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Virtual office hours

In-person 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.

Benefits of virtual office hours

  • Virtual office hours can take place at times that are 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 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.

Getting online office hours started

tool boxStep 1: Choose a tool

See the list of online tools below. Schedule an appointment with UW-IT for advice on choosing a tool and help getting started.

clockStep 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.

peopleStep 3: Connect with students!

Confirm that students know when the office hour is and how to participate online.


Online tools

Online tools

Canvas is the UW’s Learning Management System (LMS) and provides a suite of online tools to supplement face-to-face courses. All UW instructors are provided Canvas course sites automatically, and UW-IT provides support for Canvas. The following Canvas tools can be used to help facilitate virtual office hours and other online communication with students.

  • Real-time office hours:
    • Conferences: A place to upload files (.ppt, .doc, .pdf, etc.), access a digital whiteboard, broadcast real-time audio and video, or demonstrate applications and online resources.
    • 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.
  • Asynchronous 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.
  • Online office hour scheduling
    • If you prefer scheduling appointments during your office hours, rather than using them as a drop-in option, Canvas’ Scheduler tool can help. Part of the Calendar feature, Scheduler allows faculty to create blocks of time for which students can sign up — making it easier to manage online meetings.

Other tools available to support communication between instructors and students include:

  • Zoom: offers video conferencing and group messaging in one, with the option to screen share, record, and chat.
  • Microsoft Skype for Business: UW Skype for Business is the University of Washington subscription to Skype for Business Online, a Microsoft O365 service.

While UW-IT 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.