Getting More Students To Come To Office Hours

Since Covid-19 I've actually had MORE students in office hours than I did before. Now I know most of us are feeling overwhelmed by the workload of teaching in a remote environment and may not want to meet with more students! But in this pandemic, I have gained a lot of energy and joy from meeting some of my students one-on-one and actually getting to know them well enough that I can write letters of recommendation for them! And I've been surprised to find that they also want and need this connection with their instructors, and which motivates them to succeed and seek out help when they need it. Below are some of the things I do to encourage office hour attendance.

Drop-in office hours: Students love drop-in hours. They don't have to commit to attending, and they love to find out what other students in the class will ask. With privacy issues, it seems best to hold separate office hours for each course.

I find it's best to provide the link to ZOOM in the Learning Management System and use the same link for class as for office hours. I also provide a text header and announcements to students to remind them the day of (or the day before) an office hour, the time it is scheduled, and a link to the Zoom room (or state that it is in the same virtual place as our class meetings). The consistency of having a set time and place is great… for those who can make it at that time! I've now been experimenting with more flexible and spontaneous hours throughout the week, at different times and days to see if I can accommodate more students.

Being more available at times my students are likely to need help: In the past few years I've dedicated more times outside normal work hours to accommodate the lives of my community college students, including weeknights once or twice a week, and weekend mornings before noon. I know what you're thinking: "Get a life?" or "Work-life balance, hello?" Actually most students have a life and don't take advantage of these off-hours, but a few do and I don't mind having a short session with my students at these times. I set my boundaries to these small windows (Tues night 5-8pm, Sat morning 9-12) and it's actually not so bad on my work-life balance when I plan around it.

I also schedule online review sessions the night before an exam, and those are usually very well attended. It might even be a good idea to have an assignment due the first week of class with a review session the night before, just so students get to try out the remote office hour setting and see that it isn't so bad.

Shift from “office hours” to “homework sessions”

I tend to sell office hours to my students as homework sessions. “Stop by and let’s practice!” I don’t want students to avoid coming to office hours because they think they have to have set questions. I also encourage students to meet with me with their lab partners or other classmates. Often students drop into office hours to listen to what other students ask, but don’t have any questions themselves. I help them out by recommending we do some homework problems together or I think of some questions off the top of my head to get the juices flowing. It really puts them at ease to not feel they are on the spot to come up with questions, and I think it encourages them to continue attending office hours.

During these Zoom sessions I love to ask students to annotate my screen (using the Zoom annotate feature) or talk me through the process of solving problems, and I can give more individualized feedback in office hours than I can during class.

One-on-one appointments students can easily schedule using Calendly: This term I am teaching the third quarter of organic chemistry, and I have a few new students who I didn't have in the previous courses. I encouraged them each to meet with me so I could have a chat with them about life, what to expect in my class, tips that tend to work for my students, and more about their background, where and when they took organic chem before, and what their career goals/majors are. This has been much more enriching than a survey!

In order to meet one-on-one, I've used a scheduling tool called Calendly. Calendly is a great FREE scheduling tool if you want to schedule meetings without having to consult your calendar. I use Calendly because my schedule is pretty erratic and it's very labor-intensive for me to send several dates/time I can meet anyone outside scheduled classes and office hours, and by the time I hear back from the other person, I have to come up with more dates/times or slots get filled. This has been working great for scheduling one-on-one office hours as well as meetings with colleagues.

Here's how it works:

  • You can create a free account at Calendly.com and you use (Google, iCloud, Outlook, Exchange). You can link it to more calendars if you upgrade for a fee.
  • The free version gives an option for 30 minute meetings. If you want other increments (15 minute, 1 hour, etc.) you will need to upgrade. For me, 30 minutes has been perfect.
  • You send your Calendly link/URL to the person you want to meet with you. For me, I include mine in the footer of my emails, and I also post a link to my Calendly page on my Canvas (LMS) page with the note "Click here to make an appointment with me".

For example, takes you to this page:

When a user clicks on "30 minute meeting" you will get to see which days and times I am available:

The times listed are ones which I've designated in Calendly to show if I am available through my Outlook calendar, which I use for work. In Calendly, I set a window of time that I want to be available on any given day of the week and the Outlook integration ensures only the hours from that window that are available (not booked in Outlook) are displayed. For example, in the image above, I designated on Fridays that I would be available from 9am to 5 pm. You can see the 30 min increments that are not showing are times that are already booked in my Outlook calendar.

These are just some of the strategies and tools I use for encouraging students to meet with me. I am sure some of you have tried mandatory office hours or other incentives for attending office hours. What has worked in the past? How have you adapted it during the pandemic? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Thanks for reading....