How beneficial are office hours for students to get to talk and ask questions with their professors?
Having been one, I may be able to give a few thoughts.
- How receptive professors are to office hours strongly depends on their personality and the institution. At smaller colleges where teaching is the priority, office hours are important. At larger institutions, particularly ones that are heavily biased towards research, office hours is more of a burden. Having said that, it is also modulated by the personality of the professor. Some like teaching and consider it an important part of their jobs. For these sort of professors, office hours are important to them, regardless of what biases the institution may have or imposes. For other professors who dislike teaching (but do it since it is part of their job) but rather be doing research, well...Generally these sorts are in research institutions. :-)
- Note that in some institutions, there are teaching assistants (TA) who may be able to answer your questions. If they are assigned to your class, I would seek them out first. Sometimes, they may be clearer in explaining something. If the TA cannot answer your question, then a visit to the instructor's office hours seems warranted.
- Assuming the professor is receptive, office hours are as beneficial as you make it. The idea is that professors are there for that hour to answer students' questions. The pointers below may help in that regard.
- Office hours is relatively short and there are likely more than one student wanting to see the professor. For that reason, it is important to prepare targeted questions ahead of time. You want to have specific questions ready to go the moment you walk in there.
- It is important that the questions are targeted points. For example, "Can you solve this homework problem for me?" is generally not well received, but something like "I am stuck on this homework problem. I tried X but could not figure out how to move forward here at point A. Might you offer any suggestions on how I can move past A?" would be better received. Similarly, "I didn't understand today's class" doesn't help but "On topic X, I didn't understand what you meant by A. Could you clarify A?" is better because it is targeted to a specific point.
- For classes with projects, office hours can be extremely valuable both for you and the professor. Again, it depends on the professor. In my experience, it is an opportunity for students to get feedback on how their project is going and an opportunity for me to figure out if I need to course-correct them or introduce topics in the course so that it helps the students more so in their project. You really don't want to find out toward the end of the class that your project is really off its rails.
- For professors at smaller institutions, particularly those interested in teaching, it is an opportunity for them to get feedback on how their teaching is going.
I hope this helps. Best wishes!
Very. Sometimes, depending on popularity of that professor, you can get one-on-one time with him/her. I told the story in another question of one particular class where my grade was bumped a level higher simply because of my constant presence at the professor's office hours.
So, definitely for large classes or classes where you are having issues, go to the office hours as much as possible.
I just held two Office Hours today for my students in two classes. I teach online and hold a virtual office. Many students came to my "office" today and asked questions. Sometimes you might not feel comfortable asking a question in class - privately during Office Hours you might feel more comfortable. Often, after a class, you might have a new question and can't wait until the next class session.
Teachers love to see students take the time to use the Office Hours. Teachers can be a great support and resource for you. I completely agree with Toshiro's answer - very thorough.