Virtual Office Hours—A Win-Win

We recently wrote about ways to encourage students to take advantage of office hours. But it’s a reality that many simply cannot get to instructors’ spaces during scheduled times. That’s why virtual office hours can be a great way to reach students while giving faculty more flexibility.

Moving to an online version of the traditional face-to-face student-instructor meeting has other benefits. Instructors can cut down on replying to multiple e-mails on a similar topic, work from home, and set times advantageous to both parties. For students, virtual office hours can be especially attractive for a number of reasons:

  • Anonymity can encourage even quiet or shy students to participate freely.
  • Archives of discussions let all students reap the benefits of what was said and provide the opportunity to review the material at any time.
  • Chats or forumsallow students pop in on a discussion and leave when they learn what they came for.
  • Attendance during virtual office hours may facilitate reaching more students, especially those who work.

Instructors who successfully employ virtual office hours recommend a combination of both in-person office hours on campus for students who prefer the traditional one-on-one sessions and virtual office hours held at specific times set by the instructor. Experienced users of virtual office hours suggest establishing clear times of online availability and policies dictating what students can expect during virtual office hours, such as the timeframe within which the instructor will answer questions.

Another piece of advice is to anticipate times of high need (often before an assignment is due or an exam will be given) and to prepare a short, videotaped lecture or slides to address common questions. Finally, old hands urge new adopters to select easy-to-use technology. Many schools offer such tools through course management systems such as Canvas or Moodle.

Online availability can prod even the most reticent students to reap the knowledge instructors have and want to share. It’s worth a try!


Do you conduct virtual office hours? What’s that been like? Start a conversation!

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