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Survey reveals online office hours still beneficial for students

Availability online may lead to better office hour attendance overall, as students manage the pros and cons of online and in-person options

We were curious whether instructors’ and students’ habits and needs around office hours had changed since the height of the pandemic as classes had returned to be fully in-person. According to the 257 students who responded to the fall 2022 Canvas survey, two-fifths  of students say they were more likely to attend office hours if they were online, and almost a quarter were equally likely to attend office hours online or in-person depending on the situation, meaning almost two-thirds of students find online office hours useful at least part of the time. 

Bar graph of  student preferences for office hours

This appears to correlate to the 36% of instructors and TAs who said they saw better attendance with online office hours, 19% who had about the same attendance online as in-person, and 9% who saw worse attendance online; the remaining 36% said they were no longer offering online office hours (based on 22 instructors and TAs answering in fall 2022; spring figures based on 11 responses).

teaching staff assessment of office hour attendance preference in spring versus fall 2022

The majority of students answering from Stanford Law School, Graduate School of Business,  Doerr (formerly EEES), and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education were more likely to attend office hours in-person, though many in VPUE are likely to attend online or say “it depends.” 

Continuing Studies and School of Medicine students strongly favor online office hours over attending them in person, probably because they are the most likely to have difficult schedules or live off campus. Students of the largest schools, Engineering and Humanities & Sciences, only slightly favor online office hours; surprisingly the percentage of H&S students favoring online office hours is 38%, up from just 5% in spring 2022. 

Student office hour preference by school

Students who said they were more likely to attend in-person office hours see them as better, often depending on the discipline, for efficiency of communication and understanding, focus, for connecting with instructors, and for learning from their peers

The most common reasons students said they preferred to attend online was because it was “easy” or “convenient.” While those reasons may seem trivial, others explained athletic practice, working full time, living off campus, or unpredictable or tight schedules were behind their choices. Without the availability of online office hours, these students may simply not have attended.

However those who answered “it depends” tended to express the advantages of in-person office hours, but needed to manage the tradeoffs of “quality versus accessibility,” for instance when their question was short compared to the time to commute to campus, or they had scheduling issues. Illness did not come up, but a couple students said “it depends how I’m feeling that day” or “where I am both physically and mentally.”

While instructors may have dropped online office hours because of low attendance, moving forward, instructors may want to ask students if holding some office hours online would be helpful before eliminating them. Learn more from Teaching Commons about to running virtual office hours.

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