Virtual Student (Office) Hours

Virtual Student (Office) Hours

In-person student (office) hours are important for student learning and engagement, yet risk serving only students who live close to campus and have flexible schedules. Many students work, have family responsibilities, and long commutes to class. To provide all your students with greater access, while using your time more efficiently, try moving your office hours online.

Benefits of Virtual Hours

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

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 (web conferencing)

View the help guide to Set up the Webex Tool in Canvas for setting up office hours, etc. Guides for other web conferencing tools available at Iowa State are listed below:

Commercial solutions

While ISU does not support the following options, you may already use some of them, and a few are free.

  • Google Hangouts (limited to 10-15 people, no time limit) offers free video conferencing.
  • Skype (up to 50 people, various time limits) offers subtitles, screen sharing, file sharing, live call recording, HD video options, chat messaging, call privacy, group calls with a limited number of people
  • (fee-based, up to 5 people, no time limit) offers screen and multimedia sharing as well as group conferencing

Need help?

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

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