“How many hours a week do I need to schedule? Do I have to be in my office or can they be online?” These are two questions instructors at McGill University ask us at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS). There are no clear answers, though, as McGill does not have a policy that specifically addresses the question of office hours. However, item 21. (v) of McGill’s Charter of Students’ Rights states that course outlines should include “The instructor’s contact information, office location, and office hours as appropriate” (p. 3). Of course, ‘as appropriate’ is open to interpretation.
At TLS, we did a bit of searching online to find out what the practices are at other universities. The recommended number of office hours seems to be 2 to 3 per week. However, we suggest you speak with your department Chair or unit Director to find out what the practice is in your teaching context.
From our online search, we also gleaned some useful ideas for planning and holding office hours. Consider:
- scheduling both in-person and virtual times (more below about virtual office hours);
- scheduling a combination of drop-in and ‘by appointment’ times and holding office hours more than once a week and at different times of the day to accommodate students’ varied schedules; and
- including directions to your office if it is in a hard-to-find location.
If you have a TA who holds office hours, consider planning for you and your TA to schedule different days/times to meet with students.
Virtual office hours
Real-time virtual office hours are scheduled times when you are available to communicate with students online. Various tools can facilitate this communication by video, audio, text, or a combination. A free video conferencing tool, such as Skype for Business, supported by McGill, allows you and your students to see and speak to each other in real-time. You can even do screen sharing so that you can look at documents or other resources together. The Chat tool in myCourses is a text-based medium that allows for real-time communication. Both video conferences and chat sessions are recorded so that they can be viewed later on. A recording can be beneficial to students should they wish to review the conversation after office hours have finished. Read more about the benefits of virtual office hours.
Whether in person or online, you should let students know what your office hours are for and what your availability is by including relevant information in the course outline and announcing it in class and in myCourses.
What suggestions do you have for planning and holding office hours – both in-person and virtual?
Condis, M. (2016). Making office hours matter. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/11/01/how-convince-students-attend-office-hours-essay
University of Washington Center for Teaching and Learning. (2018). Virtual office hours. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/engaging-students-in-learning/face-to-face-office-hours/virtual-office-hours/
Walsh, M. (2011). How to make the most of your office hours. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-office-hours/
Associate Director, Faculty and Teaching Development, and Senior Academic Associate, at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning!
(Photo credit: Owen Egan)