Picture of painted wall with the word 'together' on it
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Office hours can be a misunderstood and underutilized opportunity for students. They are often a new concept to many first year students and they are not always sure what office hours are for or how they apply to their needs as students. In the article ““Office Hours are Kind of Weird”: Reclaiming a Resource to Foster Student-Faculty Interaction” the authors suggest the following action items to help students more actively utilize office hours:

  • Make the purpose of office hours explicit. What should they be used for? Provide an example scenario to help students identify situations where they might access faculty help.
  • Create nurturing classroom environments to make students feel comfortable and safe asking for help.
  • Promote your office hours. Don’t just mention them once in your syllabus. Bring up office hours frequently along with how students can sign up for time – which leads to…
  • Use digital technologies to keep students updated as to what times are available and how they can book a time (see below for more logistical details) (Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p.24 – 25)

Cognitive scientist Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. (founder of www.retrievalpractice.org) highlights the significance of connection in her blog post about 10 quick tips to make office hours powerful learning opportunities. There are some great ideas here that highlight the principles above as well as some additional ideas. A core focus that Professor Agarwal uses in her suggestions is:

Turn your office hours into connection hours, student hours, and learning hours.

Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal

Of course not everyone is sold on the idea of office hours. While digging around the research I found this article in which a professor attempted to replace personalized email communication for in person office hours. This resulted in 8000 emails with students in five sections of one class over the course of ONE semester.

This article highlights a tension that can exist between the convenience of digital vs. in-person communications. In the article “Office Hours are Kind of Weird…” the authors directly address this complexity:

“To implement office hours in a more connected world, we suggest that the emphasis should be put on enhancing student-faculty interactions regardless of means, either in-person consultation or brief communications via digital tools. How to maintain quality student-faculty interaction in this increasingly connected world is a challenge facing faculty and institutions.”

(Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p. 21)

Scheduling Logistics

So if you’ve decided to encourage the use of your office hours you also need to make it easy for students to find a time to meet with you when you are not already meeting with someone else. Below we’ve outlined instructions for two different options that utilize Middlebury systems. You can also set up a consultation with a member of the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry if you would like to discuss these options in more depth. Also – keep in mind that these meetings could happen virtually via Zoom which can be particularly helpful if a student is away from campus due to travel, illness, emergencies, etc.

Setting up Office Hours using the scheduler in Canvas

You can set up your office hours using the scheduler in Canvas which will allow students to sign up through the Canvas calendar interface. Important tips to keep in mind are that you will need to enter all of your office hours for the semester at once, or add new ones week by week. You can not generate hours via a pattern. However, if your hours are regularly scheduled on a weekly basis this is not a time consuming process.

Below is a video about the calendar in Canvas. Fast forward to 3:00 to see the specific information about the scheduler.

Ask students to request meetings with you during your scheduled office hours using Outlook.

You can also use Outlook either via the application or the web interface (go/mail) to have your students initiate scheduling a meeting during your office hours via the calendar interface. The best way to facilitate this would be to notify your students of your office hours and explain that they should use the instructions linked below to request an appointment with you. An added benefit of this process is that you can respond to requests on an appointment by appointment basis so if your schedule has changed unexpectedly you can adjust and suggest alternate times. Here’s a guide for how to use the Outlook Web App.