Discursive Practices in Academic Office Hours: The Case of Establishing Students’ Matters

Holger Limberg

Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Germany


University office hours offer a platform for students who want to consult with faculty members outside the classroom. It is here that students can address and discuss a variety of academic matters with their teachers. Although in general, office hours serve to provide students with the opportunity to ask questions and receive help with problems, they also serve to make students feel welcome in academia. Office hours are therefore not only geared towards the transmission of information, but they also fulfill an important social (i.e. relational) function (cf. Carpenter 1983).

The following study investigates this academic practice to explore how students and teachers negotiate academic ‘business’ at the outset of this talk (i.e. what S wishes to talk about). In the opening part a topic or an action is put on the agenda, which then receives attention for the rest of the consultation. Students’ matters may include, amongst others, term papers, class work, or a simple signature on a form. Based on empirical data from office hour interactions at German universities, this study seeks to find out how both participants locally manage the opening phase of office hours. More specifically, the focus is set on students’ strategies for establishing ‘talkable’ items by means of different types of sequence organization (e.g. pre-sequences, preference organization; cf. Schegloff 2007).

Several practices can be found on a micro level of this academic interaction. They are used in this context both to get the message across as well as to orient to the interpersonal level of talk. Finally, possible effects of such practices on the rapport between teachers and students are discussed and subsequently evaluated with respect to the significance of this talk within the institution at large.

Session: Paper session
Discourse 6 (Special Environments)
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 11