At LSE, office hours are used as a way of providing additional support for individual students. GTA contracts now pay, as a default, for one office hour per three classes that you teach, although there may be variation across departments and at different times of the year. Most class teachers timetable a mutually convenient time with their students and stick to the same hour each week. Ideally it should be timed on the half hour (eg 10:30-11:30) to avoid timetable clashes for the greatest number of students. If there are still some students who are unable to make your office hour timing, you may want to check with your department what alternative arrangements can be made or, alternatively, agree a different time with individual students convenient to both of you.
What works best for me is if I use the hour before my class as my office hour. It helps me manage my own time as the office hour cannot overrun.
Some class teachers encourage their students to contact them using email. This may be convenient for both you and your students but do be aware that this method of communicating can be more difficult to manage - and managing your own time should be a major concern from the outset. If it is easy for students to contact you by email, and you 'encourage' them with detailed written answers to their questions, it can also encourage students to ask for answers rather than think things through for themselves first. Do not be afraid of setting clear boundaries for use of email, and for the 'turnaround time' you operate in responding to students. You might, for example, say that you will only answer emails in your allocated office hour time.
A GTA from the Methodology Institute reports: I find it easier to communicate via email. I can give students a clear answer and they can go back to my email for future reference. However, email communication does seem to encourage students to ask questions without reading first and to assume that you are available 24 hours a day to help them!
Also be aware that how you respond to students may raise their expectations and demands on other teachers. Moodle courses contain forums which you can use to facilitate better communication with and among your students. Revision questions that students email in might be posted here anonymously with answers from you, as is the practice in a large Economics course, for example, and the glossary function can be used to create a quick and simple FAQ bank. Contact the Centre for Learning Technology who will be happy to advise you on any of this further.
In the office hour, you may see very motivated and interested students who want to discuss topics in more detail, you may see students who are too shy, or lacking in confidence in their spoken English to ask you questions in class or you may see students who have a particular problem.
In practice the office hour tends to be underused by students and so this time might also provide you with some useful thinking and preparation time for your classes. You may wish to encourage your students to use the office hour and repeat your invitation to attend several times during the term.
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