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Office Hours or Coffee Hours?

How to design office hours so that students actually come

This week during the Hub coffee hour we discussed how to handle office hours – now that none of us are working in offices on campus.

Watch the recording of our conversation:

Office hours are important to us

Faculty care a lot about making office hours work – for students, and for faculty themselves!

  • Office hours are resource intense – the time faculty spend waiting on student questions is time they’re not spending on anything else.
  • Office hours are limited – often just one hour out of the week
  • Office hours are usually in high demand just before a major assignment is due
  • Office hours are an excellent time to get to know our students individually, not as a large group. (Some faculty really prefer getting to see students one-on-one!)

What do Office Hours “Accomplish”?

When I started thinking about how an instructor might make office hours more effective, I realized that there are really at least three major goals that office hours are there to achieve (in addition to the requirement that office hours be held)

  1. Individual connection – this is a chance to meet a student and support their learning journey individually – whether in the class they’re enrolled in or beyond!
  2. Additional instruction – office hours are a great opportunity to repeat or expand on what was accomplished in class. This can look like preparation or review for an exam, covering what was “missed” because of an absence in a synchronous meeting, or catching up a student who has enrolled in a class without some background knowledge that will help them be successful.
  3. A gesture that the instructor is there for their students, even if they never come ask for help.

Each of these “buckets” would require different strategies to make the office hour more successful, so that’s how I grouped suggestions below.

Strategies for individual conversations

If you know your goal is primarily to get to know each of your students as an individual, then there may be better strategies than just designating one set hour a week for students to volunteer to meet you.

  • Consider offering meetings by appointment (only!) There are great scheduling tools that you can use. We at the Hub use Meetingbird, but YouCanBookMe also has a lot of fans and there may be other, locally supported options you want to explore.
  • Encourage attendance by assigning a grade or extra credit for meeting with you. If you know that meeting with students is central to them achieving the learning goals for the class, then go ahead and signal this by grading it.
  • Tell students they can ask you about things not related to class. Some students may not have a question (yet) about the class, so let them know whether you’re also open to discussing other classes you teach, your research, the major, or even their career more generally

Strategies for additional instruction

When you know that you consider office hours a chance to provide further instruction to your students than what you can cover in the amount of time you spend with them in class, then let them know!

Consider offering optional synchronous sessions (and even consider recording them)

  • Even in asynchronous environments, occasional synchronous opportunities can be well received by students, if they are optional and available at a later time.
  • Scheduling tools like WhenIsGood help you identify a time when most students are available to attend.
  • Assign a topic for each session and advertise it elsewhere in class
  • Using other platforms (social media, group chats, discussion boards.) 

The individual approaches described above might be appropriate for make-up or catch-up sessions with small groups of students.

  • Consider whether there’s a cohort of students who have the same gap and schedule a group opportunity for them
  • Connect with other resources on the topic they missed, to be accessed on their own time. 

Gesture to student support

If you know that your primary goal with offering office hours is that you want your students to know that you are there for them, then tell them so in all the other places you interact with students – in the course design, in assignment feedback, and other choices beyond in-the-moment feedback in class.

  • Consider making video announcements or leaving spoken feedback to students – the tone in your voice can go a long way to making students feel supported.
  • Individual messages and emails are another way to show students you’ve noticed their hard work and want to encourage them – or that you’ve missed seeing their contributions and want to see what you can do to help them succeed.
  • Some instructors choose to call office hours “student hours” to make it clearer that this is time reserved for them!

Further Reading

Lowenthal, Patrick & Dunlap, Joanna & Snelson, Chareen. (2017). Live Synchronous Web Meetings in Asynchronous Online Courses: Reconceptualizing Virtual Office Hours. Online Learning. 21. 10.24059/olj.v21i4.1285.

Edwards, J.T. & Helvie-Mason, L. (2010, March). Technology and instructional communication: Student usage and perceptions of virtual office hours. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 6(1). Retrieved from

photo credits

Photo by Mille Sanders on Unsplash

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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