Online Office Hours - How To Use Them To Your Advantage
Online office hours are one of the most powerful resources in an instructor-led learning environment. This post is an overview of what to expect during office hours, why office hours are an important aspect of online graduate education, and how to prepare for a session.
We encourage you to reach out right from the beginning of your course and make an effort to communicate with your instructor at least once a week.
Office hours are one of the most valuable learning tools we offer. So, how can you use these hours to get an edge?
What are online office hours?
Office hours are regularly scheduled times each week when students can meet with their instructor. In an online learning environment, office hours can be held in a variety of different formats – a phone call, chat, video chat, group video chat – any mode of communication really.
How do online office hours work?
Like a recurring meeting on the calendar, most instructors hold their office hours on a regular schedule, at consistent times each week. Being that UNE Online is an entirely online graduate school, our instructors all understand that the vast majority of their students have full-time jobs and families, and therefore may have schedules that often conflict with posted office hours. In those cases, each instructor is as flexible as possible.
Usually, there’s a “and by appointment” addendum following the posted regular days and times of an instructor’s office hours. Contact information for your instructor is located within your course, in Blackboard. If you need to meet with the instructor outside of their regularly scheduled office hours, email and briefly explain your predicament, then offer a range of days and times when you’d be available.
Asynchronous office hours
One of our instructors is trying something new with her office hours, and it’s been well-received. She has a regularly scheduled day and a time that students can drop in and ask questions, but students also have the option to submit a question ahead of time for her to answer during her office hours.
For example, to review for an upcoming exam, she would collect her students’ pre-emailed questions, prepare the answers, and then during her regularly scheduled office hours she records the session. She goes through the emailed questions and also fields questions from the students who were able to attend the office hours in real time. She then posts these recordings on the class announcement board for future reference.
Why do instructors hold office hours?
We feel so strongly about the benefits of office hours, we make them a job requirement for all of our instructors. Teachers are accelerators, there to help our students succeed – and access to teachers is important. Office hours are there to offer a space for improvement and encouragement. They’re held in order to support you while you put in that extra effort that may be required because you may not have the same background as other students in the class.
What do you do during office hours?
Office hours are your time to have access to your instructor. Many students use the time to get clarification on an assignment or work on a homework problem. Depending on the content, your instructor may propose another way to approach a particular problem that you’ve been having.
Online office hours can take on a variety of different formats. Some students show up and simply listen to what questions their classmates may have. It’s not uncommon to have four or five students in an office hours session, exchanging ideas and talking through problems. It’s also not uncommon to show up and have the opportunity for one-on-one instruction from your instructor.
How to prepare
Office hours, while not strictly formal, are also not a social open house. List your concerns in order of importance and relevance, so you can begin at the top and not have to take up time trying to remember what you wanted to ask. The more prepared you are when you go to an office hour session, the more you will get done. Most instructors expect that students who show up for those hours have specific questions or concerns related to the class they are taking. If the conversation becomes more casual over time, great. But the purpose of office hours is to give busy students access to busy teachers.
Beyond the classroom – your professional network
Online office hours aren’t just for questions. They’re also a fantastic way to get to know your classmates. In a Master’s environment, your classmates are likely to become your colleagues at some point – so it makes sense to get to know them and your instructor, who most likely works in the field as well. When you start in an industry you don’t have a network. So your classmates are the first members of your network.
Good communication skills are the key to success in many facets of life – and especially in online education.
* This post was originally published on February 16, 2018. It was spruced up and republished on October 1, 2021.