Optional office hours can transform your online courses when they’re creatively designed and thoughtfully implemented. They offer a flexible support system that adapts to each student’s learning needs. These sessions encourage participation, guide individual learning, and cultivate a supportive educational community.

Faculty members like yourself play a crucial role. By utilizing office hours, you can more effectively help students bridge the gap between their current skills and their potential. Offering these sessions optionally and recording them allows students to access support when it fits their schedules best. This ensures everyone can take advantage of additional help and clarification.

The structure of office hours varies widely. They differ from one course to another and across disciplines. This variation reflects the distinct teaching methods, student needs, and learning goals of each area. For example, STEM office hours might concentrate on solving problems and clarifying technical issues. In contrast, humanities might focus on discussions about theories, interpretations, and critical thinking. Professional degrees might include practical, career-focused advice during these times.

You have the autonomy to shape your office hours to match the learning outcomes and engagement preferences of your course or discipline. Here are a few ideas.

1. Virtual Drop-in Sessions

Leveraging video conferencing tools, virtual drop-in sessions allow for spontaneous student interactions, mimicking the traditional office door being “open.” These sessions encourage casual inquiries, facilitating a less formal, more approachable environment for students. Sharing questions and answers from these sessions in course announcements may even attract more students to attend.

2. Project-Based Office Hours 

Focus these sessions on students tackling significant projects or assignments. They offer specialized support, feedback, and a space for brainstorming and peer collaboration.

3. Themed Office Hours

Organize office hours around specific themes or topics, aligning with current coursework or common student challenges. This preparation leads to more concentrated discussions, making interactions more effective.

4. Peer-Led Sessions

Arrange for teaching assistants or senior students to mentor their peers. This method not only extends the learning community but also empowers students through peer mentorship, offering a different perspective and possibly a more relatable form of support.

What will your office hours look like? Embrace the flexibility office hours offer. Experiment. Create an experience that helps you build a supportive learning community and provide targeted support for your students and their learning needs.

Tamara Mitchell is an Instructional Designer Principal with ASU Online IDNM. During her time in higher education, she has worked with faculty to develop engaging and innovative courses that help students to learn effectively.