Office Hours, Labs, Teaching Teams, Etc.

office hours

Office hours provide a place for students to ask both content and logistical questions in a one-on-one or small group format, get assistance with course content in a less intimidating environment, follow up on exam performance, and build a better academic relationship with the instructor. These activities can occur virtually on Zoom via Canvas. Below are some ideas for best practices to make online office hours more comfortable and productive.

  • Set up the Zoom link ahead of time using your personal Zoom room. Send out a reminder email with the link 15-30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Keep the link to the Zoom room you’re using for your office hours in a central place, such as on the course Canvas site.

  • Remind students via email and when they login to mute their audio and then unmute when they would like to talk. You may also manually mute participants as needed.

  • Remind students that they can use the public or private chat function or “raise hand” function to ask questions in addition to speaking up verbally.

  • Ask students to type their name in the chat box when they enter Zoom, which will help the instructor know who is in attendance. Note: sometimes screen names do not reflect the name of the student.

  • The waiting room feature of Zoom can be helpful for holding individual office hours. You can enable this feature (under “Advanced options”) when you schedule the Zoom call. When users join the Zoom call, they can be automatically placed in the waiting room. You can then let them in, one by one, much as you would during regular office hours.

  • Encourage students to share their screen with you so that they can show you their work and ask questions for more targeted discussion and feedback.

  • If explaining course content, periodically check in with students about how they are following along and what questions they may have. The virtual format can leave the instructor without the normal context cues that they often use to gauge understanding during face-to-face interactions. Explicitly asking for feedback on a regular basis can be helpful.

  • Talk about the use of virtual office hours during class and ask for student feedback.

  • Don’t give up! One instructor in EEB found that the first few sessions of virtual office hours felt awkward and difficult, but after the fourth session, 15-18 people were showing up and in class, students were expressing that they appreciated the flexibility it provided and liked the format.

lab activities

Based on the good work of Stanford Teach Anywhere.

One of the biggest challenges of remote teaching is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

  • Take part of the lab online: Many lab activities require students to become familiar with certain procedures, and only physical practice of those processes will do. In such cases, consider if there are other parts of the lab experience you could take online (for example, video demonstrations of techniques, online simulations, analysis of data, other pre- or post-lab work). In cases of a short-term disruptions, save the physical practice parts of the labs until access to campus is restored. The quarter might get disjointed by splitting up lab experiences, but it might get you through a short campus closure.

  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot and PhET for materials (many open source) that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.

  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience during the closure.

  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using available collaboration tools, such as Zoom.

  • Read this great guide from the Chronicle of Higher Education for more tips.

teaching teams

As with more “traditional” teaching contexts that involve teaching teams (i.e., an instructor and Teaching Assistants (TAs)), pivoting to remote instruction will be most effective, for both instructors and students, when the teaching team aligns their expectations and explicitly discusses course learning goals, teaching approaches, policies, and respective responsibilities within the members of the teaching team before the course begins.

Meeting with Teaching Teams

CITL encourages instructors to have early conversations with the teaching team about the best approaches for remote teaching and learning in the context of a specific course.

Setting regular meeting times to meet with the teaching team is also highly recommended for better communication among the team members and subsequently with the students.

One way for a team to meet remotely is to schedule a Zoom meeting and ensure that all members of the team receive a link to join the meeting, either through email or Google calendar.

Meeting Recommendations

  • Have a clear agenda and keep an eye on time. It’s easier for people’s attention to wander during web meetings.

  • Starting with something personal (a quick check-in) can make these meetings feel more personal.

  • As with the recommendations for real-time remote classes, instructors and TAs can share screens with each other, use the chat function, and utilize break-out rooms for smaller-group work sessions or discussions.