, and feedback.
Professor Harris concludes that office hours are not obsolete. Instead, office hours should be encouraged as they provide important learning opportunities for students. Professors can easily modify the manner in which they currently host office appointments and incorporate effective learning strategies, many of which are being integrated into law school classrooms, to provide students with one-on-one opportunities designed to enhance their knowledges, skills and education.