Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Office hours have long existed as a tool to provide instructor-student interaction, and to help students ask their questions outside of class timeframe. In large-size college classes, using emails and online office hours have been introduced as effective substitutions for face-to-face office hours [1-4]. Moreover, cooperative learning has repeatedly proven to have positive impacts on students’ educational experience [3,5]. Cooperative learning, which can be incorporated in classes of any size, enables students to improve their social and team-working skills. In addition, cooperative learning provides an opportunity for students to discuss their questions and overcome challenges within their groups without forming long lines outside the instructor’s office during office hours.
Nevertheless, for certain technical courses in engineering curriculum, the cooperative learning method and similar approaches may not be applicable. For example, in preliminary programming courses, students should practice coding individually and work on the assignments outside a group setup to obtain a practical understanding of the material. Many students, especially those who lack self-confidence in mathematics- and programming-oriented courses, may not be inclined to ask their “basic” questions in the class. For similar reasons, they may simply not show up during the office hours. Since face-to-face office hours is expected to provide a more personal (and hopefully comfortable) environment for student to ask their questions, we aim to investigate the benefits (and/or disadvantages) of requiring students to attend “mandatory office hours” in students’ learning experience.
In our sophomore-level Biomedical Computing course (4800:220), we have recently incorporated the mandatory office hours. We have been investigating the outcomes of this approach on students’ performance and their understanding of the material. In this course, students’ overall understanding of the fundamentals of programming in MATLAB® are evaluated using an open-book Pass/Fail exam at the fifth week of the semester. In spite of an average grade of 85 in the five submitted assignments prior to this exam, the exam average grade was 64, with 12 students (out of the total 22 students enrolled in the class) having a "Fail" grade. Prior to making any conclusions it should be noted that: 1- The level of difficulty of the test was similar, if not easier, than the assignments. 2- Only a couple of students had complaints about running out of time during the test, while interestingly enough, no student stated that the test was “too difficult” or “unfair”. 3- The main common mistakes within this test were pertaining to the most basic and fundamental material covered in the class, which was unexpected given the individual assignment grades. 4- In an anonymous survey given a week prior to the exam, almost all students were content with the teaching style and explanation of the material in the class. 5- The course instructor and the two graduate student TAs reported little to no attendance of students during office hours.
Upon making the aforementioned observations, we required students to attend mandatory face-to-face office hours -once per week- with the course instructor. The students were informed that not attending the office hours will result in a 10% deduction in their following homework assignments; while depending on the level of participation during the office hour, they would receive from 0% to 10% bonus points on the same assignments. This approach has shown a preliminary success as the students’ performance during in-class exercises has noticeably improved.
Further statistical analyses will be conducted upon the completion of the course to more accurately identify the benefits (and/or disadvantages) of mandatory office hours. In our opinion, incorporating this technique, even for the first few weeks of the semester, could be advantageous, as it lays the groundwork for a thriving student-instructor interaction, and encourages students not to hesitate in reaching out for help. The validity of this assumption will be investigated in more details in the near future.
 Elkafi Hassini. Student–instructor communication: The role of email. Computers & Education, 47(1):29–40, 2006.  Kurt Gramoll, Wes Hines, and Mary Kocak. Delivery and assessment of teaching statics over the internet to community college students. In ASEE Annual Conf. Proc., Portland, OR, pages 12–15, 2005.  Scott Frees and G Drew Kessler. Developing collaborative tools to promote communication and active learning in academia. In Frontiers in Education, 2004. FIE 2004. 34th Annual, pages S3B–20. IEEE, 2004.  Rubik Atamian and Wig DeMoville. Office hours—none: an e-mail experiment. College Teaching, 46(1):31–35, 1998.  Barbara Oakley, Richard M Felder, Rebecca Brent, and Imad Elhajj. Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of student centered learning, 2(1):9–34, 2004.
Rezvanifar, S. C., & Amini, R. (2018, June), Board 25: Work in Progress: Mandatory Attendance in Office Hours to Improve Students’ Learning Experience Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/29992
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