Online Office Hours
As the instructor, being present in an online course is crucial. Holding regular Office Hours, while teaching online, is one way to maintain a definite presence for students. By determining the best online platform to use for connecting with students and by maintaining consistency in timing and access, faculty can prevent unnecessary challenges for students and create a more personal learning environment.
Just as in an in-residence setting, online Office Hours provide students with opportunities to ask questions and dialogue about course content or class procedures, to receive feedback on work-in-progress or previous assignments, and also to discuss career and educational goals with faculty.
Objective of This Page
The objective of this page is to provide faculty with options to consider for holding online Office Hours so that faculty might be able to articulate the pros and cons to various approaches.
For faculty who would like to receive feedback on their plans for holding online Office Hours, the second to last section of this page, titled Your Office Hours Plan, provides an opportunity for faculty to share their plans for holding online Office Hours.
Online Office Hours Tools
When deciding on a platform to use for Office Hours, some questions to consider include
How important is it to see students (phone vs videochat)?
How can you allow for one-on-one conversations to discuss confidential topics, such as grades?
If many students are consistently participating in Office Hours, how can you create a system to ensure each student receives the appropriate amount of individual attention?
As you consider the tools below, keep the above questions in mind to help inform your decisions.
Employing a Scheduling System
Having a system in which students schedule time slots within the scheduled Office Hours can prevent too many students from showing up at once (a potential challenge when students want to review feedback on assignments). Time slots can also allow faculty to control the amount of time given to each student and can encourage students to attend when they set up a definite appointment. One free tool that can be used to manage scheduling is Calendly.
Calendly: Calendly is a free scheduling website that allows users to create an account and create a link that students can use to sign up for a set amount of time (such as 15 minutes) during Office Hours. Since the time faculty enter into their schedule on Calendly can be repeated, such as every Tuesday from 9:00am- 10:00am, the same scheduling link can be used throughout the semester. That link could be posted in D2L or another LMS with instructions for how students can sign up.
Tools for Office Hour Sessions
The online meeting platform Zoom allows for individual or group meetings using video and/or audio. The Zoom Personal Meeting Room, a feature of Zoom, is a online meeting space that is always available for the account holder to enter and has a single Join link that can be used throughout a semester. In other words, the Zoom Personal Meeting Room uses a single link for joining at any time rather than generating a new link for each session. Faculty can share the Personal Meeting Room Join link with their students along with the Office Hours times so that students know when and where to find them.
The Zoom Personal Meeting Room uses the Waiting Room feature of Zoom. With the Waiting Room, faculty admit each student into the session. As the session host, you are prompted with a notification and can then "Admit" each student with a click of a button to allow them to enter. By using the Waiting Room, faculty can ensure they are speaking with students one at a time or meet with groups of students, as needed. Additionally, if faculty are meeting with a student and would like to notify those in the Waiting Room with a message such as "I'll be with you in just a minute and look forward to speaking with you!", they can send a message to those in the Waiting Room, similar to how you might pop out into the hall to greet a student waiting to enter your office.
During an Office Hours session in Zoom, by using the Share Screen function of Zoom, faculty can provide live feedback on work such as essay drafts.
2. Google Voice
Google Voice is an application that allows anyone with a Google account to set up a free phone number through Google that forwards calls from the Google number directly to another number. While all faculty have a firstname.lastname@example.org Gmail account, the Google Voice app is not currently included in the education G Suite. Instead, faculty with a personal Gmail account can set up a Google Voice number that they can provide to students with instructions to call during scheduled Office Hours times. This way, you can interact with students via phone calls and text messages without giving students your personal phone number.
An approach to Office Hours using Google Voice would be to encourage students to contact you via the Google Voice number during set Office Hours times. This allows for one-on-one discussion and accommodates for students with limited access to the internet or to a camera for a videocall.
Alternatively, faculty who regularly provide students with their personal cell phone number could facilitate Office Hours using their personal phone by, again, setting particular Office Hours times that they encourage students to take advantage of.
3. D2L Virtual Classroom
Like Zoom, D2L Virtual Classroom facilitates synchronous videochat. With the Virtual Classroom feature of D2l, faculty can create a recurring videoconference meeting time for Office Hours within D2L.
4. D2L Chat
The Chat tool in D2L is a real-time chat tool, similar to a chatroom or to texting with a cell phone, that might be considered for Office Hours. Faculty can create a chat dedicated to Office Hours and join the chat at the scheduled weekly Office Hours time. Multiple students can then join the chat to discuss the course.
A benefit of using D2L Chat for Office Hours is that, like D2L Virtual Classroom, it is already integrated into D2L, so it provides a consistent space for faculty using D2L. Additionally, joining a Chat for a quick question may be less intimidating for some students than scheduling and joining an individual videoconference.
A drawback to using D2L Chat for Office Hours, because it does not use video or audio, is that is much less personal than video or audio tools (like Zoom, Virtual Classroom, or Google Meet). This can mean that faculty miss out on a great opportunity to build connections with students. Additionally, it can difficult to break down and explain complex topics through a Chat.
Communicating Info and Expectations
It’s important to communicate your Office Hours information (times, how to access, and purposes of Office Hours) to your students so that they can easily find the information throughout the semester. Places to promote Office Hours include
The course syllabus
In a Welcome message to students (either email or D2L News announcement)
In a D2L News announcement before the first scheduled Office Hours
As you begin or end a synchronous class session.
·In the first week of classes, consider asking students if they’d be more likely to attend Office Hours if one of the Office Hours times was scheduled in the evening. If students’ schedules would make an evening Office Hours session more accessible, consider making one of your Office Hours times each week in the evening to accommodate for students with stricter daytime work and family schedules.
Communicate your expectations to students: can students enter and exit the Office Hours session as they wish or should they only attend by appointment?
Encouraging Students to Participate
After finding the best platform to use, there's still the matter of getting students to participate in Office Hours. Some suggestions for encouraging students to take advantage of Office Hours include
Make sure the instructions for joining are posted in a clearly accessible spot (such as the News in D2L) and repeat the info often in any weekly announcements or synchronous sessions.
Let students know what Office Hours can be used for. Faculty can sometimes mistakenly assume that students begin the course already knowing the purpose of Office Hours. When you begin your course, explain to students the purposes and benefits of Office Hours, noting particular examples of how students have used Office Hours in the past.
Invite students individually. If you notice that a student is struggling with a concept, skill, or assignment, send them a personal invite via email to encourage them to attend a particular Office Hours session.
Make attending Office Hours a requirement of one of the early course assignments or make attending Office Hours a very minor assignment to be completed by a date early in the semester. While some may bristle at the notion of making Office Hour attendance a graded assignment, keep in mind the benefits students receive from participating in Office Hours, including a greater likelihood of remaining in the course if they've had opportunities to build a personal connection with the instructor.
Note on Online Office Hours and Synchronous Teaching
Many faculty may be considering teaching their online course by providing instructions through approaches like lectures asynchronously and then having weekly synchronous group sessions for students to ask questions and work through any recurring challenges. Such synchronous sessions may be similar to Office Hours in their focus on students' questions and not having a definite agenda. While designing a course with such asynchronous and synchronous opportunities is a great approach, it is also important to provide opportunities for students to have opportunities communicate with faculty in a one-on-one setting, when needed.