Utilizing Office Hours to Encourage Student-Instructor Interaction

A photo of a woman at a desk facing a man.

Every UNT instructor is required to identify, post, and maintain office hours so that students can have access to their instructors. Policies regarding the amount of time and location of office hours are developed by departments, schools, and colleges, and may reflect unique programs and conditions. Specific requirements for office hours are available from the department.

During the first week of the semester, students should be informed of the location of the instructor’s office and the times the instructor will be available for consultation. Office hour information should be included in each course syllabus, along with a note that students may make appointments outside of office hours. Instructors of record who have teaching assistants should consider coordinating hours with one another to provide maximum “coverage.”

In addition to being published in the course syllabus and announced in class, office hours should be posted on an instructor’s office door and posted in the learning management system if applicable. It is advisable as well to announce any change in consultation hours or any emergency cancellation via the announcements function in the learning management system and/or in class. Finally, the administrative staff of the department should have the instructor’s office hours.

Consultation hours can be an important part of the learning process or a wasted opportunity. The difference depends on an instructor’s ability to encourage students to utilize office hours to clarify material presented in class, ask questions about assignments, and/or get suggestions for further readings.

In smaller courses, an instructor can encourage the habit of using consultation hours by scheduling a short interview with each student in the class. In this consultation, the instructor can find out the reasons students are taking the course, any problems the student anticipates, and generally develop rapport. This can be accomplished in large classes by having students answer similar questions on an index card to be turned in at the end of the first day of class.

Almost every semester, an instructor will teach a few reserved students who consistently do well on written assignments but who are initially reticent in class discussions. During office hours, instructors can meet individually with these students and encourage them to participate in class by expressing enthusiasm for their work and urging them to share their good ideas with other class members. Small groups also allow many of these students to participate more actively.

In addition to advising and answering questions from individual students, office hours can also be used to supplement lectures and discussions. For example, special time can be scheduled to deal with particularly difficult material, accommodate students with disabilities, and work with collaborative learning groups.

Virtual Office Hours

If students are not actually coming to the office, an instructor also might consider adding virtual office hours using various tools in the learning management system regardless of class modality. An instructor may host live chat sessions (with video/audio or via text) and/or schedule specific times when they will be available to answer questions via a class discussion board.

Students who live far away or who are particularly shy may be better able to participate in virtual office hours. An added advantage of these sessions is that an instructor can create a record of the interaction so that students can review the information on their own time.