Office Hours & Discussions

While office hours are an important component of any course, they can take on extra significance in an online environment, where opportunities for interactivity and engagement need to be deliberately planned. As the academic year presses on, here are some tips, tools, and best practices to consider for planning and implementing online office hours.

Planning Considerations

In a traditional face-to-face course, office hours tend to be small group or one-on-one meetings where learners receive extra help and ask questions outside of lecture time. In an online course, office hours can take on a variety of different formats, including informal group chats, review sessions, and pre-planned synchronous activities. Before implementing remote office hours, ask yourself the following questions:

How do I want learners to use office hours?

Consider what purpose office hours serve. Are they designed as an open forum for learners to ask questions and discuss course materials and assignments? Or will it be an opportunity for small groups to work together on an assignment?

Does my course offer other opportunities for synchronous engagement?

The answer to this question may help dictate the scope and format of your office hours. For example, holding live/synchronous lectures and allow learners to ask questions during class, and the structure of office hours may differ from an instructor who posts pre-recorded lectures.

How can I structure my office hours to supplement lecture content?

In some cases, office hours can serve as a way to reinforce lecture content or help learners connect themes from one lecture to the next. As you plan lectures, consider what role office hours can play in the overall content delivery strategy.

How can office hours make life easier for instructors and learners?

Instead of treating office hours as an additional activity on top of lectures, class discussions, etc., think about how to design them such that they enable questions to be answered and facilitate engagement in an efficient and effective manner.

Tips and Best Practices

The answer to each question outlined above will differ based on your course structure, class size, and learners’ needs. Depending on how the course is structured and what you’re trying to achieve, here are some best practices to consider while planning online office hours.

If lectures are being given asynchronously (not in real time - but recorded in advance), consider open group office hours.

Instead of scheduling 1:1 meetings, make office hours a time for students to interact with each other, ask questions, and review material in a group setting. If office hours are the only synchronous activity in your course, some students may choose to attend simply as a means to interact with each other, even if they don’t have questions.

Plan the content and format ahead of time.

Instead of treating office hours simply as a forum for learners to ask questions, utilize some of this time to review material in a more structured manner. However your course is designed, consider planning the format in advance. (e.g. “On Mondays, I recap recurring themes from the previous week. On Thursdays, I answer pre-submitted questions.”)

Encourage learners to submit questions in advance.

This is especially important in larger classes, where it may be difficult for learners to ask off-the-cuff questions in a synchronous online setting. By inviting students to email their questions or post in a Canvas Discussion ahead of time, it’s possible to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of office hours.

Use whichever platform works best.

The University provides access to several different platforms that can be used for online office hours, including Zoom. Review those options here.

Make office hours easily accessible.

Schedule virtual office hours as a recurring meeting directly within the Canvas course. This will allow you to better control access and to make joining meetings easier on students. 

For step-by-step instructions on setting up Google Calendar appointments and integrating with Canvas, view this short video:

Use Canvas Announcements.

To help students prepare, consider using Canvas Announcements to inform them about what topics will be covered, FAQs, changes to the time or format, and any other relevant information in advance of office hours.

Establish a recurring, routine schedule.

Regardless of format, consider hosting regularly scheduled office hours at least 1-3 hours per week for a semester course.

For 1:1 office hours, use Google Calendar appointment slots.

Even if hosting group office hours, you may still be looking for an effective way to schedule individual student appointments. To reduce administrative effort and enable students to self-schedule directly on your calendar, consider using the Appointments feature and integrating Zoom with Google Calendar. Click here to learn more. 

For step-by-step instructions on setting up Google Calendar appointments and integrating with Canvas, view this short video:

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