When courses are online it’s not just the course content and meetings that are virtual– office hours are, too. If you’re new to hosting online office hours, it can be useful to get some tips on making personal connections with students in the online setting and ensuring you’re giving them a forum where they feel comfortable asking questions and getting help.
Read on to get some help on setting up and holding your online office hours that can make them more useful for both you and your students.
Choose what format you want to utilize. Office hours come in many different flavors. You can do them synchronously with student drop ins, schedule them as needed, a combination of the two, or even go asynchronous and have them in a discussion board. It’s up to you to decide which format will fit the needs of your course and your students–remember–you don’t have to choose just one!
Mind your tone. Students are unlikely to attend office hours if they feel like they’re bothering you or that you’re not really engaged. While we all have bad days, when direct interactions with students are limited, it’s key to make them as welcoming and approachable as possible. Remember, students may be even more stressed than usual during these unusual, online-only times.
Remind students about office hours. Each week, make sure to remind students that you are available during office hours and point them to the instructions on how to connect with you. Students who may have been doing fine earlier in the term will need a reminder if they start to struggle and they may not seek out the information on their own without a little nudge.
Lay out your expectations ahead of time. You may have a number of students who have never attended office hours before. Make sure that your instructions for finding you, your schedule of availability and what students should ask or have with them when they come into a session is very clear. Additionally, share your expectations for having their cameras on, entering and exiting the room, and all the other webconferencing nitty gritty.
Require a visit. It’s a good idea to check in with students at least once during the semester. Whether you want to count this as part of their grade is up to you, but make sure that students are getting at least a few minutes of one-on-one time, even if they don’t need help with course content. Office hours can be for more than just assistance and once students have attended one they’re realize it’s not so scary and will be more willing to reach out with questions and concerns.
More sure students know what office hours are for. Expanding on the last point, while many students attend office hours to talk about assignments and topics that they’re struggling with, that’s certainly not their only purpose. Let students know that they can pop in just to chat, to get career or academic advice, to share ideas, etc. Office hours can be a great place to build rapport and develop instructor presence, too!
Be prepared. Make sure you have a place set up for office hours that will allow you to talk to students relatively distraction-free. Try to be on time and ready to go (with any apps you need pulled up) before students arrive. It sounds basic, but many students won’t return to office hours if they find the experience frustrating the first time around.
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