Virtual Student (Office) Hours

Virtual Student (Office) Hours

In-person student (office) hours are essential for student learning and engagement, yet it risks serving only students who live close to campus and have flexible schedules. Many students work, have family responsibilities, and have long commutes to class. As a supplement to in-person in-office hours, virtual student hours are an excellent option. To provide all your students with greater access, while using your time more efficiently, try hosting your hours online.

Why call office hours, student hours?

CELT started to promote student hours through the Syllabus Checklist to be more inclusive because “…students thought “office hours” meant hours that belonged to her, during which she shouldn’t be disturbed (Quintana, 2019). Anecdotally, instructors shared that when they implemented this change – there was an increase of students attending the hours. 


  • Virtual student (office) hours can take place at times convenient for you and more viable for your students.
  • Students can “pop” online during your online student office hour, ask a quick question, and go back to work. This brief encounter saves time for both you and your students.
  • Small groups of students can participate in the same conversation: fun for them and a time-saver for you.
  • Online hours can reduce the number of individual emails on the same topic.
  • Students may be more willing to participate if they can do so online rather than in person.

Encouraging students to attend

  • Be welcoming when students do come.
  • During the first few weeks of the course, ask students to participate in the student hours — by just stopping by. They will learn how to access the hours or where your office is, and you will begin to know their names. Also, after your students have made that initial visit, they are much more likely to return.
  • Please encourage students to contact you (it is a good idea to include communication protocol on your syllabus). Sometimes students are more comfortable initiating contact with you by email. Once they have begun an inquiry by email, they may decide to follow up during your student hours.
  • Share the hours (day, time, location, or how to access) frequently in class, in announcements, and not just in the syllabus – talking about it on the first day of class. Additionally, let students know that they can make appointments with you if the hours are not convenient. 
  • Invite specific students to see you during these hours if they show interest in exploring material outside the class’s scope or having difficulty with course material. You can do this after class, via email, or write a note of invitation on a returned assignment.
  • If you use group work, ask the groups to sign up for specific appointment times early in the course.
  • Briefly review essential topics at the end of the week or the end of every two weeks and suggest that students come in to see you if they do not understand any of those topics (instead of waiting until the day before the exam).
  • Consider designating certain office hours as “study sessions” or “review periods” to help students get a better sense of what they might gain by coming to office hours.

Getting online office hours started

Step 1: Choose a tool. See the list of online tools below.

Step 2: Determine a set time. Decide on a time when you can be available online (e.g., Tuesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m). Announce this time and instructions for connecting to the online platform in class and on the syllabus. Don’t forget to include the time zone.

Step 3: Connect with students! Confirm that students know when the hour is and how to participate online.

Online tools

Canvas is the ISU’s Learning Management System (LMS) and provides a suite of online tools to supplement face-to-face courses. ISU instructors request their Canvas course sites. There is 24/7 Canvas support, ISU Admin Tools support, and pedagogical support  support for Canvas via the where to go for support page. The following Canvas tools can be used to help facilitate virtual office hours and other online communication with students.

Asynchronous student/office hours

Discussions: Discussions support ongoing dialog within different topic threads, the most important of which can be “pinned” to the top for all to see. Discussions can be especially useful for posting FAQ’s in large courses as a way of cutting down on repeat question-and-answer emails.

Real-time chat only

Chat: A useful tool for hosting real-time office hours. This tool can store written chat so that students can review the conversation asynchronously after it has ended.

Real-time video/audio/chat (Webex integration)

There are three options for setting up student/office hours in Webex. To begin, use the Hosting Virtual Student/Office Hours in Webex section of the Set up the Webex Tool in Canvas page.

Web conferencing tools available at Iowa State:

Microsoft Teams logo
Zoom Logo
Cisco Webex logo

Support and Training

Schedule an appointment with one of ISU’s instructional designers for advice on choosing a tool and help getting started or email

Extend your learning



Quintana, C. (2019, February 15). Can This Man Change How Elite Colleges Treat Low-Income Students? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Virtual Student (Office) Hours, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Virtual Student (Office) Hours, is a derivative of Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments developed by University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning (retrieved on May 13, 2020) from, and Office hours developed by University of Washington’s Center for Teaching and Learning (retrieved on November 18, 2020) from