Center for Teaching and Learning

Virtual office hours

Office hours are important for student learning.  Traditionally office hours have taken place face-to-face and can be limited by conflicting instructor-student schedules and student participation. If you are looking for an alternative why not try moving your office hours online?  There are a number of benefits:

  • Meetings do not have to take place on campus.
  • Office hours can take place at more popular times, such as later in the evening, when more students can attend. Additionally, students can “pop” online when they are actually working on homework, ask a quick question and go back to work.
  • If you archive the discussions, students can go back through the conversation if they need clarification or want to review the material under consideration. Likewise, students who did not participate in the conversation have access to the material.
  • It can cut down on having to reply to multiple emails with the same question or on the same topic. It also assures students of a timely response.
  • Students can all be active participants, instead of waiting in a line outside your office door.
  • Anonymity. Shy students might be more prone to participate if they can do so online as opposed to in-person.
  • It offers the whole class a chance to see what types of questions individual students are asking.

It is easy to get started

Step 1: Choose a tool that will best suit your needs (see a comprehensive list of tools below). If you need support in choosing a tool, schedule an appointment with UW-IT. They can offer tailored advice to suit any class type and size and will help to get you started.

Step 2: Set a day and time you can be available online, e.g. Tuesday from 6:30-7:30 pm (evening times can be popular but not necessary). Make sure to announce the time and instructions for connecting to the online platform in class and in writing on the syllabus.

Step 3: Connect with students!

Online tools


Canvas is UW’s new Learning Management System (LMS) that provides a suite of online tools to supplement face-to-face courses. All UW instructors are provided Canvas course sites automatically.

The following Canvas tools can be used to help facilitate virtual office hours and other online communication with students.

  • Conferences allow you to upload files (ppt, word, pdf, etc.), access to a digital whiteboard as well as video and audio features.
  • Scheduler is part of the Calendar in Canvas. It allows faculty to create blocks of time that students can sign up for, which can help to better manage face-to-face or online hours.
  • Chat provides a way to conduct real-time conversations with history. This feature can be used for online discussions that will allow students to go back and review material after the conversation has ended.
  • Discussions is an easy to use tool that provide FAQ’s for a course, especially useful in large courses, and can help to cut down on repeat questions and answers that frequently occur via email.



UW-IT tools

Other tools available to support communication between instructors and students include:

  • Yarn is a chat tool built for live “back-channel” of a course. Currently being upgraded and redesigned specifically for UW courses, Yarn offers UW instructors a way to gather feedback, assess student understanding and answer questions while class is going on.
  • Microsoft Skype for Business. UW Skype for Business is the University of Washington subscription to Skype for Business Online, a Microsoft O365 service.

Commercial solutions

There are a number of commercial solutions to holding office hours online. A few of the more popular options are as follows. It should be noted that UW-IT does not offer support for these tools.

  • Google Hangouts (limited to 10-15 people) offers free video conferencing
  • Skype (professional, associated fee) offers screen sharing and group calls with a limited number of people
  • and Jive Chime are two products that offer screen and multimedia sharing as well as group conferencing