Online Office Hours

Implementing Online Office Hours

Office hours are always a challenging part of teaching—they are a valuable tool for promoting student success, yet it is sometimes tough to get students to show up. Successfully implementing office hours takes planning and intentionality. This guide provides suggestions about office hours that apply whether you are holding them in person or online.

Key Suggestions

Here are some key issues to consider when developing online office hours for the fall semester, using Zoom: 

Develop a schedule and signup system

Establish set office hours, and advertise them to students, along with good directions to your physical office or your Zoom meeting room information. While some instructors prefer drop-in office hours, you can offer a way for students to sign up for a meeting time, including Canvas' Scheduler tool or something as simple as a Google doc that lists available time slots they can claim. If you use a Google doc, make sure access is limited to your class, to comply with FERPA guidelines.

Use a waiting room to ensure privacy

While some conversations about problem sets or complex readings don’t need privacy, many office visits can veer into feedback on a student’s work or grade. To ensure privacy in online office hours, create a recurring Zoom meeting just for office hours, and be certain to set up a waiting room (and don’t set it to allow IU-verified people to bypass it), so no one can just appear during a private conversation. For more details about waiting room settings, see the detailed Zoom instructions below. Other instructors prefer to leave their Zoom room open but hold all private conversations in a breakout room.

Be ready to draw or display documents

You may want to sketch out a diagram or work a problem with a student, and you can do that a few ways through Zoom. You could use Zoom’s whiteboarding tools, although those are a bit awkward to use for most people. A better solution is to use a document camera and point it at a piece of paper or the object you want to discuss. You can purchase a USB document camera (select it as the video source by using the up arrow near Zoom's “Stop Video” button), or you can connect your smartphone to the Zoom meeting and point it at your document (you can rig up or purchase a holder for ease of use). More information on these Zoom whiteboard/drawing options is available.

Personally encourage students to visit

Students often need encouragement to attend office hours, particularly students who don’t have a history of having access to their instructors. Consider taking an "active inclusivity" approach (Robertson & Smith, 2020) to intentionally invite students to office hours—whether they need extra help or you want to encourage their good performance. You can also use the Student Engagement Roster to recommend they set up an appointment with you.

Since some students think they are intruding on your work time, some instructors rebrand office hours as "open help session," or "open study table."

Encourage students with "warm" syllabus language

A study from a psychology professor and his undergraduate co-author at Oregon State University showed that students are more likely to reach out for assistance when the language in the syllabus is "warm" and inviting—for example, using inclusive "we will" language rather than directive "you will" statements. Also, the author suggested placing such invitations to office hours and other offers of help early in the syllabus, rather than at the end, where students may overlook them or see them as afterthoughts. The syllabus sets the tone for the course, so choose your tone wisely.

Establish expectations

Help students understand what they can expect when coming to your office hours—what typically happens in your meetings with students, what kinds of questions might they have ready, what materials should they bring along, etc. Many students—especially first-years—need to be taught how to utilize office hours and interact directly with their instructors.

Elicit testimonials from former students who benefited from office hours

If you have access to former students who benefited from office hours, have them create a brief text or video testimonial, explaining to their peers why office hours were useful, as well as provide tips on how best to prepare for and use office hours.

Meet with groups

Encourage students to visit with you in pairs or as a group, particularly if you are talking with them about a group project. Chances are they will feel less intimidated if they have a classmate with them. And if students are asking general questions (versus ones about their grades or performance), invite other students to wander into the conversation, as they may learn something about that question, too.

Start a FAQ based on office hour visits

Because online classes lack the immediacy that leads to quick questions in class, they often generate more individual questions, particularly about procedures or assignments. Consider keeping track of these questions that arise during office hour visits and add them to a class Frequently Asked Questions page in Canvas, encouraging students to check there before making an appointment. We recommend NOT recording meetings with students due to power and privacy issues, but if important questions come up, you can always do a separate recording of yourself answering those questions or working those problems, adding those videos to your class Kaltura Media Gallery.

Faculty Examples of Online Office Hours

As part of our "What Will You Keep in Fall 2021?" video series, a few instructors spoke of how they are adopting online office hours even when returning to on-campus teaching.

Setting up Zoom for Office Hours

Information about various Zoom functions can be found on the Keep Teaching Resources page. Here are a few resources that are particularly useful:

  • Zoom: Scheduling and Starting Meetings – We recommend creating a recurring meeting specifically for your office hours, since you can apply settings unique to this meeting (like using a waiting room or allowing screen sharing), that you may not want to set for your class meetings.
  • Zoom: Tools for Securing Meetings – Using a waiting room is a good start to securing your office hours room, but this resource can help ensure your room is secure.
  • Zoom: Managing Disruptions during Zoom Meetings – Even if you don’t have disruptions in your office hours, this page details a few Zoom tools that could come in handy—allowing screen sharing, locking meetings, etc.

 Instructions from sections above:

Limiting a Google doc to your class

You can create a shared Google Doc only accessible to students within the course via the Collaborations tab in Canvas.

  1. On the left-hand navigation panel, click “Collaborations”
  2. From the drop-down, select file type (document, spreadsheet, doc, presentation)
  3. Add collaborators by selecting all students
  4. Scroll down and click “submit”

Details about using a waiting room for office hours

Because of a quirk in how Zoom handles meeting settings, you can turn waiting rooms on or off for each scheduled meeting, but if you set the option to allow IU-verified users to bypass the waiting room (very handy in large classes), that bypass setting will apply to all Zoom meetings, which would allow students to “walk in” on each other’s conversations with you during office hour meetings. There are two solutions to this problem:

Option One: Toggle the settings

Make sure you set the waiting room to include “everyone” when starting an office hours meeting, but set it to “users not in your account” (i.e., outside IU) when starting a class meeting. You’d have to toggle it back and forth each time. To do this:

  1. Log into
  2. Go to Settings > Security > Waiting Room
  3. Choose which participants to place in the waiting room
    • “Everyone” forces everyone into the waiting room until you admit them (e.g., for your office hours)
    • “Users not in your account” puts people not using an IU login in the waiting room, but allows IU logins to bypass the waiting room (e.g., for your class) 

Option Two: Use a passcode for class meetings and a waiting room for office hours.

Use a passcode for your class meetings, and a waiting room for your office hours.

  1. Make sure you turn off the default waiting room for your whole account. You will later turn the waiting room back on only for office hour meetings.
    1. Log into
    2. Go to Settings > Security > Waiting Room
    3. Toggle this setting off (the slider should be gray)

  2. Set up your class meetings with a password
    1. Log into
    2. Go to Meetings > Schedule a New Meeting
      1. Use the Recurring Meeting settings to add all your class dates/times
      2. Meeting ID: Check “Generate Automatically”
      3. Meeting Password: Check “Require Meeting Password”
      4. Meeting Options: Uncheck “Enable Waiting Room”
      5. Meeting Options: Check “Only authenticated users can join” and select “Only authenticated IU Zoom users can join.”
      6. Scroll down and click Save.

  3. Make another recurring meeting for your office hours, providing the schedule and Meeting ID to students via Canvas.
    1. Log into
    2. Go to Meetings > Schedule a New Meeting
      1. Use the Recurring Meeting settings to add all your office hour dates/times
      2. Meeting ID: Check “Generate Automatically”
      3. Meeting Options: Check “Enable Waiting Room”
      4. Meeting Options: Check “Only authenticated users can join” and select “Only authenticated IU Zoom users can join.”
      5. Scroll down and click Save.

        Note: You may see a “Registration” option in the meeting setup area. This isn’t really useful for scheduling time blocks within your larger office hours meeting, so we recommend you leave it alone.

  4. Finally, make sure you publish the information about class meetings and office hours to Canvas. For example:
    This class meets Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:00-10:15 am at (meeting ID: 1234567890, password: 444555); Please arrive five minutes before class begins so we can start on time. You must be logged into first in order to join this meeting.

    Office hours for this class are Tuesdays and Thursday, 1:00-2:00 pm at (meeting ID: 0987654321). You must be logged into first in order to join this meeting. In order to protect everyone’s privacy during meetings with me, you will be placed in a waiting room until I admit you. Please be patient. I encourage you to schedule a meeting in advance by….

Questions about these approaches or Zoom settings? Contact the CITL for assistance.


Robertson, K., and T. Smith (2020). For Those Who Need It Most: Using Active Inclusivity to Increase Office Hour Attendance and Extracurricular Activities. Faculty Focus. December 9, 2020.