Office Hours


One strategy for increasing student engagement and making teaching more inclusive is being accessible to students outside of the classroom. One way to achieve this goal is to educate students about the importance of attending office hours, make them inviting, and teach students how to use them effectively. Many students do not understand the purpose of office hours or see them as beneficial only when something has gone wrong (e.g., a failed test or a missed assignment). However, “interactions between students and faculty outside the classroom (particularly mentorship-type interactions) have been shown to increase retention, student satisfaction, engagement, a sense of belonging, and overall academic performance.
Increasing students’ use of office hours

Interacting with students during office hours can thus become a way not only to improve their academic performance but also to build rapport and increase engagement in the course. Below are some strategies instructors can use to educate students about the utility of attending office hours.

Advice For Instructors On Getting Students To Use Office Hours Effectively


1. Invite students to attend office hours.

During the initial class meeting, take time to explain the purposes of office hours and encourage students to attend. List office hours on the syllabus, using language that makes students feel more welcome by communicating a desire to support them and see them succeed in the course.

The Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning included the following suggested syllabus language: Weekly office hours are a dedicated time that I am available to answer your questions, discuss course content, and generally be of support. Please drop in or sign up for a slot on Canvas to attend office hours on Zoom or in person (provide URL link and building/office #). If you would like help in the course but have a scheduling conflict that prevents you from attending my regular office hours, please email me to schedule an appointment. Talking with students is a highlight of my job — I look forward to speaking with you!

Office Hours

2. Rename office hours.

For some students, “Office Hours” is associated with negative ideas about who is meant to attend (e.g., only students who are having problems). To avoid these associations, consider using one of the following terms instead of office hours: student hours, consultation hours, conversation hours, drop-in hours, or office chats.

3. Consider making attending office hours a requirement.

An instructor may require students to attend an office hour sometime early in the course. Students can be given a specific purpose for attending (e.g., the most recent homework assignment), or options (e.g., bring one class-related question or ideas for a group project). Instructors can require each student to schedule a meeting early in the semester as part of a paper assignment (topic selection or draft review) or to review a test.

4. Tell students how to use office hours.

Office hours serve many purposes, and students need to be made explicitly aware of the many ways to use office hours (e.g., ask questions about the course material or assignments, get study ideas, ask questions about the syllabus and course requirements, get feedback on exams, talk about grades, talk about the readings, work through practice problems, talk informally, get suggestions for further readings, or discuss research interests). Provide examples of how other students have used office hours.

The Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning provided the following example of wording for virtual office hours: Drop-In Hours are times you can meet with your instructors to discuss the material being covered in class, questions or concerns you might have, and other related issues. In general, Drop-in Hours will be relatively unstructured. Depending on how many students join, we may work one-on-one, together as a small group, or simultaneously in breakout rooms. Join the Zoom meeting during Drop-in Hour times using the links provided in Canvas. Feel free to join even if you don’t have any questions! You can listen to the conversation (which might spark a question for you) or we can use the time to get to know each other!

10 Strategies for Making Virtual Office Hours More Effective

5. Advise students on how to prepare for meetings during office hours.

Tell students what to expect during their meetings and what materials to bring (e.g., their laptop, books, homework problems, drafts of papers, or notes). Ask students to prepare an agenda or write out their questions or points of confusion and use these as a starting point for the meeting.

6. Suggest how students can make the most out of office hours.

Encourage students to do the following during the meeting (a) take notes to record suggestions, information, and strategies so they can refer back to them later; (b) ask for clarification if they are confused or not following an explanation, (c) try and repeat back what the instructor is saying to check for understanding: (d) ask for more examples if needed; (e) summarize a take-away or action plan at the end of the meeting.

7. Encourage office hours for “scaffolding” assignments.

Let students know that office hours can be used as a place to bring work for input before it is completed. For example, encouraged students to come to office hours with an idea and a brief outline for a paper, which can then be discussed and refined.

8. Stagger office hour days and times to enable students with varied schedules to attend.

Because many students are extremely busy, carrying full course loads, working, and attending to family responsibilities, staggering office hours can be a way to encourage attendance. Select several times that maximize the number of students who can attend. Better yet, at the beginning of the semester, ask for students’ feedback about when to hold office hours. Some office hours can be virtual to make it even more feasible for students to attend. Invite students with scheduling conflicts to email with a request to schedule an appointment outside of office hours. If office hours are drop-in and no appointment is needed, tell students when they are and how to join.  If they are scheduled and an appointment is needed, students should be told how to sign up.

9. Arrange the space.

To use the time and space effectively, minimize interruptions and distractions. That means eliminating clutter, silencing the phone, turning off the computer, and arranging for privacy.

10. Consider holding some office hours in other settings.

Sometimes neutral spaces (e.g., an empty classroom, a room in the library, or even a lounge or coffee shop) can be less intimidating and more conducive for open exchanges and informal discussions. Student may feel more comfortable in these settings and, therefore, communicate more easily.

11. Encourage group sessions.

Consider arranging for students who have similar questions or problems to meet at the same time or even reframe office hours as a study session opportunity. This might entail using an empty classroom or a space in the library and encouraging students to drop-in to work on an assignment. This format allows students to get the help they need without the possible stress of an individual meeting; however, it does not provide the one-on-one contract that can also be helpful.

12. Talk about office hours and how to use them throughout the course.

Repeat the invitation to use office hours, especially at crucial times during the course (e.g., after returning an assignment or before an exam). Encourage students to use office hours early in the term, but also revisit office hours, their benefits and uses, at key points in the course when students need them most.



University of California/Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning
Office Hours

College of Charleston Teaching and Learning Team
Increasing students’ use of office hours

Yale University Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning
Office Hours

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching
Office Hours and E-mail

University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching
Holding office hours

How Professors Can Encourage Students to Join Them for Office Hours

Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning
10 Strategies for Making Virtual Office Hours More Effective

Inside Higher Education
Virtual Office Hours Should be Here to Stay

University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill Learning Center
Using Office Hours Effectively

Arizona State University Teach Online
How to Virtual Office Hours Work for You and Your Students


Additional Resources

Arizona State University
Do you suffer from FMOOWMP?

Harvard University The Harvard Gazette
Office hours: 6 realities

Oakland University Center for Excellence for Teaching and Learning
“Chat with Your Professor”

University of Minnesota Information Technology
Zoom: Hold Office Hours