AOI | Learning Innovations

Faculty Insider


Weekly Tip: Office Hours—An Often Underused Key to Student Success

Office hours, when implemented well, can be an essential component to students’ success. In this tip, we will define a multitude of purposes for office hours that can be adapted to fit you and your students’ needs, ways to implement them, and how to communicate expectations to students.

Defining the Purpose

What would you like to accomplish by holding office hours? Here is a list of some opportunities that office hours can create:

  • Get to know your students with small group or individual meetings.
    • Especially helpful in large enrollment courses 
  • Identify and address muddiest points (low-stakes formative assessment).
  • Reinforce concepts.
    • Course topics and applications
    • Study skills
  • Facilitate peer instruction.
  • Perform think-alouds and talking through the approach to an issue or problem.
    • Model and address how to improve on mistakes
    • Note the lack of perfection
  • Consult on portfolios.
  • Discuss lessons learned (what worked/didn’t work).
  • Encourage growth mindset.

Tip: When a lot of people come to office hours with a similar question or misconception, have a full class follow up. This can help create an environment in which students know they aren’t alone in their questions. These follow-ups can be done in class or virtually with Panopto or VoiceThread.

Tip: Ask your students at the beginning of the semester what they anticipate they would need or want from office hours. This may be unique to the course and students. As this may change throughout the semester, check in mid-semester to see if those needs and wants have changed.

Communicating to Students

Students come to your class with certain assumptions and preconceptions about office hours. Conveying the importance and purpose of office hours, specific to the needs of your class and students, is imperative to them being successful. Some options for doing so are:

  • Adding a section in the syllabus.

Office (student) hours:

The time that I have listed as office hours is time for you. It is time that I have dedicated to be available for whatever you need. This does not mean that I will stare sadly out the window waiting for a student to come—I will be doing other work. What it does mean is that the second you show up, that work goes away and the time is yours. We can talk about the course, the department, some science topic, etc. I am available for you during that time. Additionally, if my door is open at other times, feel free to drop by—I’m in my office often. If I am in but can’t talk right then, I’ll let you know and we can chat at a different time. 

—Amy Nusbaum, Psych 105

  • Being creative with the naming.
    • Student hours
    • Flex hours
    • Drop in hours
    • Open door hours

Naming is important for clearly communicating a service. Imagine if instead of “Visiting Hours,” hospitals used the language “Patient Hours”. While “office hours” has been the standard for some time, consider what this language might connote to students. For instance, some students may interpret “office hours” to mean that the instructor is not to be disturbed during that time; the exact opposite purpose of the designated time. 

Holding Office Hours

Whether you teach online, on-campus, through video conference, or any combination of these, you can hold your office hours for all of your students. Here are some tips and strategies:

  • Use Zoom in your learning management system (Blackboard) for virtual, synchronous office hours.
  • Require students to drop-in within the first few weeks of class.
  • Require students to drop-in before a major project or assessment.
  • Facilitate study groups or supplementary reinforcement sessions.

Extra Resources

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing aoi.li@wsu.edu.

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact aoi.li@wsu.edu or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.