Office Hours / Helprooms

Given the importance of sustaining a sense of community among your students (and course staff), it is a good idea to seek out ways in which your students can interact with you beyond the confines of the formal class period. Below we suggest three variations on the conventional idea of “office hours” which you might employ in order to compensate for the loss of the face-to-face interactions, sidebar conversations, and chance encounters you might have had were you teaching on campus: individual office hours, group helprooms, and questions after class.

Individual and/or small group office hours outside of class time

Faculty and Teaching Fellows should continue to offer weekly office hours so that students can discuss course material and assignments, as well as any questions about the revised course format and expectations. It may be easiest to set aside blocks of time during which students can "drop in" to a Zoom meeting; for continuity, you may want to continue to offer the same time slots as originally designated in your syllabus. Here’s how to do it:

  • In your course Canvas site, either (1) set up a recurring meeting or (2) post an announcement sharing your Personal Meeting ID (PMI). (You can locate your PMI by navigating to and clicking on your profile. Unlike other Zoom meeting links, whether one-off or recurring, your PMI is a stable link which you can use and re-use at any time. You might think of it as a dedicated, unlocked office that is always open to you; once you’ve shared the address with students, you can arrange to meet them there any time you are both available. For more on your PMI, see here.)

  • Decide whether you want to ask students to preselect a slot within your office hours, or invite them to just drop in at any point during your window of availability. Communicate these expectations clearly, and if you expect students to sign up in advance, you'll likely want to employ a system like Canvas scheduling or Google Calendar that they can use to reserve their slot.

  • Whether you want students to sign up in advance or just drop in at will, you should activate the Waiting Room function in Zoom. This will prevent students who log on partway through your office hours from barging unannounced into what could be a private conversation (e.g. about a grade) that you’re having with the students before them in the queue. Instead they will be held in a virtual antechamber until you click a button to admit them into the main meeting room. Zoom will alert you to their presence with a chime. This function can be enabled either through or the Zoom installation in Canvas; see more here.

Group helprooms/meet-ups/assisted study groups outside of class time

Many courses rely somewhat less on individual office hours than they do on group helprooms or meet-ups, during which clusters of students can work together on a problem set or other kind of assignment with guidance from one or more roving instructors. Here’s how to recreate this experience:

  • As above, you can choose either to (1) set up a dedicated meeting or meetings, or (2) share your PMI. (The PMI is especially useful if you will have many such sessions at different times.)

  • In this case, do not enable the Waiting Room function as noted above, as you want students to be able to enter the meeting room freely.

  • Assuming that you want students to work together, and/or that they kinds of questions they may have and help they may be seeking fall into clusters, you can create several Breakout Rooms in Zoom and manually assign the students who show up to them on the basis of their questions—each room can be devoted to a different problem or concept, and the host instructor can rove among them, perhaps aided by other instructors acting as co-hosts and assigned one to each room.

  • Students who arrive in the middle of the helproom window will linger in the “main” Zoom room until the host instructor opens the Breakout Room dialog box again and assigns them to one of the existing rooms. As with the Waiting Room, Zoom will alert you to their arrival and lack of assignment.

Questions after class

One of the joys of teaching is lingering after class to answer questions or elaborate on a concept at the request of your students. Zoom makes this quite easy, and it is a great way to mimic some of the sociability that ordinarily is hard to port over into the online space. Here’s how:

  • Let students know when the formal class time has ended, so that they can log off if they need or want to.

  • Invite students who have questions to remain in the class meeting as their peers leave. (NB: Zoom meetings do not end automatically, even if they are running over the end time you set when scheduling the meeting—there is no need to worry that Zoom will cut you off.)

  • Once you are down to the handful of students who intended to linger, you might ask them each for a quick synopsis of their question to determine how best to address them.

    • Insofar as any of their questions are “general interest,” you could answer them in front of the whole group.

    • Insofar as the students have idiosyncratic or private questions (e.g. about their grade), you can use the Breakout Room function to put them into individual rooms. It is easiest, in this case, to create the same number of Breakout Rooms as you have students—so 3 one-person rooms for 3 students, for example—and to allow Zoom to sort the students automatically into them. You then can enter and exit each Breakout Room in turn, addressing each student’s question with some privacy. In the event that you realize that all of your remaining students would benefit from hearing the advice you are giving to one of them, you might want to use the “broadcast” feature from within a particular room to share the same message with all of the other rooms as well.

Academic Technology for the FAS / HUIT

Your starting place for learning about and accessing many of the technological tools you may need, such as Zoom, Canvas, and related plug-ins.

The Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL)

VPAL convenes university-wide conversations about teaching and pedagogical research, particularly in the online space.

The Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE)

OUE oversees, and stewards resources devoted to, the undergraduate curriculum at Harvard College..

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE)

DCE offers a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses, and their staff are experienced in thinking about multiple ways to achieve your goals through different mediums.

SEAS and the Division of Science

Advice on teaching in the sciences.

The Harvard Libraries

Request help modifying/troubleshooting your research-based assignments.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Schedule a consultation with the Bok Center's Senior Staff. (Please note that consultations are available only for Faculty and Teaching Fellows in the FAS.)

Faculty can visit our daily office hours, every Monday–Friday 10:30–11:30 AM; register for a one-hour practice teaching session; and join a workshop on teaching with presence in Zoom.

Daily Office Hours  |  Practice Teaching  |  Zoom Workshop

Teaching Fellows can attend the Fall Teaching Conference, which includes both asynchronous Canvas resources and synchronous sessions devoted to collaboration and practice.

Fall Teaching Conference

The media production staff of the Bok Center's Learning Lab can provide consultations for faculty teaching Harvard College courses using Zoom and other modes of media capture. We can provide suggestions for setting up remote video capture environments in your home or office, and on ways to integrate media into your courses.  Please contact us if you would like to discuss your needs with our staff.

Email the Learning Lab  |  Request a Media Tutorial

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