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Hold office hours online

A guide presenting ways for instructors to make digital office hours accessible and meaningful to students

The instructor-student relationship changes significantly in a Zoom classroom. Students cannot approach their instructor after class to ask a quick question, and time feels much more regimented. It then becomes increasingly important to provide students opportunities to speak to their professor informally, about small or broad questions related to their learning. Office hours can be a key way to build student-instructor relationships and to help students get the support they need. 

Quick Tips

  • Hold regular times for office hours to encourage student attendance 
  • Give students an easy way to request meetings 
  • Utilize Zoom security settings to maximize privacy

While students may not normally attend office hours when it requires walking across campus to a professor’s office, dropping into a Zoom call is often easier and more convenient for students. When office hours are regularly scheduled and encouraged, students feel more comfortable attending and seeking guidance from the professor. However, when office hours require students to reach out individually to the professor  schedule them, this additional step can often be a barrier to students seeking help.  

“If I need to reach out and schedule office hours, I usually don’t. I think that I need to have a big question before I bother the professor and ask for their time. Instead, I’ll ask my friends or work through the question myself,” says one student. 

By making office hours open, accessible, and private when needed, professors can create more meaningful learning opportunities for students and allow them to ask questions and get to know professors outside of class. 

Some instructors have noticed that students are actually more comfortable coming to online office hours. You can set up a Zoom room you keep open for your office hours, or set up an online chat.

The key to good online office hours are consistency and accessibility. Make sure your office hours are clearly indicated on the syllabus, and keep the Zoom link or chat room you're using in a central place on the Canvas course site. 

For detailed strategies for adapting you office hours to a virtual space, see also "10 Strategies for Making Strategies for Making Virtual Office Hours More Effective" from the Center for Teaching and Learning.

For small classes, some instructors have found required one-on-one meetings are a useful way to get to know their students better and to build classroom community.

Tech Tips

  • Encourage students to share their screen with you. Screen sharing is possible not just for the instructor in Zoom, but for students too, through Screen sharing. Encourage students to show you their written work on their screen.
  • Use the "Waiting Room" feature in Zoom. Turn on your waiting room to keep a private space for students, the same way a student might wait outside your office if another student is already there. 

Scheduling Tools

If you usually send around a physical sign-in sheet, you might be looking for alternatives that let you schedule appointment slots with students. You can try:

  • Scheduler/Appointment Tool through Canvas. Built into the Stanford Canvas Calendar tool, instructors can build appointment blocks that their students can sign up for. 
  • Calendly. This is not an officially supported Stanford scheduling tool, but this is a tool option that instructors may want to consider for easily making appointments/meetings in a way that seamlessly syncs up with students’ and instructors’ calendars. Within Calendly, instructors can place their own text into the description and offer students additional context or information about the meeting that they’re scheduling.
  • Embed a Google Doc/Sheet into the Canvas course site or include a link to the signup sheet in a Canvas Announcement. Create an openly editable Google Document or Sheet with a table of available appointments for students to sign up for appointments. The link to edit the Doc or Sheet could be shared via an Announcement in Canvas or could be directly embedded into a Page or Module within Canvas.

Part of this article used with permission from Stanford GSE's Teaching Resources.

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