What are ‘office hours’?

As classes start back up again, most lecturers will be informing students about the times for their ‘office hours’ – but what are office hours? Well, they’re not the only time we’re in our offices, that’s for sure. But they are times when we will be in our office and ready and waiting to see students (note: most lecturers will also be available at other times and so, if a student can’t make it to one of the slots, they can ask, perhaps by email or after a lecture, if there might be another time when they can stop by).

In my experience, and after teaching in Maynooth for five full years now, undergraduate students do not take full advantage of the opportunity office hours provide. Indeed, if I’ve allocated three hours per week of the teaching term over the last five years – totalling about 420 hours (84 hours per academic year times five years) – I’d be amazed if students have actually stopped by for ten of those hours. Most of the time I can stay in my office and work, read, or write undisturbed. That’s great for me, but at the same time it’s a poor outcome because (a) I can learn a lot from students who come to office hours e.g. about whether my teaching is effective; (b) students are missing out on the opportunity of chatting about one issue or another, perhaps by asking that question they think is really silly but actually strikes at the heart of what I’m trying to cover in class.

There is a problem, then, and something needs to change. For my part, I have begun defining office hours i.e. I tell students that these are times allocated to them, when they can come and ask a question or make a comment or just discuss an issue from the course. To the students, I say that they need to become active rather than passive learners if they want to excel, do well, and get the marks they want. This means asking questions in class – I know, hard to do when class sizes are often very large indeed but still do-able – or after class; reading before class and checking out follow-up suggested readings; interacting using Moodle (our online study space for students) or Twitter or whatever other technology they use; and, crucially, coming to office hours, chapping on doors, finding out more, filling in the gaps in their knowledge.

Being an active learner – chasing after the degree, finding out the answers to the many questions you have – means using office hours. And active learners do better. Their thinking is sharper, they identify the important questions that need answers, and they build up confidence in handling the sorts of social settings that necessarily exist in universities (and workplaces).

So, students: use those office hours, go to see your lecturers, become active learners, and make the most of the (privileged) opportunity university provides.

Alistair Fraser


  1. Ronan Foley · · Reply

    Likewise for me Alistair. I even added extra hours last year to leave me available to students for 5 hours in the week, based on my additional role as Year Manager. But during those office hours, I had a similarly uninterrupted experience. I would say that if you added up the consultations I had with students outside of my office hours it did add up to quite a lot of time so I do think students will call in when they need to but it a good idea to encourage our students to call in during the allocated slots.


  2. Thanks Alistair! I will definitely avail of those hours this year with the Thesis coming up, but I must say I do find it intimidating sometimes when trying to phrase my questions, this has prevented my coming to lecturers in the past. Maybe others feel the same?!


  3. Thanks for your comment, Sam. That’s exactly the obstacle I think everyone needs to get over. I know it’s hard but the only way is to knock on doors!


  4. Neasa Hogan · · Reply

    And the same goes for the Administration Team (Neasa and Rebecca). We are here to support the students through their time studying Geography.

    If you have a questions or a problem that you think we may be able to help with, come and see us.


  5. ann mullen · · Reply

    I completed my degree this year and I would recommend that you avail of the opportunity and meet with your lecturers. Although it is a bit intimidating, these are only your feelings, in no way do the lecturers make you feel this way. I know I would not have completed my degree without the help and assistance of all of the Geog. department.


  6. I very much agree with Ann here. I also completed my degree this year and wouldn’t have got my desired grade without the help and support of the geography department, especially Nessa, Alistair and my thesis supervisor Conor Murphy. The geography department is one of the nicest bunch of people I have ever met! I must say I am missing it terribly this year and cant wait to head back next year (fingers crossed!!)


  7. David Martin · · Reply

    I must admit, having completed my undergraduate and MSc in Climate Change degrees I could count on one hand the amount of times I used office hours over the four years. This does not mean that I was a ‘passive’ student, indeed I always had plenty of questions to be answered (and still have!). So I ask myself why I have not used office hours. Unless it was an administrative issue I have always been able to find answers within the literature or through other resources such as the internet. So then if the answers can be found elsewhere do I waste a lecturer’s time? I must have concluded not. I appreciate that this does not take account of the discussion that can take place between the student and lecturer. Perhaps I should have used office hours more…………..but I did use email.


    1. Ann Mullen · · Reply

      It is most commendable that you gained your degree & Ms on Climate Change through you own independent studies/research. Most of us may not be as confident in our understanding of essay questions or lectures and it is therefore very reassuring to have a facility freely available to speak to the expert/professor. It can be also less time consuming and a very good training of interacting with professional people. I also feel that this facility is both beneficial to both parties as it gives the lecture feedback of how their modules are being interpreted.


      1. David Martin · ·

        Hi Ann,
        I never said that I got my degrees solely through ‘independent studies/research’. They were both taught degrees and I was merely referring to the office hours. It also appears that most HAVE confidence in their ‘understanding of essay questions’ as most do not use office hours. I did note in my post that researching independently ‘does not take account of the discussion that can take place between the student and lecturer’. No doubt interaction between student and lecturer in important and indeed beneficial. The purpose of my post was to attempt to explain why I myself did not make use of office hours much. To be honest I hadn’t thought about it much before. I would recommend that because the facility is available that students should avail if it. As I have stated previously perhaps I should have.


  8. Hi David,

    You’re absolutely right: not going to office hours doesn’t mean you’re not an active student. Not by any means. However, I fear too many students who never come to office hours are also some of those more passive students who need to become more active and grab that top class degree.




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