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Teaching and Learning Webinar Series

Online Office Hours and Online Meetings

Have you ever wondered which technology tools can support real-time meetings, or perhaps you have questions about how to get more students to show up for individual conferences? Or maybe you are not sure how to schedule multiple conferences while preserving privacy?

Natasha Nurse-ClarkeView the recording Online Office Hours and Online Meetings webinar co-hosted by  Natasha Nurse-Clarke, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing.

You can also view the webinar presentation slides and read the overview of thewebinar below - prepared by Susan Ko, Faculty Development Consultant, Office of Online Education.

Why Schedule Real-time Meetings in What are Predominantly Asynchronous Online Courses?

We already know that our students have very busy schedules and it’s often difficult for them to meet in real-time. We want to remain careful not to put pressure on students to meet in real time when it is really not a feasible choice for them.

Therefore, you can create a “Q&A” or “Ask the Professor” asynchronous discussion forum, an essential feature for any online classroom. You can subscribe to this forum so that you receive email notifications any time a question is posed there.

Essential as these types of asynchronous discussion forums may be, there are nonetheless several reasons to offer real-time meetings as an additional option. Just a few of the reasons are

  • greater immediacy allowing for faster clarification
  • additional personalization and privacy
  • confidence-building
  • to reach students who are not otherwise responsive

Individual conferences

  • One of these reasons is to provide another venue for office hours, enabling faculty to meet one-on-one online with individual students. Meeting individually in real time can afford more immediacy than a series of emails and more privacy than a forum in the class site, and this can be particularly important for students who need some confidence building, especially during the first few weeks of a course.
  • These real-time sessions can be by appointment only, or you can offer a time when you are present in the real-time meeting app and students can “drop in.” In the latter case, you will need to devise a system to ensure privacy if you want to conduct individual conferences.
  • Depending on the nature of the one-on-one conversation, you might want to follow up the conference with a brief email detailing and summarizing any plan of action or other issues discussed during the live meeting.
  • Individual meetings can be offered as a way to periodically “check in,” for resolving specific problems, or to review in depth a student’s work with him or her.

Meeting with a group

  • Meeting with a small group of students or the whole class can be the occasion for preparing for an upcoming assignment, feedback to the group as a debriefing on an assignment that presented difficulties for students, or as an informal drop-in session, bringing a sense of community or just making it easy to answer questions and provide clarification in real time.
  • Some students will simply never ask a question in the discussion forum or email but if already present at a meeting, may be less reticent about doing so. If using such a session to prepare or debrief, be sure to record the entire session and post it in the classroom so that those who cannot attend are able to review and derive equal benefit from it and let all students know ahead of time you will be doing this.

There are a few other tips that can help make a group meeting in real-time more successful and useful:

  • Be sure to include info on and reasons for any real-time meetings in your syllabus.
  • Set the parameters for the meeting ahead of time--how long the meeting will be, the technology to be used, and of course, the purpose of the meeting--and announce any protocols or rules for communication.
  • Always reserve a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting for social niceties and to give everyone attending sufficient time to get “settled in” and ready to focus on the topic at hand.
  • Use the asynchronous class site as a way to prepare students for a group meeting--depending on the purpose of the meeting, you might want to post the agenda, or give them some questions or readings to think about before attending the meeting.
  • If the meeting was one potentially relevant for all students, you can post the recorded session and continue the discussion in an asynchronous forum.

How to Conduct Online Office Hours? - Technical Tools

  • There are several tools you can use for asynchronous conferences including Blackboard Discussion Forums and VoiceThread. For real-time meetings, the main tools available to Lehman faculty are Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, Zoom, and Skype for Business.
  • All offer both video and audio conferencing as well as chat facilities. It is important to let students know which tools you will be using, the options for communicating, and provide information on steps to take before the first session to help preclude any technical problems.

How to Make Office Hours Work? - Faculty Experience

Natasha Nurse-Clarke shared her reasons for moving away from traditional in-person office hours formats. Alternatives to often poorly attended online office hours included creating videos to provide overviews on how to navigate the class environment, and one for each course module, describing the activities and how to do them. Additionally, Natasha recommends to schedule short, 15-20 minute one-on-one meetings with each student, to get to know students better, provide opportunities to ask questions or discuss the course, and generally offer greater personalization of the course. She found this had many beneficial effects on student satisfaction and retention. Nurse-Clarke detailed how to explain the purpose of such meetings to students, how to schedule using Doodle polls, and the ideal timing to schedule such meetings.