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Best Practices in Hosting Virtual Office Hours

While hosting office hours is required at CMU, providing virtual office hours offers tremendous flexibility to meet students where they are. 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 hours, ask a quick question, then return to work, which affords time for both you and your students. As you think about ways to build this “space” for your students, consider a few helpful tips to maximize the potential of virtual office hours:

Embed your chosen platform in Blackboard

Within your Blackboard shell, embed links to either WebEx or MS Teams to serve as a placeholder or reminder to students on the desired platform for the course. Students will most likely be using different platforms depending on their instructors’ preferences; keeping this information clear will assist them to stay organized.

If Webex is the chosen platform, you can establish Office Hours inside your Blackboard course shell by incorporating the Webex tool link.  The Using Webex to Host Office Hours in Blackboard tutorial will give you step-by-step instructions to set up this option.

Note: to embed a link to Teams, consider, first, creating a group or “team” for your class, then add your students (this is a one-time action). Once students have been added, create a link and embed this link in your Blackboard shell.

Using tools to maximize learning in virtual office hours

WebEx and Microsoft Teams are CMU-supported tools that allow for engagement with students in real-time via a PC or mobile device.  No scheduling is required for either platform.  More importantly, both tools allow for screen sharing, instant messaging (via the chat tool), recording, video-calling (with or without a webcam), and document-sharing.

To manage large classes, consider creating a “sign-up sheet” in Blackboard to meet students by appointment. Or when working with multiple students during a virtual office hour, consider encouraging students to use the hand-raise feature to wait in a queue.

Final recommendations

  • Query their availability. In the early weeks of the semester, consider creating a poll (using YouCanBookMe or DoodlePoll) to determine students’ general availability. While you may not be able to accommodate all students, you can offer virtual appointments.
  • Communicate. In your syllabus, and even demonstrate during class, communicate where and how to access the chosen platform for virtual office hours.
  • Blackboard. To support asynchronous office hours, provide a discussion forum in Bb where students can post their questions that you will answer within 24-48 hours to encourage immediacy.
  • Set, keep, and remind students about your hours, including opportunities for students to schedule virtual appointments.