SIP 3.14 Office Hours

grimes-and-studentThirsty for Strong Instructional Practice?

Providing individualized attention to students in “real time” (synchronously) is an important aspect of university teaching, and meeting with students face to face (F2F) is a time-honored and institutionalized way of making this happen. Yet, traditional “office hours,” in which a professor announces times in which students may drop in to discuss class matters, is an outdated and limited way of providing individualized attention, especially when relied upon exclusively. Although a ubiquitous, and frequently a required, practice on college and university campuses, surveys say (and many of our personal experiences affirm), that office hours are poorly attended, especially by the students who need them the most. More so, the limitations of traditional office hours are particularly pronounced at schools such as MSU Denver. Many Metro students have heavy work and family obligations, and the fact that everyone has to commute, the makes coming to campus to meet with a professor costly and inconvenient for the vast majority. Similarly, holding office hours is also difficult for a large number of Affiliate Faculty, many of whom are on campus only to teach their classes, and who typically do not have offices in which to meet with students privately.

While traditional office hours are passé, meeting one-on-one with students in real time will never go out of style. How might office hours be reimagined to meet the needs of contemporary MSU Denver students and faculty?

Take a SIP of this: Contemporary Office Hours

First, since many faculty and students appreciate F2F interaction, the opportunity to meet in such a way should be maintained. Yet so as to not to exclude the same students each week, consider varying your meeting times and offering meetings that accommodate the Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, and Friday/Saturday class rotations. Or even better, go so far as to institute an appointment-based system of meeting with students. There are many free and low-cost scheduling apps (such as Doodle and TimeTrade) that streamline the scheduling process, and free you from sitting in your office waiting for students show up.

Along with F2F meetings, consider making use of communication technologies that afford the opportunity to meet remotely but in real time. For example, consider allowing students to call you, or, place calls to students. For added convenience (and to keep your office and private phone lines open), use a VoIP app such as Google Voice. Not only can you dedicate the number to student phone calls and text messages, Google Voice includes voicemail, and will even transcribe the message and email you the text. And its free!

Similarly, there are many free videoconferencing service such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Like phone calls, videoconferencing enables remote meetings, but also facilitates the non-verbal aspects of communication, and the ability to simultaneously view items – as close to F2F as possible, but at a distance. Most laptop and tablet computers come equipped with the necessary videoconferencing hardware, and desktop computers can be outfitted for minimal cost.

Most learning management systems, and webmail clients, including Metro’s Blackboard and Outlook Web App (not to mention smart phones and social media sites like Facebook), provide some sort of a “chatting” or instant messaging (IM) tool. In combination with videoconferencing, instant messaging affords faculty the opportunity to hold fully inclusive “virtual office hours”.

A parting word of caution. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that you verify that the individual with whom you are communicating is your student. When meeting with a student who is not recognized on sight, whether in person or by videoconference, asking to see a student ID is sufficient. However, if meeting by phone or instant messaging, additional steps are required. In situations where you cannot view a student ID, MSU Denver registrar record specialist Melissa Miller suggests that prior to your conversation, you should establish a “password” in person, by way of the university-established email (, or Blackboard. Since these are password-protected means of communication and students are responsible to guard their identity, you can send a password that the student will need to provide in order to discuss class matters by phone or IM.

Indeed, there are several reason for broadening the means by which students might meet with you one-on-one and in real time. More so, readily available and low/no-cost technology makes doing so relatively easy and inexpensive. Not only will you increase participation in this vital pedagogic activity, you will also be adhering to the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and contributing to an inclusive atmosphere that accommodates the various needs of a diverse student body. And, you just might free yourself from the disheartening task of sitting in your office hoping that someone might stop by.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Contemporary Office Hours

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