Teachers are adept at handling class disruptions. From cell phones to chit-chat, these daily occurrences are practically built into the job description. But the pandemic has been anything but a minor disruption, forcing educators to rethink — and find creative solutions for — nearly every aspect of their profession. Office hours are one of those things.
Office hours have long been a staple of college campuses everywhere. They give students the opportunity to engage more deeply with the course material. Students receive guidance, whether for structuring their next paper or even structuring their careers. Office hours allow students to get the most out of their education.
If you’re a teacher who’s wondering how to make office hours work for the so-called new normal, you’re not alone. The good news? We have the tech to make it happen. Below, we rounded up four easy ways to set up office hours online. (Bonus: K-12 teachers can also use these methods to schedule meetings with parents!)
But first, how do in-person office hours usually work?
Traditionally, office hours are held in-person. The professor sets aside a window of time (usually weekly or bi-weekly) when students can stop by their office without having to schedule an appointment at a specific time. Office hours are usually fixed, held at the same time every week, at least during the course of the quarter or semester. Students can find out when their professor holds office hours by checking their class syllabus.
Now, imagine holding virtual office hours the same way. You’d launch a Zoom meeting, and then you’d wait for students who may or may not show. Not the best method, we must admit. When it comes to online office hours, the key is to allow students to schedule appointments with you — and to make that scheduling process super straightforward and easy. Translation: Let’s leave back-and-forth emailing out of this, shall we? Instead, consider one of the four solutions below.
The 4 best ways to hold virtual office hours
1. Host a live Q&A session online
If you’re teaching online, one way to incorporate office hours is through live streaming. We actually got this idea from LinkedIn and how they conduct office hours on their course platform, LinkedIn Learning. Here’s how it works: The professor “goes live” via broadcasting, students tune in and leave questions in the comments, and the professor answers their questions in real-time. To learn how to broadcast a Zoom meeting to YouTube, click here. Live streaming is more casual than video conferencing, which makes it better suited for office hours (versus a structured lesson plan). Students might also find it helpful to watch you answer their peers’ questions, something you don’t get in a 1:1 in-person or online meeting.
2. Schedule office hours using Google Calendar appointment slots
Available for work and school (.edu) Google Calendar accounts, appointment slots are a convenient way to schedule office hours using an app you’re likely already familiar with.
Here’s how it works: In Google Calendar, create an appointment block. This is the entire time range you’d like to make available for students (i.e. maybe you want to set aside 2-4 pm on Wednesdays for office hours). Within that time block are individual time slots, which your students can sign up for and reserve.
For instance, you can set the duration of the time slots to be 30 minutes long, meaning a time block from 2-4 pm would create four available appointments. Once your time block is all set up, inviting your students to schedule a meeting time with you is as simple as sending a link.
3. Allow students to schedule with you via Calendly booking link
Calendly is a free online scheduling tool that simplifies the back-and-forth process of finding ‘best times.’ Just punch in your availability, then Calendly will create a booking page for you, complete with a shareable link. When your students open the link, they’ll see your available time slots and can book a 1:1 meeting with you in a few clicks.
You can even create an ‘event type’ template, so that anytime a student books an office hours appointment with you, it’s preset to a custom duration and description. Calendly also sends notifications to you and your invitee (such as event reminders and follow-ups).
When you sign up for Calendly using an Outlook account, it automatically connects with your Microsoft 365 account to help streamline your scheduling, but there are more options for those looking to integrate with a different calendar platform like iCloud and Google Calendar.
Pro-tip: You can set Calendly to automatically add video conferencing to your appointments, thanks to integrations with Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and Webex. So that when someone books with you, a meeting link is created instantly.
4. Manage office hours (and everything else on your calendar) with Clockwise
Ever wondered how to manage staff meetings, class meetings, and office hours — all while preserving your own focus time? Clockwise is free scheduling software that intelligently manages your calendar. It’s like having a virtual personal assistant.
To get started, just tell Clockwise your working hours and your meeting availability (i.e. I work Mondays through Fridays from 9-5, and I’m available for meetings with students or other staff members from 10-4). Then, set your weekly Focus Time goals and make your meetings flexible. Clockwise will work to make sure that your schedule is always working for you.
When Clockwise detects scheduling conflicts in your Google Calendar, it will automatically reschedule and resolve them. It also optimizes your schedule by reducing fragmented time and increasing Focus Time. That means you’ll finally have time to catch up on reading and grading papers, developing your lesson plans, or any other tasks that require deep concentration. Click here to get started with Clockwise for free. Or click the menu on the top right to learn more.
Burnout is real, and if there’s anything we learned about the teaching profession from the pandemic, it’s that we aren’t doing enough to care for the well-being of our world’s educators. We know there’s no single fix for stress and burnout, but Clockwise can certainly take a few things off your plate!
Here’s a quick recap of what we covered:
- Live broadcasts are great for hosting group-style office hours, where students can tune in and leave comments for the teacher to address.
- If you’re a teacher who uses Google Calendar, consider taking advantage of the appointment slots feature. It’s a simple way to let students book an online appointment with you without having to download another tool.
- Calendly is an easy-to-use web app that creates a booking page with your available meeting times, which teachers can send to their students for simple appointment scheduling.
- If you’re a teacher who wants to set aside time for your students while also preserving your own Focus Time, Clockwise can help you do all of that — plus more.