Office hours are an important extension of the classroom where students can come and address concerns with material, assignments, grades or other issues that may arise.
Each academic unit may have slightly different standards for office hour requirements. Usually you will be required to set at least one office hour per week.
You may choose to have your office hours directly before or after class. However, try not to set hours that end at the same time as class begins or you will not have travel time and may have to cut discussions with students short. Often, instructors try to keep the half hour before class for themselves to complete last-minute preparations and think about class details. You should attempt to arrive at your class at least 15 minutes before it starts.
With email communication increasing over the past few years, you may find that no students attend your office hours. Once they are set for the term, however, you must be available, so do not set more office hours than you will need.
Many contract instructors have difficulty setting office hours that are regular or convenient for students and may not have access to private office space. With your academic unit’s permission, you may choose to offer office hours by appointment only. You must be available regularly, however, to establish appointments with them.
You may also choose to have your TA(s) be the first point of contact with your students and only meet with those students whose needs are not being met by the TA(s).
There are two kinds of office hours that we encourage you to consider: physical and virtual. Both are subject to their own pros and cons, so try to decide which works best for you and the needs of your students.
The most common office hours are physical office hours. You may find that sometimes students spend more time emailing you as opposed to coming to office hours, but the benefits of face-to-face interactions with students shouldn’t be underestimated.
- Develop a face-to-face association with students
- Review assignments with students and discuss your grading rationale
- Peak periods may not allow time to meet all requests
- Students may not show up and instead flood your inbox with frantic emails
Physical office hours are not always convenient for day students or professional students who have evening classes, but fortunately there are several ways one can hold office hours online, including chat software, such as Google+ Hangouts and cuLearn, and video conferencing tools, such as BigBlueButton and Skype.
- Meet with many students at the exact same time
- Address repetitive questions to all participants
- Online office hours are more accessible to distance learners or students who cannot make your physical office hours
- Conduct additional review/exam prep sessions
- Relationship building isn’t as easy or possible using online office hours
- Doesn’t really allow for one-on-one discussion about an assignment if you cannot see it
Even if you do not want to have virtual office hours there are ways to help people that can’t make it to physical office hours, including announcing to students when you’re most likely to be responding or reading your emails (i.e. “I’ll be answering emails this evening between 6 and 7:30 p.m). You could also consider setting up an online discussion forum on cuLearn where students can post questions to other students for assistance.
- Depending on the needs of your class, you may want to have 1-3 scheduled office hours per week.
- Coordinate your physical office hours so that you’re alone in the office (if you’re sharing an office) so students can feel more comfortable.
- Schedule individual appointments outside of your office hours at your own discretion.
- Consider scheduling office hours before or after regularly scheduled class time.
- For virtual office hours, business hours (9-5) are not as good as evenings. We want to be available to students when they are studying.
- Consider using cuLearn reports to see when students in your course are most active.
- Avoid “floating” or repeatedly re-scheduling office hours. This tends to only confuse students.
- If you cancel your office hours, post a note on your office door, send an email, and post a note to cuLearn to cover all of your bases.
- Are my office hours at convenient times for students?
- Are my students aware of where/when my office hours are?
- Am I presenting myself as approachable and friendly?
- Do I encourage my students to attend office hours?
- Maintain your professional demeanour at all times.
- Be aware of your tone and volume when you discuss personal grade issues with students so people outside cannot hear.
- Remind students that you have office hours in case they happen to forget.
- Use office hours to provide additional information or tips for quizzes, labs or assignments as incentives for them to stop by during your office hours.
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