Office hours are an opportunity for your students to forge meaningful relationships with you through discussing and seeking help with course materials and assignments. They can also help you understand your students’ prior knowledge, their understanding of the subject matter, their academic, career, and life aspirations, and their views of the world. The conversations you have and the relationships you develop in office hours can inform the design of your courses and help make you a better teacher.
There are, however, many students who do not take advantage of office hours. On this page, we’ll explore some of the reasons why students are hesitant to attend office hours, and what you can do to create an inclusive and welcoming environment that encourages students to attend your office hours. Note that these are general recommendations (not obligations), and they might not all work for you. If you would like to talk about the specifics of your teaching, please contact the TLC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expectations for instructors and teaching assistants
Instructors and Teaching Assistants are expected to hold weekly office hours during any quarter in which they have an active teaching or advising role. The number of office hours varies by department. We encourage you to consult with your department, program, or college for details.
Why don’t students attend office hours?
Students fail to attend office hours for many reasons. Among them:
- They are afraid to show that they need help.
- They are intimidated by the hierarchy of the professor-student relationship.
- They believe that office hours are a formal environment.
- They believe that office hours are only for students who are struggling.
- They believe that office hours are only for academic purposes.
- Office hours conflict with their other courses.
- Office hours conflict with their work schedules or family obligations.
How can I make office hours more inclusive and inviting?
- Use welcoming first-person language in your syllabus—especially in your description of office hours.
- Tell your students in your syllabus and in class that you have a genuine interest in connecting with them in office hours through exchanging ideas and working through course materials.
- Send a personal invitation (formatted as such) through canvas or other means to reinforce the point that you would like students to attend.
- Acknowledge that some students may have some anxiety about attending office hours. Explain what office hours will look like in your course, including whether they will be group or individual, how material will be covered, and whether any preparation is needed.
- If preparation is needed for office hours, tell your students how to prepare (e.g., bring a concept you’d like help with, ask for career or research advice, write a set of interview questions).
- Consider rebranding your office hours (e.g., “Student Hours” or “Homework Club”) as an opportunity for students to work together—with your help.
- Explain the benefits of developing a personal connection with faculty (e.g., letters of recommendation for graduate school or job applications, research opportunities).
- Invite students to come to you with questions about research, service-learning opportunities, and career paths in your field.
- Reiterate that office hours are time that you set aside expressly for students and that you look forward to meeting with them.
If you choose to redesign your office hours to make them more inclusive, make sure you take your personal boundaries into account. Think about what you’re prepared to discuss with your students. For example:
- How will you handle situations in which students discuss personal issues that are affecting their academic performance?
- How will you respond when students ask for your advice about identity-based issues?
- How will you address students’ academic performance in other courses when it arises?
Thinking ahead about your own capacity and comfort, and being ready to thoughtfully redirect your students to people and places that may be better suited to support them can help you protect your emotions and privacy, and compassionately support your students. (See this guide to referring students to campus resources.)
How can I make office hours more convenient and account for different preferences in format?
- Break up your hours into different days and times, and use different modalities (e.g., one office hour that is held in person and one that is held virtually).
- Give your students the option to attend the same office hour on Zoom or in person. (Note that this blended/hybrid format may require careful scheduling and Zoom meeting settings.)
- Rebrand office hours as study hall, study hours, or study space, and involve the entire teaching team to create a community space for learning.
- If your classroom is far from your office, consider holding some of your office hours at a campus café or other public area, and during a time slot right before or after your class session.
- Offer both drop-in office hours and private appointments that students can sign up for in advance. For the latter, use the Canvas calendar, a shared Google Document or Sheet, or Appointment Slots in your Google Calendar to facilitate scheduling.
- Consider teaming up with a TA to hold joint office hours, especially if you intend to hold blended/hybrid office hours. A team approach allows one of you to monitor online participants and make sure all students are heard and included.
Sample Language for your Syllabus or Lecture Materials to Invite Students to Office Hours
“Students are enthusiastically encouraged to attend the office hours of your instructor and TA. You are welcome to come with specific questions or to just “talk [discipline]”. My office hours are generally group question and answer periods. If you have a private question/issue to discuss, please contact me ahead of time and I would be happy to make an appointment.”