What Office Hours Are For

The best use of office hours is for us to get to know one another and have conversations about fun and/or meaningful things. Office hours actually are not great for the things that students tend to want to use them for: getting help on assignments and complaining about grades.

Now, you should definitely seek help on assignments, and if you think that you have received an unfair grade, then you should certainly ask me about it! But these are matters best pursued in writing. Why? Two reasons:

  1. In each case you clarify your own thinking by having to write down your questions or concerns or ideas. And clearer thinking gives me something more meaningful to respond to.
  2. When you put your question or concern or idea in writing, and I reply in writing, there is less chance of our misunderstanding each other. Many’s the time I have given advice to students in an office meeting only to have them do the opposite of what I asked them to do because they misunderstood me. (“But you said…”) Writing gives both of us clear reference points, clear documentation that we can refer to.

Of course, you have to do more work to handle these matters in the way I prefer. But the results more than justify the extra effort.

In short: office hours for fun, email for work.