Online Office Hours

Online office hours can be a lot like campus office hours: Some days you sit, you wait, and no one shows up. Other days (like when there’s an assignment due) you have a line of people waiting to talk to you. And sometimes someone shows up just to chat, with no apparent agenda. In short, online office course can be boring, busy, and … perhaps fun or perhaps a little awkward.

Here are some tips for managing online office hours.

  1. Decide how you want to conduct office hours. You can have an open free-for-all, where you wait for people to show up in a virtual meeting room, or you can schedule individual appointments. It’s all a matter of privacy preferences.
    • Group meeting: Anyone can show up. It can be kind of fun when multiple students show up to hang out and discuss ideas related to the class, but it’s not conducive to conversations of a private nature. If you go with group meetings, you can also offer to set up individual meetings by appointment at mutually convenient times.
    • Individual appointments: Students can sign up for a time slot during the appointed office hours period. I recommend using a tool like signup genius if you want to offer signups. You can set it up so students won’t see anyone else’s name on the signup, just which slots are available and which are already booked.
  2. Set up the tool.
    • I have my zoom-based office hour set up with a recurring meeting link so students can use the same link every week. That keeps things simple. I can post the link once in the LMS and not worry about it again. I can even have zoom generate a calendar invite for the recurring meeting.
      OfficeHours
    • My group meeting is set up with a waiting room. This means that I enter the meeting room first, and I manually invite students to join. I choose this setting because sometimes a single student shows up to chat and the conversation takes a turn for the private. This ensures that no one else can just jump into the middle of that conversation. Instead, I get an alert that there’s someone waiting to come in. That gives me time to wrap up the private conversation and then let the waiting student in.
      waitingroom
    • In group meetings I use the setting that plays a chime when someone enters the room. This would be annoying while teaching, but when you open up office hours and no one shows up, it’s a wonderful thing. I can navigate away to another window and I’ll hear the chime if a student shows up. I usually keep my camera on but webcam cover over it when waiting for students to show up. I may also put the sound on mute if it’s possible that they’ll hear anything other than me typing away at a furious pace upon entry.
    • Be prepared for people who show up and having nothing to say. It happens. Have something in mind that you can discuss with them. They will show up and expect you to lead the conversation.
    • When I do individual meetings, I always set up a one-time private meeting link. This ensures there won’t be any meeting crashers. This means that if I’m scheduling back to back meetings with students, I keep switching zoom rooms. It’s not a big deal. In those instances, I allow the students to join before host and don’t use the waiting room. I also set an alarm so I’ll get an alert 3 minutes before the next meeting begins. That allows me to wrap up and move on.
  3. Be prepared. Anticipate what students might want to talk about. Have appropriate web sites and and/or documents open in the background so you can screen share as needed. For example, if an assignment is due in a week, have the assignment directions open. Do not have anything sensitive open on your computer at that time … just in case you accidentally screen share the wrong thing.
  4. Let students know what to expect.
    • If you’re holding group meetings, remind students that this is not the time to have a personal or private conversation. Give them an alternate means to schedule such conversations.
    • If you’ve set up a waiting room, tell students how that will work.
    • If you’re running individual meetings, let students know you will be watching the time closely and will need to shift from space to space. Tell them to enter the room and if you’re not yet there to wait for you.
    • If you’re running individual meetings, let students know they can screen share things they’re working on so you can look at them and discuss together. It can be handing for walking through a student draft.

Finally, be sure you’re available to students in other ways and articulate when and how you’ll manage that. Sometimes students will expect you to be available via phone or email during office hours. However, those activities are not compatible with sitting in a virtual room interacting with students. Help student understand expectations for communication in each of the ways that you are available.

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