Office Hours = Connection

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Office hours can be a misunderstood and underutilized opportunity for students. They are often a new concept to many first year students and they are not always sure what office hours are for or how they apply to their needs as students. In the article ““Office Hours are Kind of Weird”: Reclaiming a Resource to Foster Student-Faculty Interaction” the authors suggest the following action items to help students more actively utilize office hours:

  • Make the purpose of office hours explicit. What should they be used for? Provide an example scenario to help students identify situations where they might access faculty help.
  • Create nurturing classroom environments to make students feel comfortable and safe asking for help.
  • Promote your office hours. Don’t just mention them once in your syllabus. Bring up office hours frequently along with how students can sign up for time – which leads to…
  • Use digital technologies to keep students updated as to what times are available and how they can book a time (see below for more logistical details) (Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p.24 – 25)

Cognitive scientist Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. (founder of highlights the significance of connection in her blog post about 10 quick tips to make office hours powerful learning opportunities. There are some great ideas here that highlight the principles above as well as some additional ideas. A core focus that Professor Agarwal uses in her suggestions is:

Turn your office hours into connection hours, student hours, and learning hours.

Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal

Of course not everyone is sold on the idea of office hours. While digging around the research I found this article in which a professor attempted to replace personalized email communication for in person office hours. This resulted in 8000 emails with students in five sections of one class over the course of ONE semester. 

This article highlights a tension that can exist between the convenience of digital vs. in-person communications. In the article “Office Hours are Kind of Weird…” the authors directly address this complexity:

“To implement office hours in a more connected world, we suggest that the emphasis should be put on enhancing student-faculty interactions regardless of means, either in-person consultation or brief communications via digital tools. How to maintain quality student-faculty interaction in this increasingly connected world is a challenge facing faculty and institutions.”

(Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p. 21)

Scheduling Logistics

So if you’ve decided to encourage the use of your office hours you also need to make it easy for students to find a time to meet with you when you are not already meeting with someone else. Below we’ve outlined instructions for two different options that utilize Middlebury systems. You can also set up a consultation with a member of the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry if you would like to discuss these options in more depth. Also – keep in mind that these meetings could happen virtually via Zoom which can be particularly helpful if a student is away from campus due to travel, illness, emergencies, etc.

Setting up Office Hours using the scheduler in Canvas

You can set up your office hours using the scheduler in Canvas which will allow students to sign up through the Canvas calendar interface. Important tips to keep in mind are that you will need to enter all of your office hours for the semester at once, or add new ones week by week. You can not generate hours via a pattern. However, if your hours are regularly scheduled on a weekly basis this is not a time consuming process.

Below is a video about the calendar in Canvas. Fast forward to 3:00 to see the specific information about the scheduler.

Ask students to request meetings with you during your scheduled office hours using Outlook.

You can also use Outlook either via the application or the web interface (go/mail) to have your students initiate scheduling a meeting during your office hours via the calendar interface. The best way to facilitate this would be to notify your students of your office hours and explain that they should use the instructions linked below to request an appointment with you. An added benefit of this process is that you can respond to requests on an appointment by appointment basis so if your schedule has changed unexpectedly you can adjust and suggest alternate times. Here’s a guide for how to use the Outlook Web App.

Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes by Flower Darby with James M. Lang

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What it is:

Small Teaching Online is a 225 page book written as a follow up to Small Teaching to address ways in which the small teaching approach can be adapted in the online medium. Both books address small practical changes that you can make to your teaching that will positively impact student learning. Although this resource appears to be directed strictly to an audience of faculty teaching solely online, it offers tips that would be beneficial to any faculty member who finds themselves building some of their course content into an online space.

Topics Covered:

Small Teaching Online is broken up into three parts: Designing for Learning, Teaching Humans, and Motivating Online Students (and Instructors). The chapter-by-chapter breakdown is:

  • Part I: Designing for Learning
    •     Surfacing Backward Design
    •     Guiding Learning Through Engagement
    •     Using Media and Technology Tools
  • Part II: Teaching Humans
    •     Building Community
    •     Giving Feedback
    •     Fostering Student Persistence and Success
  • Part III: Motivating Online Students (and Instructors)
    •     Creating Autonomy
    •     Making Connections
    •     Developing as an Online Instructor

My Takeaways:

It has always been my contention that online learning forces a lot of pedagogical considerations that should occur in all learning environments, but become much more apparent when teaching in an online space because you are establishing all new norms. The authors make this point in the introduction when they contrast the experience of entering an in person classroom vs. an online space. In one experience students walk through a door – in another they need to navigate several login protocols and guidelines to gain access to a course space and then 

“Once online students finally get into their class, it is frequently unclear what they should do first.” (p. xvii)

Using the example as a guideline we can see that a course needs to be re-thought when it is taught online. Some of the biggest takeaways I found were:

  • Design and align your course content – Teaching online is a great opportunity to consider what you are teaching, how students will use that knowledge, and how you will know that they are successful. This can start with your assessments & assignments. Look at what you’ve typically required and then break it down from there. What is the purpose of the assignment? What are students demonstrating through that work and what type of thinking have they had to use to generate it? Does it address your course objectives? Is it meaningful to students? If not – how can you re-work that piece?
  • Pay attention to the clues your students are giving you. Recognize that as an expert in your field you may make assumptions that trip up novices a bit. Do you notice that a large portion of your class missed what you thought was a fairly obvious conclusion? You need to figure that out! Sometimes breaking the assignment down into chunks can help to move students through a complex thought process (and provide you with the means to address a mis-conception at the exact point it occurs rather than after a whole thought process has been built on that mistake). Use discussion forums to monitor for confusion. Are you noticing patterns? Jump in and ask questions, provide resources and suggestions when you think they might be helpful in redirection students.
  • Connection matters. It shouldn’t be surprising that I had the same takeaway for Small Teaching. This is the core of education – connection. However, connecting in an online space is unique. What you might be able to do through eye contact or a quick conversation on the way to class, needs to happen in a different way in an online class. Regardless of medium students need to feel seen and heard. They want to know you care. Helping students to build their own personal learning networks is a method where you will not only get to know the students interests, but also help them to develop a network that can further support them in the learning after they have left your classroom. It also establishes the power and value of connection in all areas of our lives.

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang

A picture of a desk with books, an apple, pencils and alphabet blocks on it.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What it is:

Small Teaching is a 246 page book written to address small moves that faculty in Higher Education settings can make to address teaching challenges and improve student learning in the process. This book is for you if you are looking for small practical adjustments you can make to your teaching to address learning challenges.

Topics Covered:

Small Teaching is broken up into three major parts to address: knowledge, understanding, and inspiration. The chapter by chapter breakdown is:

  • Part I: Knowledge
    • Retrieving
    • Predicting
    • Interleaving
  • Part II: Understanding
    • Connecting
    • Practicing
    • Self-Explaining
  • Part III: Inspiration
    • Motivating
    • Growing
    • Expanding

My Takeaways:

Practice, practice, practice – make sure your assignments and formative assessments are practice sessions that mimic the way in which you will summatively assess your students. In other words – don’t assign papers all semester and then assess a student’s knowledge based on a multiple choice exam. Give students the opportunity to practice the cognitive activity that you have chosen to summatively assess their knowledge so that the assessment method does not impact your students’ ability to show you what they understand.

Focus on growth – use reflective metacognitive exercises to help students recognize and analyze the ways in which their knowledge and understanding has grown over the course of time. This practice not only positively impacts learning gains – it also reinforces a growth mindset.

Connection matters – the way in which you connect and interact with your students will impact their motivation. Sometimes you will not recognize the impact that a few moments of personalized attention will have on a student, but you can bet on the fact that this time is never wasted. In my experience this motivation is dual purpose; it positively impacts both teachers and students.

“Whatever we do, we have to remember that the brains in our classrooms do more than think; they feel, and those feelings can play a valuable role in our efforts to motivate and inspire student learning” (p. 193).

Canvas Gradebook

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As the semester start date approaches we get more questions about grading and how different grading schemes can be configured in Canvas. Members of the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry are always happy to schedule consultations to discuss this in more depth, however Canvas also provides several resources that faculty can review at their convenience as well. To get an overview of the gradebook in text form you can visit the article “What are Grades and the Gradebook”. In addition, Canvas has a great gradebook overview video that I’ve embedded below. Please note that although the title says that it is outdated – this functionality will be live until 2020. To view what options will be available in the new gradebook in 2020 please view the video at the bottom of this page.

2020 Gradebook

Kickstart Your Canvas Site!

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A very popular question this time of year is ‘How do I get started with Canvas?’ a close second (especially from faculty new to Middlebury) – ‘What do I need to put on my syllabus?’ When the Provost’s office shared information about the basic syllabus and expectations for faculty, we took this information and integrated it into our Canvas templates.

What does this mean?

Specifically, we added an “About this Course” page to our Middlebury 12 week Canvas templates that includes all of the text in the syllabus template. In addition, we added the sample syllabus template .doc file to the Canvas templates. This means that you can replace place holder text with specifics for your course, but the structure for your course content is already in place.

What’s included in the Canvas templates?

You can see what the Canvas template looks like by visiting these links: (log in with your Middlebury credentials to view)

Some of the components included in the template are:

Sounds great! How do I use it?

  1. First you’ll need to create your blank Canvas site through the course hub. Follow these instructions to complete this step. Note: Do not edit this site until you’ve completed step 2. Any edits completed before importing the template will be overwritten.
  2. Then follow these instructions to import the Canvas template into your course site. (Select the option to Import into Course when prompted.)

What did we miss?

Our hope is to continually improve these templates as we get feedback from faculty, students and staff about different ideas that would make course sites better for learning. So let us know! If you have an idea or suggestion to make these better please let us know by emailing We look forward to hearing from you and hope this helps to kickstart your semester on the right foot!

What does instructional design look like? – Post #11 – The Wrap Up

This is the 11th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Meeting 11 was our first multi-day meeting week. During this session the team reviewed the list of questions and missing information compiled by Heather. Several items were placeholders for work that the faculty member was currently working on.

The team had a productive conversation about providing a means to make it easier for students to identify what work had been completed and what still needed to be done. It was determined that any available automated completion settings in Canvas could actually increase confusion, so the team settled on providing a Google sheet checklist that mirrored the components spreadsheet shared earlier in the course. The checklist was an optional support tool to help students familiarize themselves with a more self-directed learning environment. We are excited to collect feedback from students on this method to see if it is effective and helpful in the way that we hope it will be! (Initial feedback was VERY positive!)

At this meeting it was becoming apparent that the course design process was starting to draw to a conclusion which generated a sense of accomplishment in both team members. Although there were still a number of items we hoped to learn from the first participants in the course – we felt confident that we had done our best to try to anticipate sticky points and challenges and to mitigate those challenges.

As we wrapped up our final official meeting, we agreed to keep the lines of communication open, and Heather assured Anne that she would be available should any unexpected design concerns or questions arise.

Now we just had to wait for the start date — onward!

What does instructional design look like? – Post #10 – Beginning to Review Our Work

This is the 10th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

In this meeting we took the temp in terms of where we were in course development timeline and what additional work needed to be completed to get to our end point on time. Heather was able to do a thorough review of two modules so questions about those items were also addressed. The team revisited the checklist to confirm progress. We also submitted additional requests for assistance with:

  • Transcription of a recorded interview
  • Support for an in-person tech session
  • Help from a student intern to review course content 

In preparation for the next meeting Heather spent the following week working her way through the course and came up with the following list of outstanding questions and to-do items. We considered this our first copy edit review of the course content.


  1. Added links to assignment guideline docs from the About this Course grading section. – Is this ok?
  2. What would you like to do about the Quest activity? (This activity was designed to take students on an active tour of the course where they had to discover different info in the course.)
  3. Items at end of module 1 (This referred to additional content in draft format that were awaiting finalization of reading schedule.)
  4. Module 4 exit ticket – how do you want this to be submitted? (via Canvas assignment?)
  5. Consider suggesting to students that they start a new thread for each discussion group – Module 4 discussion
  6. Items at end of module 5 (This referred to additional content in draft format that were awaiting finalization of reading schedule.)
  7. Entrance ticket for module 7 is the assignment for module 6 – or is it supposed to be the wiki here? (Checking links is a crucial part of the final steps of hybrid course development.)

Needs to be done

  • Exit ticket for module 2
  • Add link to this reading in module 5 – Visualizing qualitative data in evaluation research. New Directions for Evaluation, 139, 53-71.
  • Figure out how the Storytelling with Data links and info (library resources) should be managed
  • Add transcript to interview page
  • Course tour video & transcript (for main page)
  • Add assignments into module view

What does instructional design look like? – Post #9 – Additional Resources & Backups

This is the 9th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

In between meetings 8 & 9 the team re-connected with the media development specialist to fine tune the workflow for how videos could be edited with the support and advice of the media specialist. Video will be used minimally in the course so the team did not believe it would take up a great deal of time to do this. The minimal use was intentional given the time frame for development and launch of the course.

During meeting 9 Anne shared challenges she was continuing to face with getting access to an ebook for the course. The library believed it would have this accessible by the time the course began, however the faculty member felt that until this was confirmed as well as the ability for multiple students to access the ebook at once, she was tied into developing a mirrored reading/resource list that could be used if this option fell through. The team decided that a good interim step would be to place additional readings into a “supplemental resources” section within each module so that the work of locating the resources would still benefit the course even if they were not used as the core texts. Together the team also brainstormed using this section as an invitation for students to suggest other resources that they found over the course term.

Lastly, the team discussed the way in which course development had migrated from the faculty member’s core documentation in Google Drive to content being added directly into Canvas. There was some concern about not having this content in a non-Canvas format so Heather shared some export options including the ePub export which (at the time of this writing) was still in beta. Heather tested out the export which included an epub and a corresponding zip file which included other files that had been uploaded to the Canvas site.

What does instructional design look like? Post #8 — Zooming!

This is the 8th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

During the session the team met with four other participants to test out the functionality of Zoom. Anne planned to use Zoom for a once-a-week in-person meeting with the course participants. Functionality that she hoped to test included how to raise hands, chat, share documents, break into break-out rooms, and return from the rooms. 

During the course of the testing we learned about the importance of logging into Zoom before entering the room. (Without logging in you won’t have the facilitator controls!) Also – Anne was pleased with the ease with which she was able to move between break out rooms to check in on conversations. 

During this session we also tried out using an external tool called PearDeck as a part of the Zoom session. After carefully reviewing the functionality against what was possible in Zoom, Anne decided that tools within Zoom would work best for the class’ needs.

By the end of the session Anne was feeling much more comfortable navigating in Zoom and managing the class through the interface. Heather used the session to construct a Zoom testing checklist to refer back to in future Zoom testing sessions with other faculty members. This process worked towards the Digital Pedagogy & Media group’s goal to systematize some functions of their work that would be repeated over the course of transitioning content into a new medium.

One last simple design task was integrating a link to Anne’s Zoom room into the side menu in Canvas. We did this using the redirect tool in Canvas. I’ve included a video tutorial below to explain how to do this. Please note that any external apps that require student interaction need to go through an ITS security review before they are used in the classroom.

How to use the redirect tool in Canvas

What does instructional design look like? Post #7 – Connecting across Distance

This is the 7th in a series of blog posts outlining the collaborative process of designing an online course for the first time from scratch. You can read the other posts here.

Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

The first item on our agenda was to iron out details about the grading scheme and assignment category setups to make sure that they would function as Anne was expecting. We found that Canvas grading schemes work very well with traditional percentage ‘buckets’. Below is an example of percentage buckets, however please note these were not used for Anne’s course:

  • Papers = 20%
  • Exams (3) = 60%
  • Participation = 20%

However, faculty who are interested in offering extra credit, the opportunity to drop the lowest grade in a category, or any other adjustment that would not necessarily apply to the full class will not find this functionality within the Canvas gradebook. In these instances we suggest faculty use an outside tool for grade calculations. (DLINQ staff are happy to consult on this topic.)

The team also continued to discuss a weekly communication plan and Anne decided that using announcements would work well. Rather than preparing weekly communications ahead of time, Anne would prepare a template and would write the contents of the message as the course proceeded. Anne felt that this would provide the most flexibility which would be helpful since it will be her first time teaching this course. The team agreed that being able to respond to unexpected inquiries and questions in the weekly announcements would be the best experience for the students and would increase the effectiveness of this modality. Canvas would still allow us to set up multiple announcement messages ahead of time (based on the template) that could be adjusted (but not need to be created) on a week by week basis.

In the next week the team planned to collaborate on a Zoom testing session that would allow Anne to test out different functionalities that she hoped to use as a part of her synchronous sessions. Heather planned to incorporate the outline for this testing plan into a template that is being designed to help structure the development of hybrid course spaces. Some of the items to test included: