Last year, I introduced a new assignment. Students in the U.S. survey were required to meet with me for five minutes during the first two weeks of class. We could talk about any topic, including the class. For a five-minute investment, students earned ten points (out of 600 pts. total in the course).
This semester, 21 out of 33 students met with me. We mostly discussed the class and their background, but we also ventured into other non-academic topics, such as family life religion, and (non-class-related) historical trivia.
I introduced this assignment in order to break down the barrier that many freshmen feel during their first days on campus. (The vast majority of survey students are freshmen.) I also am working to alter my self-presentation. For years, my student evaluations noted that I was aloof and unapproachable. While I purposely remain professional to try to maintain the line between professor and student, that attention to decorum and my own personality have worked to my detriment.
What surprises me about this assignment is how many students either never signed up or never showed up for their appointment. In the grand scheme of things, 1% of their grade probably won’t make a difference in their final grade, but it’s still ten “free” points. Maybe they are shy, and sitting in a professor’s office intimidates them. Maybe their lives are too busy to fit in five minutes of talking face-to-face.
I don’t understand why they didn’t make the effort, but I know that I enjoyed spending time with the twenty-one students who came by and sat down with me. I’m still working to match names and faces, but several of them made such a positive impression that I remember almost everything we talked about. That’s a satisfying feeling.
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I rarely teach any freshman, but I have have noticed in our department that upper-level students also seem especially reluctant to come and talk in office hours. This year I have introduced a variety of office-hour types (individual drop-in, individual scheduled, group help session) hoping to improve things.