I recently read a post in a Facebook Group by a math instructor who described her office hours as “throwing an hour of my life away every week.” This comment upset me much. I have an average of one student show up for my online office hours each semester. However, I never feel that holding office hours is a waste of my time.
I feel that holding online office hours has helped to increase overall student satisfaction in my courses. From the student perspective, I believe there is something psychological about knowing an instructor is available to help, even if the student doesn’t ask for help.
And from my perspective, hosting the online office hours is not an inconvenience to me at all. At my college, we use Zoom, which has a web version and a mobile app. I tend to open the Zoom session on my phone so that I can hear the chime if a student enters the meeting. Then at that point, I hop back over to my computer to assist the student.
However, I remember one time when I held an entire Zoom session with a student from my phone while sitting in a Little Caesars drive-thru waiting for a pizza. The student thought the whole situation was hilarious. The meeting was still beneficial because she was able to hold a whiteboard up to her camera while I verbally walked her through her problem.
Although I do set a block of time aside for online office hours each week, I never ask students to make appointments for my online office hours. Sometimes students don’t know in advance if they will need help. Students may have conflicts due to their work schedule or other obligations. If no students show up, then I use the time to check emails or grade papers. I like having the excuse that I am in an online meeting to have some quiet time to myself without people knocking on my office door.
In short, I believe that if an instructor has the attitude toward online office hours of “throwing an hour of my life away every week,” that students will pick up on that attitude. It doesn’t matter whether the instructor explicitly states it or not. Ultimately, part of the effectiveness of online office hours lies in the perception of the instructor that they indeed will be beneficial for the students.