Similar to in-person office hours, virtual office hours support student learning through one-on-one interactions between students and instructors or TAs. They are an online means of addressing – in real time – student questions about course material and assignments. Research on student learning suggests that “Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement” (Chickering & Gamson, 1986, p. 3).
What LEARN tools can I use for my virtual office hours?
Virtual office hours can be facilitated through three centrally-supported video conferencing platforms and another non-video conferencing platform: Virtual Classroom (Bongo), which can be accessed in LEARN; WebEx Meetings, MS Teams and Piazza. These four platforms support communication by audio, video, and text, as well as a white board for drawing diagrams or mathematical symbols. To help you select a platform for online office hours, we’ve outlined the following options.
Office Hours using Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is helpful for both visual meetings and chat-based meetings. It allows you to record your meetings and write down meeting notes, which may improve the quality of your meetings.
Resource: Microsoft Teams Instruction
- Option 1: Drop-in office hours
Set up an office hour which the whole class can attend. You can invite all of the students to the Microsoft Teams meeting by your outlook email (which you can book an appointment and invite all students by adding events on your schedule). Thus, students can log in to MS Teams by using their UWaterloo student accounts and join in the team meeting at any time during the office hour. The meeting group will appear in MS Teams’ chat after if you chat with your students during the meeting, so that you can always come back and check your record video and meeting notes, or even start a new meeting with this group again.
- Option 2: “By appointment” office hours
Set up several available time for students to choose, then book an appointment and invite the student who books the time only to the MS Teams meeting. This will allow only you and the student into the meeting room.
Office Hours using Virtual Classroom (Bongo)
Virtual Classroom (VC) is a good option for virtual office hours if Bongo is already used elsewhere in your course, such as for Video Assignments. VC allows you to choose the format for your virtual office hours: drop-ins or scheduled appointments.
Resource: Virtual Classroom instructions
- Option 1: Drop-in office hours
Set up virtual office hours as a recurring meeting that the whole class can attend. There is no “waiting room,” which means any student can just “drop in.” If another student is already in your virtual office, discussing something private, you can ask the new student to come back at a specific time and then remove them. However, if they disregard the time you’ve suggested, they will be able to keep popping back in.
- Option 2: “By appointment” office hours
Set up virtual office hours and then ask students to choose one of the meeting slots that you’ve made available. This is the most equitable option especially if your students are in different time zones. Typically, office hours are scheduled in 20-minute increments. If multiple students have the same concern, seek their permission to host them together.
Office Hours using WebEx Meetings
Resources: WebEx Meetings interface explained
- Options 1 and 2 would be the same as for Virtual Classroom, above.
- Option 3: Drop-in option with waiting room
This option uses the Lock Meeting and Lobby features of WebEx. A student logs into WebEx and starts off in a “lobby” (a virtual waiting room). You then admit the student to the WebEx meeting. When other students enter the “lobby”, you will receive a notification for each one. To lock the meeting at the start of the office hours, to prevent students from dropping in without permission, go to Meeting > Lock Meeting:
When students are placed in the “lobby,” they will receive a “welcome message.” You can customize this message for students, for example, letting them know you are currently with a student, and that you will let them into the meeting in a few minutes. To create a “welcome message,” go to Meeting > Welcome Message:
When you are ready for your next drop-in, click “Waiting to Join” to see the names of students waiting in the “lobby” and then click “Let in” beside the name of the student you’ll next meet with.
Office Hours using Piazza
Piazza is quite different than Virtual Classroom (Bongo), WebEx Meetings and MS Teams, since it is designed to be a question-and-answer based platform. Although it cannot offer a face-to-face meeting, it can still help with office hours.
Resource: Piazza instruction
First of all, Piazza is integrated into LEARN, which means you can use it for any courses you want.
Can I use LEARN’s Chat tool for hosting virtual office hours?
Resource: Chat (LEARN Help article)
LEARN’s Chat tool can be used if the office hours are conducted as real-time, text-based communication. Although this tool doesn’t have the “waiting room” option that WebEx has, it is a great tool for synchronous meetings where it’s understood that the information will be visible and shared with the whole class, such as for Q&A before the exam or a major assignment deadline. The transcript can be saved and shared with the whole class, and also becomes a helpful study resource for all students. Chat tool is also a good option to have as a backup for virtual office hours conducted in audio- or video-based format as it’s not affected by bandwidth.
The Chat tool can be found under Connect > Chat. You may need to turn on the Chat tool.
How will my students find information about my virtual office hours?
When using Virtual Classroom (Bongo) for office hours, students go to Connect > Virtual Classroom to see your available office hours. If you have set up private office hours with a student, then only that student will see those office hours.
When using WebEx, you’ll need to copy and paste the meeting information to a LEARN announcement, content page, or homepage widget. To copy the meeting information, click the “copy” icon when looking at your meeting information (the yellow highlight in the following image):
How do I prepare for my virtual office hours?
- Set up specific times for your virtual office hours (e.g., Wednesdays 3-4pm); for weekly office hours, aim for different dates/times of the day
- Post a welcoming message in LEARN Announcements to let students know about your virtual office hours (“Welcome to My Virtual Office”)
- Tell students what they need to do (e.g., instructions on when and how to log in)
- Give students a lot of encouragement to take advantage of virtual office hours and remind them that you are available to provide help
- Send them another reminder before “high traffic” weeks, such as before exams or assignment deadlines
- Spend at least an hour getting to know the tool that you’ll be using for your office hours, its key features and how they are used
- Have one “trial run” office hour session with a fellow TA or a student volunteer
- Make sure you know how to:
- (un)mute your microphone
- switch on/off your webcam
- share/hide your desktop if you plan to display or review content with your students
- use a whiteboard tool to draw symbols and equations during numerical or formula-driven sessions
What else should I consider when holding virtual office hours?
Both Bongo (Virtual Classroom) and WebEx allow for recording of the session. Due to privacy considerations, ensure that recording is turned off during virtual office hours.
Bandwidth refers to the rate of data transfer. Tools that require low bandwidth are text-based such as email, chat and discussion groups. Tools requiring medium bandwidth are audio-based like podcasts and mini-lectures or discussions that make use of audio but not video. Tools that require the highest bandwidth are ones that employ video. If an online meeting with a student doesn’t require video, use just audio.
When setting your virtual office hours, try to give some options to students as some of them might be in different time zones.
Always make sure that you’re using the most up-to-date version of your internet browser.
CTE’s Tip Sheet, Holding Office Hours
Communicating with Students. Keep Learning website, University of Waterloo.
Contact your CTE Liaison for advice on choosing a LEARN tool for virtual office hours
- Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), pp. 3-7.
- Condis, M. (2016). Making office hours matter. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/11/01/how-convince-students-attend-office-hours-essay
- Walsh, M. (2011). How to make the most of your office hours. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/how-to-make-the-most-of-your-office-hours/
This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Holding Virtual Office Hours Using Bongo and WebEx. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.