Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Online Office Hours and Conferences

Main content start

When teaching an online class, the one-to-one meetings with students hold particular importance, not only for the pedagogical opportunity of working with a students according to their specific needs, but also as a way to build stronger relationships with them, facilitating a more productive learning situation for all.  In a course where students may not always feel as connected to the class and class community, meetings in office hours and in one-to-one conferences allow for valuable real-time connections.

Virtual Office Hours

Virtual office hours function similarly to in-person office hours: they offer students the opportunity to drop by; ask you a quick question, pick up on a discussion point from class, or follow up on feedback they received; and then get back to work.  PWR instructors should plan to hold 3 hours of virtual office hours every week if they're teaching two sections, and 2 hours of office hours every week if they're teaching one.    You should hold the majority (if not all) of your hours at a scheduled time rather than “by appointment.” Stanford’s recent survey of Spring undergraduates found that students report that in, in a remote learning environment, “by appointment” office hours actually create an additional barrier to meeting with their instructor that they don’t experience for scheduled hours.

Every quarter, the PWR Student Services Officer will collect your office hours and post them on the Instructor page; however, please also make sure that they are clearly indicated on your syllabus and class website, along with how students can connect.  Just as for face-to-face meetings, students need to know how to find your "office" and when you'll be available.   Many instructors use their Personal Meeting Room through Zoom as a place to hold these meetings.  Pro-tip: Enable the "waiting room" to ensure that an arriving student doesn't interrupt a meeting that is going on.

See also these general tips on Holding Effective Office Hours.

Student Conferences

Conference Pedagogy

As with all PWR classes, for online teaching you should hold three one-to-one meetings with each of your students.  Student conferences are a particularly vital part of online courses in that they help foster connections with students in online courses in addition to providing space for important individualized teaching moments.  Many of the same moves you practice during in-person conferences can be applied to these mediated conferences as well:

  • Ask students to come prepared with questions or an agenda they'd like for the conversation
  • Review drafts together, using screenshare on Zoom or Google Docs
  • Use the time to help students with search strategies using Zoom screenshare
  • Use it as invention or writing time for students, using Google Docs for real-time drafting (i.e., refining a thesis statement) or revision
  • Collaborate on a set of notes or goals for next steps in the revision process using Google Docs

See also more ideas for Holding Effective Conferences.

Conference Scheduling

When setting up your conference schedule, be sure to be realistic about what works best for your schedule (leaving yourself time for breaks, respecting your own need for "off hours") while also being mindful that some of your students might be in different time zones and so might need conference options that work with their lives as well.

There are many different ways you can book and reserve time with students, but here are three that are particularly effective: 

  • Scheduler/Appointment Tool through Canvas. Built into the Stanford Canvas Calendar tool, instructors can build appointment blocks that their students can sign up for. Here’s a Stanford Canvas article about how the tool works on the instructor end.

  • Calendly. This is not an officially supported Stanford scheduling tool, but this is a tool option that instructors may want to consider for easily making appointments/meetings in a way that seamlessly syncs up with students’ and instructors’ calendars. Within Calendly, instructors can place their own text into the description and offer students additional context or information about the meeting that they’re scheduling.  It also provides the option of sending email reminders to students of the upcoming appointment.

  • Embed a Google Doc/Sheet into the course Canvas site/a Canvas announcement. Create an openly editable Google Document or Sheet with a table of available appointments for students to sign up for appointments. The link to edit the Doc or Sheet could be shared via an Announcement in Canvas or could be directly embedded into a Page or Module within Canvas. 

One key consideration is that you want to make sure that it is set up in a way that students can check on their conference times easily (whether by posting the list in a central place on Canvas and/or offering more individual reminders like emails or calendar invites through Calendly) to help avoid missed appointments.

Additional Tech Set-Up for Your Office Hours and Conferences

While you can use a variety of platforms for your one-to-one meetings with students (a LMS-hosted chat; slackchat; Google hangout; discussion board; even a phone call), Zoom offers a particularly effective platform for online meetings with students:

  • Zoom allows you to share your computer screen with your students (or for them to share their computer screen with you) for more effective discussions about a student's written work, search techniques, thesis development, etc.
  • Zoom has a collaborative whiteboard feature for invention and annotation activities during your meetings
  • For office hours, you can create a personal meeting room, which has a stable URL, so you can post in a prominent place on your Canvas site.
  • You can also create a waiting room in Zoom, to allow you to stagger student meetings in your office hours and conferences (though there might be some benefits to letting multiple students drop in to office hours at once, both in terms of building class community and streamlining communicating the same information to multiple students).

Need help with Zoom?  See this detailed Tech Tutorial based on VPTL recommendations which walks you step-by-step through the process of integrating Zoom into your Canvas site (recommended).