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The purpose of office hours is to provide equitable access to the course instructor(s) and to provide students with the opportunity to ask questions about the course during a set date/time per week. Office hours are student-centric, and attendance by students is not required. This differentiates office hours from interactions related to coursework and other learning objectives.
This page provides details on office hours in Virtual Live and Online courses at EP, including:
- Benefits of holding office hours,
- Instructor expectations,
- Types of virtual office hours,
- Managing and facilitating office hours, and
- Recommended technologies.
Benefits of Holding Office Hours
Office hours can help personalize the online learning environment, contribute to instructor presence, and make you more accessible to your students as they progress through the course (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett & Norman, 2010; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Kerssen-Griep, Gayle, & Preiss, 2006). Holding office hours provides other benefits, too, including:
- helping learners across time zones feel more connected and stay motivated to learn,
- offering additional practice & feedback opportunities,
- developing personal connections and rapport between the instructor and student,
- allowing the instructor to communicate efficiently with students, and
- providing an opportunity to know if students are getting it.
It is important to remember that office hours are student time. During this time, students typically attend office hours for various reasons, including:
- Clarifying course content and assessments: Students may need extra help understanding course concepts, or experience a disconnect (perceived or real) between the course content (e.g., video lectures and readings) and what they are expected to complete in the course-based assessments.
- Socializing/connecting with their instructor: A student might be seeking an academic connection (e.g., anticipating a need to request recommendations or searching for research opportunities) or a personal relationship (social camaraderie). Both types of connections enhance student academic and cognitive development and student retention (Kerssen-Griep, Gayle, & Preiss, 2006).
- Seeking mentorship: Students may ask questions about degrees, careers, or research opportunities. Sharing your own educational and work trajectory can be very helpful and inspiring. You can also direct students to alumni, library resources, and websites to help them make their own decisions. If students need advice that is beyond your expertise, be prepared to say so. Know the student support services, and educate yourself to know when students need professional rather than academic assistance.
Instructor Expectations for Office Hours
It is expected that instructors hold at least one hour of office hours per section per week. If you teach multiple sections of the same course, it is expected that each section has its own weekly office hour — course sections cannot be combined into one office hour session, but students should be able to attend a different session if the one reserved for their section meets at an inconvenient time for them. In courses with multiple instructors, all section instructors do not have to attend every office hour. Instructor attendance can be distributed evenly or based on subject matter expertise.
You can choose any of the types of office hours listed below, or a combination thereof, to meet the requirement. For example, you could hold 30-minutes of synchronous video drop-in and 30-minutes of synchronous chat. These varied types of office hours are described below.
Types of Virtual Office Hours
There are several ways you can structure your office hours virtually. Determining which is right for you and your students will be an essential first step to setting up your virtual “office.” It is recommended you provide a combination of approaches to your students to enable equitable access to you and cater to our professional students’ needs.
1. Synchronous Video — Drop-In
A synchronous video drop-in office hours approach involves logging onto a video conferencing tool (e.g., Zoom) during a specific time(s) each week. Students can “drop-in” to ask you questions or receive clarification on course content. The benefit is that there is a consistent schedule for any student to drop in and get help. Thus, if students have last-minute questions, they can attend your synchronous office hours for assistance. In this mode, it is expected that you remain available during the entire session, even if there are no attendees at the start of the session.
Example: You conduct a student poll on which date and time are most convenient in a module week. Based on the most popular option, you schedule weekly office hours to be held on Zoom.
2. Synchronous Video — Scheduled
A synchronous scheduled approach permits students to schedule appointments for office hours (in 10-minute slots, for example). Some students report feeling uneasy asking questions in front of classmates, so this provides a structured way for students to reserve private meeting time with you. Another benefit is that you know who is coming to your office hours ahead of time, and if no one shows up, you need not wait for students to attend. Synchronous video scheduled office hours can also be reserved by a group, which is helpful if students are broken into groups for a project-based assessment.
Example: You provide a way for students to book a time to meet with you online, e.g., Microsoft Bookings. The booking then creates an event on your and the student’s calendar with the meeting details, e.g., Zoom link.
3. Synchronous Chat
Instructors employing synchronous chat office hours use a synchronous chat tool (e.g., Microsoft Teams) to communicate with students in real time during set periods each week. Like synchronous video drop-in office hours, students will appreciate the certainty that you’re available at that time, but a chat tool can reduce student (or faculty) anxiety about being on camera.
Example: You conduct a student poll on which date and time are most convenient in a module week. Based on the most popular option, you schedule weekly office hours on Microsoft Teams.
4. Synchronous Combination
You could also employ a combination of synchronous video (drop-in or scheduled sessions) and synchronous chat. This approach allows students to choose the method that works best for them.
Example: You conduct a student poll on which dates and times are most convenient in a module week. Based on the most popular option, you schedule one 30-minute video office hour (drop-in or scheduled sessions) via Zoom, and one 30-minute office hour time slot for synchronous chat via Microsoft Teams.
Best Practices for Managing and Facilitating Office Hours
Regardless of which type of office hours you deploy in your course, there are best practices to ensure an effective experience for you and the students, including:
- Considering Student Availability. Poll students to determine a convenient time for you and your students. Be available by appointment for those students who cannot make the scheduled office hours.
- Communicating Expectations. Communicate what students can expect from virtual office hours and why students should attend them.
- Providing Clear Instructions. Provide easily accessible and clear instructions for locating your virtual office hour, as well as the days and times.
- Employing Reminders. Reiterate your office hour invitations by reminding students that you are available to connect during office hours. Students may not remember your initial mention of office hours because they might not need help at that early point in the semester. Providing reminders throughout the semester or targeting invitations to struggling students will ensure students know when your office hours are and how they can attend when they need assistance.Asking students for discussion topics. Consider asking for topics to be submitted to you in advance of your office hour and let students know about potential topics to discuss.
- Expanding Possible Topics. Open up your office hours to topics not only related to problems or questions related to course content by encouraging students to attend office hours to discuss how the course content applies to their work or recent discoveries in your field.
- Recording office hours. For Synchronous Video – Drop In office hours, it is suggested that you record the session and provide the video to students. At the beginning of each office hour, ask the students if they are okay with the session being recorded.
- Establishing an Appropriate Tone. Be mindful of how you communicate to students in your online course and office hours. Students are more likely to attend office hours if you seem approachable. Therefore, be welcoming and encouraging in your communications.
- Using breakout rooms. Use breakout rooms to encourage groups solutions of relevant practice problems. Both of these strategies add value to the office hour beyond getting an answer to a single question the student might have.
Using technology that is familiar to you and the students can reduce the risk of disruptions during office hours. Below are the recommended technologies for office hours:
- Zoom for video conferencing. See the help guide on Securing Your Zoom Meetings and Tips for Getting the Most Out of Zoom Video Conferencing.
- Microsoft Teams for synchronous chat
- Microsoft Bookings for scheduling office hours
- Polling Tools
- Virtual Office Hours (Columbia University Teaching and Learning)
- Virtual Office Hours (University of Washington)
Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 3, 7.
Gayle, B. M., Preiss, R. W., Burrell, N., & Allen, M. (Eds.). (2009). Classroom communication and instructional processes: Advances through meta-analysis. Routledge.