Teaching Today's Students, Teaching with Technology

Reconstituting Office Hours

by Eric Royer, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

A recent article discussing office hours in the Chronicle of Higher Education had me thinking about how this dedicated time to meet with students is such a vital, yet underutilized student support in our course learning environments. Students can ask questions or talk candidly about problems affecting their learning. They can use this time to receive individualized feedback and guidance on future coursework or internships. As we returned to the physical classroom, many of us offered virtual alternatives to give students options for how they could attend. Research even shows a positive correlation between office hours and student learning, engagement, and belonging (see, for example, Guerrero and Rod, 2013).

Despite our best intentions, many of us notice a mismatch between our expectations for the role office hours will play in our courses and student perceptions of them. Cited in the Chronicle article are survey data from a recent study titled “Student motivations and barriers toward online and in-person office hours in STEM courses,” which indicate differing perceptions held by instructors and students toward office hours. Instructors are more likely to view the purpose (and benefit) of office hours as being an opportunity to build interpersonal connections, develop essential study skills, and assist in professional development (e.g., finding internships or pursuing research interests). Students, on the other hand, primarily view this time as a chance to receive assistance on course assignments or ask questions about course materials, often leading to a perception that office hours are a “last resort” or only necessary to attend if questions need to be asked.

This mismatch in perceptions toward the utility (and really the purpose) of office hours inevitably leads to uneven and sporadic student turnout. If students view office hours only as a means to clear up confusion on assignments or assessments, it should be no surprise that they only seek us out at specific points. Unfortunately, this low turnout leads us to question the effectiveness of office hours and possibly to question the sincerity of our students. If they’re not attending office hours, are they really that interested in our course? Are they taking it seriously? Are they really putting in the effort necessary to tackle the difficult task of learning?

So, where do we go from here? How do we ensure office hours serve their purpose as a vital –and not an underutilized — student support? How do we make office hours more meaningful to students in the learning process and a better use of our time and energy?

One strategy might be to reframe this time with students. Instead of listing “office hours” on your syllabus (or door), can you list the times and dates you’re available for “student hours”? This subtle shift in language helps re-orient and re-establish the “student” as the focus of this time. Doing so might allay student perceptions that this time is dedicated to our research and class preparation or that students are “bothering us” or “getting in the way” of our work.

Another strategy is to structure this time to be more meaningful to students in the learning process. Can you develop a theme on a weekly basis? For example, “I’m available to meet this week to field questions about the study guide for Exam 1”? Or, “I’m available this week to check-in with your progress in the course”? Additionally, can you suggest resources students bring to these meetings or questions they can prepare using a guided handout in advance?

A final strategy is to consider how you might mitigate scheduling conflicts as a barrier to student attendance. Can you meet with students over Zoom? Can you schedule office hours with groups of students at alternative times? Can you ask students their availability in a pre-course survey distributed prior to the start of the semester?

To schedule a consultation to talk further about your teaching needs, please contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu. Please also consider sharing your perspectives on or experience with facilitating or rethinking the use of office hours in your teaching in the comment section below.


Guerrero, M. and A.B. Rod (2013). Engaging in office hours: A study of student-faculty interaction and academic performance. Journal of Political Science Education 9(4): 403-416.

Hsu, J., Rowland-Goldsmith, M., and E.B. Schwartz. (2022). Student motivations and barriers toward online and in-person office hours in STEM courses. CBE-Life Sciences Education 21(4): 1-14.

Supiano, B. (October 13, 2022). Teaching: Do your students know what office hours are for? Chronicle of Higher Education.