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In situations where one teaches purely undergraduate students (20 hours per week, 16 weeks per semester, 2 semesters per year) how many hours per week, and how many weeks per year, are people normally in their offices? Does this number change after the main teaching semesters complete?

I have just finished my fall semester and I find my normal office hours cannot handle the demand from the students. I'm a bit torn. On one hand, I want to support my students as much as they care to be supported but I must balance my own needs. I have plenty of other things to do besides teach (I have to prepare for the spring semester and that will take me significant time, I have marking to do, etc.). More office hours means less time (thus less quality) for prep (and other various tasks).

When I consider what my peers do, I see they often do less than the school requires of them (I am not interested in following their example). With > 300 students, it seems the only way to really satisfy the demand is to be there 20 hours per week...which leave me little (no) time for my other tasks.

My goal here is to try to identify what is fair to all involved.

Edit: I've posted a follow-up question to this one.

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    With >300 students, could you delegate at least some of the work to a TA? Perhaps require that every issue should first be discussed with a TA, and then be available yourself as "second-level support"? The concept of multiple support levels is not new. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '14 at 12:57
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    @StephanKolassa Oh, I love that idea. Now, if only my school had TA's. – earthling Dec 12 '14 at 13:29
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    As some answers seem to make assumptions on this: What sort of requests mainly fill your office hours? – Wrzlprmft Dec 12 '14 at 13:39
  • @Wrzlprmft The #1 request is to give them guidance on what they've written in their assignment so far. The time does seem productive (for them) but it takes me about 30 minutes per student to give them meaningful guidance. – earthling Dec 12 '14 at 13:46
  • You didn't say what sort of class you're teaching. But for most courses, writing a set of problem sets or FAQs or whatever is more efficient use of your time. – smci Dec 12 '14 at 14:18
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My undergrad university held regular "helpdesks" in a classroom - where one or more teaching assistants and sometimes the lecturer were present. They essentially functioned like an extra (and optional) tutorial class, and the more proactive students would come in and work on their assignments, discussing among themselves and asking questions.

This allows you to spread time a bit more fairly among students than at an office hour, where one student might take up a lot of time and leave others waiting at the door. Answer one question, and then move on to someone else.

Perhaps you could try a similar strategy?

  • 5 years ago, when I was an undergraduate, almost all homework support was performed by TA's, leaving the professor's office hours for bigger, usually comprehension, issues that were far more 'one-on-one.' We also had large-group tutorials that were far more designed for question-answering. Occasionally the professor would be there too. – Crisfole Dec 12 '14 at 13:10
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    While I am certainly open to new strategies, I'm also wondering how many hours per week, and how many weeks per year, lecturers are normally available to their students outside of class. – earthling Dec 13 '14 at 0:17
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Office hours for 300 students with no TA is clearly not going to work; certainly not if you try to give 30min to each.

You didn't say what sort of class you're teaching (quantitative? qualitative? creative?). But for most courses, writing a set of problem sets/ FAQs/ lessons learned/ whatever is a far more efficient use of your time.

  • These students are doing business management analysis, not math. So, I cannot give them problem sets and let them check themselves. I do give them a rubric but have not been very successful getting all of them to use it properly. – earthling Dec 12 '14 at 14:26
  • What are their assignments? Essays? Reading assignments? Do you use multichoice quizzes to test reading and comprehension? Is the instruction language English? What % of their issues are stylistic/grammatical vs subject-matter? – smci Dec 12 '14 at 14:33
  • Assignments are reports, based on their own research. None of their issues are language issues they are all issues with application of theories, which theories are relevant, etc. – earthling Dec 12 '14 at 14:48
  • You mean you have to grade 300 individual assignments? Can you not somehow standardize assignments? or make them easier to grade? – smci Dec 12 '14 at 15:09
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    I usually grade 300-600 per semester (1-2 assignments per student). Each is about 10-15 pages. Yes, it's a lot of work...which is why I feel I cannot give 20 hours per week to office hours. I have been unable to make standardizing work (and I have not see any other business teachers do so either). – earthling Dec 12 '14 at 15:24
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You might consider assigning more of the "real" learning to the students outside of lecture.

Save class-time for particularly tricky topics, interesting examples, etc. Make sure to leave plenty of time for questions. Encouraging your students to interact in class can be tricky in a large classroom (you'll always have the student who just must ask a burning question, that turns out to be a restatement of what you just said in an incredulous tone of voice). I'm not sure where in Asia you work, but it's my understanding that in many Asian cultures there can be reticence to look like you don't understand in class. Perhaps to discourage that attitude you could consistently remind your students that if they already understood the topic they wouldn't need to be there.

If the above works you'll have a lower volume of students in office hours.

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You say that the majority of your time is used to "give them guidance on what they've written in their assignment so far."

For each assignment, give your students a copy of the rubric you will use to evaluate their final work. Require students who want guidance to have applied the rubric to their work so far before coming to see you. Students will be able to answer many of their own questions, and you will be able to focus on the areas where they really need help.

Of course, that wasn't the question you asked. At my institution in the U.S., we are required to hold office hours for at least five hours per week during regular semesters and not at all during the time between semesters. (Those who teach in summer must hold summer office hours.)

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How many “office hours” are common (or standard) for full-time lecturers?

Since no one's given a direct answer the title question, here is mine: 3 hours per week is what's required as a full-time lecturer at my large, urban, community college in the U.S. This holds true throughout our 12-week semesters, and no office hours are required outside teaching semesters.

Personally I feel that office hours should be a resource of last resort (I teach mathematics). I feel that students coming to office hours is a sign of something having gone wrong in the process; I try to arrange it so that all necessary material is available outside of personal meetings; and generally very few students come to my office hours (most days: none). Office hours should represent slack in the system to solve outstanding problems, not an overtaxed resource.

Presumably your institution also has some minimum specification for office hours? I would definitely take this as advice for how much time they expect on that task, and try to align it with that minimum as closely as possible. Back-calculate from there what assignments and time with students are possible per person. Possibly institute some kind of peer-review of the papers between students as feedback before you get them on your desk for grading.

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    As a mathematics professor, I go out of my way to encourage personal meetings during my office hours and at other times. If I was at a SLAC, I would be expected to do even more in the way of personal meetings. So the opinions about office hours, and the requirements, vary greatly even in the same discipline. – Oswald Veblen Dec 6 '15 at 21:14

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