Month: February 2015

from Faculty Focus: Office Hours Redux

Office Hours Redux

By Maryellen Weimer, PhD

In the final post of 2014, I shared some comments about blog “conversations,” wondering what else we might do to take our exchanges to the next level. The comments made in response to a post are typically shared across a period of time. If you’re one of the first to comment, do you return later to read what other folks had to say? I’m doubtful that many us of have that sort of time.

The January 21 post about students not making use of office hours generated a nice collection of suggestions to remedy the problem. From the roughly 30 comments, a few themes emerged. Here’s a compilation of those themes, along with some questions and thoughts that I’m hoping will take the conversation further. Please let me know if they do or don’t and whether you find these types of posts helpful.

Schedule office hours when they’re convenient. That is, at times convenient for the teacher and for the students. One commenter described circulating a calendar with possible times and having students initial those that don’t work for them. Or, you can solicit data from students about best times via a program like Doodle poll. Don’t schedule office hours during times when lots of classes are offered. Seems like this should go without saying, but sometimes student convenience takes second place. Let students schedule appointments electronically: was recommended. It’s free and you can link to it from your course website.

Require a visit, preferably early in the course. If the visit is to discuss some course issue, say possible term paper topics, that conversation can show students the value of meeting with the prof. They receive good feedback on the topic they’re considering, get ideas about other options, and can ask questions about assignment details. I have to admit I’m troubled by making it a course assignment. Does requiring students to do things teach them why they should do those things, or does the act of requiring make that learning less likely? One reader shared that she invites each student with a personal note (staggering the notes so she’s not overwhelmed). Those who don’t show for a meeting get a “missed you” note. Students make the choice albeit under conditions that make it harder to not show up.

Reward those who come with points. Make the visit worth something; those who use this approach recommend just a small amount of points. You also could reward with food—fruit, protein bars, or a less nutritious, but likely more popular, option like candy. We give our beagle a treat if, at bedtime, she goes outside and does her business in a timely manner. Does she need a treat to hurry her back inside when it’s 10 degrees? Probably not. It’s not quite the same, but do points reinforce the belief that every educational activity must include them?

Meet someplace other than the office. Suggestions included “student spaces” like the student center or the campus cafeteria. One commenter reported that after a late afternoon class, she proceeds to the cafeteria for dinner, inviting students to join her for a “chat and chew.” That reminded me of the four years I had my office in a student resident hall (off one of the study lounges). I scheduled some evening office hours and I was always surprised by how many students showed up. Or, as someone else suggested, meet with students in a shared space, say the classroom, and call that time a review session. Invite students to drop by individually or in groups. You could even designate a review session topic. “I’ll be in our classroom between 4:30 and 5:00 doing more cost differential estimates.” If meeting someplace else isn’t a viable option, consider this suggestion: turn your office into something that resembles a student lounge. Stock it with chocolate and stress reducing toys.

There was a comment about how much student interaction occurs electronically. Maybe we should just forget office hours and meet them digitally. But as the commenter noted, it’s important to be able to talk with people face-to-face. Finding the office and feeling some discomfort about having to talk with their professor is great practice for other conversations students will need to have in the future.

For yet another approach to office hours, I encourage you to take a look at a 2006 issue of College Teaching. In it two professors report on their experiences with a reformatted kind of office hours: something they call “course centers.” Read a synopsis here >>

Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Mari Buche

by Mike Meyer, director, William G. Jackson CTL

The Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominee for this week comes from the School of Business and Economics. Dean Gene Klippel has chosen to recognize Mari Buche, associate professor of management information sciences and the graduate program director for the MS in Data Science.

Dean Klippel simply made a list of what he looks for in a faculty member as it relates to teaching excellence, and then found in Buche a faculty member that embodied the entire list. Klippel’s characteristics include exceptional disciplinary knowledge and skill maintenance through professional development activities as well as a passion for the discipline. Mari demonstrates these through membership and extensive speaking, participation and mentoring in three professional societies—ACM, America’s Conference on Information Systems and the Midwest Association of Information Systems. Klippel also noted exceptional verbal communication skills as something Buche brings to all of her interactions through the School.

But Dean Klippel also looks for some “softer” traits, including genuine caring about the success of students and a willingness to listen to student feedback regarding course materials and structure. He noted that Mari goes beyond the classroom to support the success of students and brings alumni back as guest speakers. Mari’s previous recognition as the 2014 Outstanding Faculty Greek Life Award through the Order of Omega and as a “Props for Profs winner through the Jackson CTL in spring 2014 shows a strong student connection as well.

Mari will be formally recognized with the 11 other Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominees at a luncheon near the end of spring term. Please join Dean Klippel and the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning in thanking Mari for her outstanding contributions to the teaching mission of the School of Business and Economics.

Dean’s Teaching Showcase: Scott Kuhl

by Mike Meyer, director, William G. Jackson CTL

The Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominee for this week comes from the College of Sciences and Arts. Dean Bruce Seely has chosen to recognize Scott Kuhl, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science with an adjunct appointment in Cognitive and Learning Sciences. Dean Seely values “what Scott Kuhl attempts to accomplish as a teacher mainly for the mindset he employs, and less for the specific teaching techniques has adopted.” He notes that Scott “does not differentiate between regular classes, summer youth and support for Enterprise activities as educational venues—but approaches all with the goal of creating a fun and motivating environment.”

In his more traditional courses, Scott does attribute his teaching success to specific techniques, like providing detailed assignment descriptions with numerous tips to “help get students going in the right direction.” He also provides numerous examples, some of which he walks through in class in detail, and encourages students to share additional examples with each other. Finally, he emphasizes prompt feedback for his students. He has accomplished this by creating an automatic grading program which provides a “provides a transparent, well-defined set of expectations for assignments” and a score that can be adjusted by an instructor or grader as necessary. He’s even willing to share this tool with those interested.

Kuhl is also focused on continual improvement. Though the Husky Game Development  (HGD) Enterprise he leads is focused on games, he attributes its dramatic growth under his leadership to a careful cycle of feedback, change and evaluation. He sees the value of interdisciplinary teamwork, communication, development and management for students in HGD, and has led the group in both publishing academic papers and receiving sponsorship from both Chrysler and the Department of Labor.

Scott will be formally recognized with the 11 other Dean’s Teaching Showcase nominees at a luncheon near the end of spring term. Please join Dean Seely, computer science chair Min Song and the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning in thanking Scott for his outstanding contributions to the teaching mission of the College of Sciences and Arts.


The William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning schedules events for faculty and instructional staff to provide opportunities to learn new instructional strategies and tools and meet faculty from other departments. 

Balancing Work and Life: Great Teaching and Time for You (2/26): New methods of teaching allow communication with students from virtually any place at any time.  How do you find a balance that meets student needs but leaves time for family and personal needs?   The Michigan Tech Work-Life Advisory Committee and the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning co-hosts this coffee chat in which we’ll explore tips and techniques for balancing the many demands on today’s instructors.  We’ll also brainstorm ways the committee can advocate for the flexibility and resources to keep instructor roles balanced. This coffee chat event is scheduled for Thursday, February 26 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Coffee and light refreshments will be provided to those who register by Monday, February 23. Click here to register.

Group Work: What Do Students Want from Their Teammates?

This Faculty Focus blog post by Maryellen Weimer, PhD, references a study conducted by Crutchfield and Klamon, called “Assessing the dimension and outcomes of an effective teammate” in the Journal of Education for Business. In the study, peer performance assessment activities with over 800 students were used to determine the correlation between student success in key components of teamwork and the team’s willingness to work with their teammates on future projects.

If you have team projects in your courses, in addition to sharing key components of teamwork with your students, also consider tapping resources available through the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).  The CTL hosts the workshop Fostering Group Dynamics in Instruction, led by Sonia Goltz and Roger Woods from SBE, which will be offered again in late August. In addition, two new CTL workshops will be offered this spring to support group work: Google Drive for Collaboration as well as Canvas Group Tools.  The CTL can also help you leverage CATME, Canvas Quizzes and Google Forms technologies to provide students with feedback on their teamwork skills.

Feel free to contact the CTL at 487-3000 for additional information.