Office hours and contact information

Illustration of two silhouettes of heads speaking to one another

Imagine stepping into the hallowed halls of a university a century ago. The air carries a blend of anticipation and scholarly pursuit, leading you to the old, rustic door of an academic's study. Here, you'd find a professor, perhaps donned in academic regalia, ready to engage in intellectual discourse during office hours, a practice as revered then as it still is today...

Fast forward to the present, in our digital era, the essence of office hours and easily accessible contact information still holds a cherished place in the realm of student support. These practices extend far beyond mere courtesy; they are pivotal in nurturing student success in online courses.

Missouri Online recommends

We recommend courses demonstrate student engagement (see QCR #16, #18, and #19 in the 5 Pillars Review form)

What are office hours?

Office hours offer students a dedicated space to clarify doubts, dive into deeper academic conversations, and receive tailored feedback, all essential for their educational journey. Meanwhile, transparent and accessible contact information creates a welcoming atmosphere, encouraging students to seek help whenever needed. Embracing these aspects of student support fosters greater student engagement and satisfaction, ultimately paving the way for improved academic achievements and retention in the dynamic landscape of online learning.

Why and how RSI connects to best practices

In the context of distance education, establishing and maintaining regular office hours and providing your contact information are central to the concept of regular, substantive interaction (RSI). Regular, substantive interaction (RSI) is the cornerstone of effective distance education. Maintaining office hours and contact information elements in online courses are important and directly relate to best practices in online education.

Why regular interaction promote inclusion

Office hours enshrine a commitment to availability in the online world. By consistently providing these predictable time slots, you will establish a dependable framework that students can rely on. It allows students to plan their studies around these hours, ensuring they have dedicated times when they know their voices can be heard and their academic concerns addressed (State University of New York, n.d.). This regularity is essential in a sphere where the physical cues of a campus environment are absent.

Why substantive interaction promotes growth

An in-depth exchange of ideas and knowledge can occur during office hours. Being explicit about what happens in these sessions can help establish communication expectations (e.g., “If you want to discuss evaluation criteria for this assignment, please come to office hours”) and also encourage students to take advantage of them (e.g.,”If you want to dig deeper into a class topic, I'm happy to continue the conversation during office hours”).

During these substantive interactions, students can challenge themselves, push the boundaries of their understanding, and engage in higher-order thinking, which defines exceptional learning outcomes (Knowles, 1980; Knowles et al., 1998; The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2019). Office hours provide an opportunity to explore questions in detail, dissect problems with precision, and transform feedback into an interactive dialogue rather than a one-way annotation.

Why interaction strengthens community

The third strand of RSI is interaction, the lifeblood of student engagement. Office hours offer a space for real-time, dynamic communication that can adapt instantly to the needs of the student. This interaction is not limited to addressing academic questions; it encompasses discussions about student aspirations, strategies for academic success, and mentorship opportunities (Guerrero & Rod, 2013). Through these interactions students feel part of a learning community, seen and supported by their instructors.

Building in practices

How and where in your online course should you focus on these elements? Let’s look at a variety of ways you can build best practices in your design and development of your course.

  • Course homepage: Clearly present contact details and office hours as a direct invitation for engagement, affirming your commitment to RSI (Bathgate et al., 2019).
  • Syllabus: Emphasize availability with a personal touch in the syllabus, signaling readiness for substantive interaction (Lockman & Schirmer, 2020).
  • Canvas calendar: Utilize the Canvas calendar feature to schedule and remind students of office hours, embedding these crucial touchpoints in their academic routine. Schedule recurring Zoom meetings that automatically appear in the course calendar.
  • Timely updates:  Promptly update any changes in availability across all course documents and the Canvas, ensuring RSI is not compromised by outdated information (Li, L., & Pitts, J. P., 2009).
  • Accessibility considerations: Design the presentation of office hours and contact details to be universally accessible (colors, links, etc), promoting equitable opportunities for RSI (Bathgate et al., 2019).
  • Reiteration across course communications:  Regularly remind students of how and when they can initiate substantive interactions, keeping the lines of communication open and active (Li, L., & Pitts, J. P., 2009).

The maintenance of office hours and contact information is an educator’s affirmation of commitment to RSI, of which demonstrates student support and course quality. In the evolution from brick-and-mortar institutions to virtual classrooms, the spirit of office hours remains unaltered—facilitating connection, ensuring quality, and promoting successful educational outcomes. As we embrace the future of education, the integration of this time-honored practice with modern technology exemplifies our enduring dedication to student-centered education and the timeless value of academic support.

Feel free to check out the following sprints that also help you learn more about creating a sense of community through engaging course interactions.


Bathgate, M. E., Aragón, O. R., Cavanagh, A. J., Waterhouse, J. K., Frederick, J., & Graham, M. J. (2019). Perceived supports and evidence-based teaching in college STEM. International Journal of STEM Education, 6, Article 11.

Guerrero, M., & Rod, A. B. (2013). Engaging in office hours: A study of student-faculty interaction and academic performance. Journal of Political Science Education, 9(4), 403-416.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From andragogy to pedagogy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Cambridge Adult Education.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., III, & Swanson, R. A. (1998). The adult learner (5th ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.Li, L., & Pitts, J. P. (2009). Does it really matter? Using virtual office hours to enhance student-faculty interaction. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(2), 175-185.

Lockman, A. S., & Schirmer, B. R. (2020). Online instruction in higher education: Promising, research-based, and evidence-based practices. Journal of Education and e-Learning Research, 7(2), 130-152.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2019). Critical Thinking Community: A model for the national assessment of higher-order thinking. Retrieved from WCET. (2021, August 26).

State University of New York. (n.d.). Regular & substantive interaction – OSCQR. SUNY Online Course Quality Review

WCET. (2021, August 26). RSI refresh: Sharing our best interpretation guidance & requirements. WCET Frontiers.

Our top 3 library resources

The articles below were hand-picked by our team of designers, specifically for the UM System community, to bring you the best content we could find! Check with your university library for access via subscription or interlibrary loan.

This study provides insights into how RSI interactions occur and their implications for enhancing learning experiences in online environments.

Gasell, C., Lowenthal, P. R., Uribe-Flórez, L. J., & Ching, Y.-H. (2022). Interaction in asynchronous discussion boards: A campus-wide analysis to better understand regular and substantive interaction. Education & Information Technologies, 27(3), 3421–3445.

This study showcases a multicase study exploring the experiences of higher education faculty in designing and teaching asynchronous online courses. The research offers valuable insights into the challenges and strategies involved in creating effective online learning environments in the higher education context.

Chatterjee, R., Juvale, D., & Cherrez, N. J. (2023). What the debriefs tell us: A Multicase study of the experiences of higher education faculty in designing and teaching Their asynchronous online courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 24(1), 25–41.

The book, drawing on the experiences of a team of seasoned instructional designers, provides key principles, insights, and advice on fostering effective collaborations with faculty to create engaging, impactful online courses across various types of educational institutions, emphasizing student engagement and lasting learning.

Quinn, J. (Ed.). (2021). The learner-centered instructional designer : purposes, processes, and practicalities of creating online courses in higher education (First edition.). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Created on: December 14, 2023