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.

Why call office hours, student hours?

CELT started to promote student hours through the Checklist as a way to be more inclusive. Instructors who implemented this change – had an increase of students attending.

Benefits of Virtual 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 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 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.

Encouraging students to attend

  • Make it repeatedly clear that you are available. Include the hours on your syllabus (day, time, location, or how to access). Make it clear that students can make appointments with you if the hours are not convenient. Repeat invitations to come to your office hours periodically during class.
  • Consider requiring your students to participate in the student hours during the first few weeks of the course. 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.
  • Invite specific students to come to see you during these hours if they are having trouble with course material or show interest in exploring material outside the class’s scope. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Be welcoming when students do come.

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.

Related web conferencing tools available at Iowa State:

Microsoft Teams logo
Zoom Logo
Cisco Webex logo

Self-Paced Training

20-Minute Mentor Commons, a digital library of online seminars

Use the 20-Minute Mentor Commons for ISU page to register and log into Magna Commons. Then, access the CELT curated 20-Minute Mentor videos to guide the course delivery mode of Hybrid/Blended Learning using the hyperlinked list 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 or email

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