How to hold virtual office hours at your university or college

Why not hold office hours from the beach?

If you’re a professor, you know office hours as that magical time when you sit in your office waiting for somebody… anybody… to arrive. I don’t teach, so I haven’t experienced this first-hand. That said, most professors I speak with tell the same story: no one comes to office hours until the week before midterms.

Admittedly, some students do want to attend office hours. However, this isn’t always convenient. Some study remotely. Others are stuck across campus. Yet others are nervous about in-person discussions. As such, virtual office hours offer a degree of utility. That said, this brings to a bigger question: What platform should you use to hold virtual office hours?

We built Officehours for anyone to use. It’s only in the past months that we’ve explored its utility in the higher education space. In doing so, we’ve assembled a list of options for professors who want to hold office hours. Some are conferencing solutions. Others are web conferencing tools. Additionally, we have our all-in-one option to round out the collection. Here goes:

Office hours scheduling options

Scheduling is complicated. Even at our best, we sometimes forget meetings or show up late. This problem is compounded when working with distance learners. A number of scheduling tools exist to help solve this problem.

Hold office hours with Moodle

Many in higher education use Moodle as their learning management system (LMS). As you might expect, Moodle also offers a robust (perhaps overwhelming) tool for you to schedule your office hours. Unfortunately, Moodle doesn’t connect calls; therefore, you’ll need to rely on a third party tool for the actual discussion. Additionally, if you don’t already use Moodle, standalone scheduling options (like Doodle or Calendly) will involve less setup time/cost.

Moodle pricing: Moodle is open source (and therefore free), however, it requires admin expertise

How to set up your office hours using Moodle:

Hold office hours using Doodle MeetMe

Doodle is a standalone scheduling tool that integrates with your Google/Outlook calendar. Using a MeetMe page, you can list yourself as “busy” or not. Students check the calendar on your MeetMe page and requests a meeting. If you accept the meeting, the student is emailed your response, and the meeting is added to your calendar. Doodle is purely for scheduling. You’ll need to use another tool (e.g. Skype) to connect the call.

Doodle pricing: Free (with ads); Professional accounts: $39/year; Business accounts: $69/year

How to use Doodle to set up your office hours:

Hold office hours with Calendly

Calendly is an appointment scheduling tool. Although it isn’t exclusively for scheduling office hours, Calendly offers a clean and friendly interface. Users will find much of the same functionality in Calendly as they will in something like Doodle. As with these other scheduling tools, you’ll need to meet with students in person, or via Skype, as Calendly doesn’t integrate call functionality.

Calendly pricing: Basic accounts are free; Premium accounts cost $8 – $10/month

How to set up office hours, using Calendly:

Office hours web conferencing options

Scheduling office hours is one thing. Another is making the call happen. This too can be challenging, as technical challenges are not uncommon. Following are a few viable conferencing options for your office hours.

Hold office hours with Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts allow you to offer webcam/phone conversations. Just create a new conversation, add participants, and you’re set. Google Hangouts has no scheduling or reminder functionality. So, it’s up to you to schedule your sessions, let others know what time you’re available, and then wait (and hope for someone to show up).

Google Hangouts pricing: Free; per minute charges for calls to mobiles/landlines in certain areas

Jamie Lewis explains how to use Google Hangouts:

Hold office hours with Skype

Everyone knows Skype, and this ubiquity makes it a good option for holding office hours. That said, it too lacks any scheduling and reminder functionality. As such, you’ll need to communicate this information on your own, or use a third-party scheduling tool like Doodle.

Skype pricing: Free for Skype to Skype; Plan/minute charges for calls to mobiles/landlines

Paula King talks about how she uses Skype to hold floating virtual office hours:

Hold office hours with Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect is yet another web conferencing platform. This solution is tailored to enterprises with complex meeting needs. (My hunch is that for most professors, the admin options might be overkill.) Adobe Connect seems more suited to group webinars than individual office hours.

Adobe Connect pricing: Starts at $50 a month

Alistair Lee explains how to set up your Adobe Connect account:

Hold office hours with Blackboard

Blackboard Collaborate is part of a larger suite of applications in the Blackboard LMS. Collaborate has a number of features, including chat, whiteboards, and audio/visual messaging—mostly centered around group discussions. As students simply enter sessions when they’re ready, Collaborate offers no reminders prior to the session.

Blackboard Collaborate pricing: Variable, depending upon your institution’s size and needs. (From all accounts, Blackboard is “pricey.”)

Teresa Taylor’s tutorial on how students can use Blackboard Collaborate for office hours:

Integrated office hours solutions

For those who wish to hold office hours in just one application (i.e., one that deals with scheduling and call completion), there aren’t many options. That said, we’ve created something that serves as a single end-to-end solution for your office hours.

Hold office hours with Officehours

Officehours is the only dedicated tool for virtual office hours. As such, it handles all aspects of your office hours from end-to-end. Once you’ve added your sessions, students can request office hours with you, which you can approve/decline. The software then notifies you and the student (via text and email) as the meeting approaches. Voice-based discussions then happen through the Officehours platform—meaning you can partake from anywhere. Although Officehours sessions are 1 on 1, Officehours Workshops allow for multiparty conferencing.

Pricing: Free for general use; $6/mo. for pro accounts with added features

How to set up office hours, using Officehours:

Admittedly, this is an incomplete (and slightly biased) list. That said, it’s a start. If you know of other office hours technologies we should note in this article, let me know and I’ll investigate.

Additionally, if you work in EdTech and have thoughts on how to make virtual office hours better, I’d love to hear them. Book a session and we can talk.