Learning Unit

Communication with Students

Time: 45 min    Goal: Stay connected with students

  • #Bongo
  • #Communicate with Students
  • #Communication
  • #Engaging Students
  • #Forum
  • #Online Community
  • #Synchronous and Asynchronous
  • #Tools
  • #Virtual Office Hours
  • #WebEx
Time: 10 min

Engaging Synchronously and Asynchronously with Students

It can be difficult to maintain a regular and successful exchange with students in online teaching. It is therefore important to learn about strategies that are unthreatening to both teachers and students. In fact, there are various ways to maintain contact with students despite distance. Columbia University has compiled a range of possible tools - synchronous and asynchronous - for communicating with your students. Just follow the link to make use of them.

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Time: 10 min

Virtual Office Hours – Overview

Office hours and consultations are vital in digital teaching and learning as they show students you are interested in them and their learning and that you are available to respond to their questions. The following link takes you to guidance from Columbia University on how best to hold online office hours and consultations.

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Time: 15 min

Holding Virtual Office Hours

Just like in-person office hours, virtual office hours support student learning through one-on-one interactions between students and teachers or teaching assistants (TAs). They are a way of addressing student questions on course material and assignments both online and in real time.

Using Bongo and WebEx

Similar to in-person office hours, virtual office hours support student learning through one-on-one interactions between students and instructors or TAs. They are an online means of addressing – in real time – student questions about course material and assignments. Research on student learning suggests that “Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of classes is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement” (Chickering & Gamson, 1986, p. 3).  

What tools can I use for my virtual office hours? 

Virtual office hours can be facilitated through three centrally-supported video conferencing platforms and another non-video conferencing platform: WebEx Meetings, MS Teams and Piazza. These three platforms support communication by audio, video, and text, as well as a white board for drawing diagrams or mathematical symbols. To help you select a platform for online office hours, we’ve outlined the following options.

Office Hours using Microsoft Teams 

Microsoft Teams is helpful for both visual meetings and chat-based meetings. It allows you to record your meetings and write down meeting notes, which may improve the quality of your meetings.

Resource: Microsoft Teams Instruction

  • Option 1: Drop-in office hours 
    Set up an office hour which the whole class can attend. You can invite all of the students to the Microsoft Teams meeting by your outlook email (which you can book an appointment and invite all students by adding events on your schedule). Thus, students can log in to MS Teams and join in the team meeting at any time during the office hour. The meeting group will appear in MS Teams’ chat after if you chat with your students during the meeting, so that you can always come back and check your record video and meeting notes, or even start a new meeting with this group again.
  • Option 2: “By appointment” office hours 
    Set up several available time for students to choose, then book an appointment and invite the student who books the time only to the MS Teams meeting. This will allow only you and the student into the meeting room.

Office Hours using Virtual Classroom (Bongo) 

Virtual Classroom (VC) is a good option for virtual office hours if Bongo is already used elsewhere in your course, such as for Video Assignments. VC allows you to choose the format for your virtual office hours: drop-ins or scheduled appointments. 

Resource: Virtual Classroom instructions 

  • Option 1: Drop-in office hours
    Set up virtual office hours as a recurring meeting that the whole class can attend. There is no “waiting room,” which means any student can just “drop in.” If another student is already in your virtual office, discussing something private, you can ask the new student to come back at a specific time and then remove them. However, if they disregard the time you’ve suggested, they will be able to keep popping back in. 
  • Option 2: “By appointment” office hours 
    Set up virtual office hours and then ask students to choose one of the meeting slots that you’ve made available. This is the most equitable option especially if your students are in different time zones. Typically, office hours are scheduled in 20-minute increments. If multiple students have the same concern, seek their permission to host them together.  

Office Hours using WebEx Meetings

Resources: WebEx Meetings interface explained

  • Options 1 and 2 would be the same as for Virtual Classroom, above. 
  • Option 3: Drop-in option with waiting room 

This option uses the Lock Meeting and Lobby features of WebEx. A student logs into WebEx and starts off in a “lobby” (a virtual waiting room). You then admit the student to the WebEx meeting. When other students enter the “lobby”, you will receive a notification for each one. To lock the meeting at the start of the office hours, to prevent students from dropping in without permission, go to Meeting > Lock Meeting: 

Screenshot: Office Hours using WebEx Meetings, lock meeting
Virtual office hours using WebEx Meetings: lock meeting

When students are placed in the “lobby,” they will receive a “welcome message.” You can customize this message for students, for example, letting them know you are currently with a student, and that you will let them into the meeting in a few minutes. To create a “welcome message,” go to Meeting > Welcome Message:  

Screenshot: Office Hours using WebEx Meetings, welcome message
Virtual office hours using WebEx Meetings: welcome message

When you are ready for your next drop-in, click “Waiting to Join” to see the names of students waiting in the “lobby” and then click “Let in” beside the name of the student you’ll next meet with. 

Office Hours using Piazza 

Piazza is quite different than Virtual Classroom (Bongo), WebEx Meetings and MS Teams, since it is designed to be a question-and-answer based platform. Although it cannot offer a face-to-face meeting, it can still help with office hours.Resource: Piazza instruction

How will my students find information about my virtual office hours?  

When using Virtual Classroom (Bongo) for office hours, students go to Connect > Virtual Classroom to see your available office hours. If you have set up private office hours with a student, then only that student will see those office hours.  

When using WebEx, you’ll need to copy and paste the meeting information to a content page or homepage widget. To copy the meeting information, click the “copy” icon when looking at your meeting information (the yellow highlight in the following image): 

screenshot: virtual office hours
Virtual office hours using WebEx

How do I prepare for my virtual office hours?  


  • Set up specific times for your virtual office hours (e.g., Wednesdays 3-4pm); for weekly office hours, aim for different dates/times of the day 
  • Post a welcoming message in your course announcements to let students know about your virtual office hours (“Welcome to My Virtual Office”) 
  • Tell students what they need to do (e.g., instructions on when and how to log in) 
  • Give students a lot of encouragement to take advantage of virtual office hours and remind them that you are available to provide help
  • Send them another reminder before “high traffic” weeks, such as before exams or assignment deadlines 


  • Spend at least an hour getting to know the tool that you’ll be using for your office hours, its key features and how they are used 
  • Have one “trial run” office hour session with a fellow TA or a student volunteer 
  • Make sure you know how to:  
    • (un)mute your microphone
    • switch on/off your webcam
    • share/hide your desktop if you plan to display or review content with your students
    • use a whiteboard tool to draw symbols and equations during numerical or formula-driven sessions

What else should I consider when holding virtual office hours? 


  • Both Bongo (Virtual Classroom) and WebEx allow for recording of the session. Due to privacy considerations, ensure that recording is turned off during virtual office hours.


  • Bandwidth refers to the rate of data transfer. Tools that require low bandwidth are text-based such as email, chat and discussion groups. Tools requiring medium bandwidth are audio-based like podcasts and mini-lectures or discussions that make use of audio but not video. Tools that require the highest bandwidth are ones that employ video. If an online meeting with a student doesn’t require video, use just audio. 

Time zones 

  • When setting your virtual office hours, try to give some options to students as some of them might be in different time zones.  


  • Always make sure that you’re using the most up-to-date version of your internet browser.  
Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), pp. 3-7. 
The text “Holding Virtual Office Hours Using Bongo and WebEx” by the Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo, via, is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0, rephrased and shortened by SEA-EU.

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Time: 10 min

Creating an Online Community

An educational community at a college or university benefits from the interactions that take place in lessons, but also from informal contact and conversations in the seminar room, corridors, and during breaks. This is something to bear in mind when creating an online community. Forums can keep students connected to their tutor and peer group and are useful for building community, information sharing, and group discussions. There are more ways to keep in touch with your students when teaching online, as you'll find out here.

License: The work "Creating an Online Community. Using a Forum and other Tools to engage your Learners" by School of Languages and Applied Linguistics, The Open University, via is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

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