The Grand Unified Office Hour: Leveraging Remote Environments

An experiment combining virtual office hours 


Principle 11 of the NCTE 2013 Position Statement on Online Writing Instructions (2013) articulates that “[o]nline writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success.” While few doubt the efficacy of office hours in university instruction as a whole, especially in writing instruction, there was little in the way of recommendations or support for exclusively online office-hours. However, with the onset of the pandemic and the need to transition to online learning, instructors have grappled with redesigning their courses whole-cloth for the virtual environment, which includes finding ways to implement office hours into the online learning environment. While the easiest implementation would be for instructors to simply replicate the one-on-one environment of office hours using such peer-to-peer-communication tools such as Zoom or even communicating with students exclusively through email, such an approach seems lacking in imagination and fails to take advantage of the full possibilities offered in the online environment. Moreover, often the simple act of a student hunting out the location of an instructor’s office in a far-off building on a physical campus can serve to remind the student of their role in a learning community and the presence of a learning community beyond the single instructor in their class. The question that we asked ourselves then was a simple one: how could we provide access to this sense of community in an online environment that is often isolating and alienating? Many of our first-year students were the first in their families to attend college, and the switch to online learning meant that many of them had literally never set foot on a college campus, let alone the campus that they were ostensibly now attending. Thus, we wanted to find a way to fully exploit the virtual environment to create this sense of a larger university community. So in collaboration, we instituted what we called “The Grand Unified Office Hour” for the Fall and Spring of 2020-21 school year. At its most basic level, the Grand Unified Office Hour involved the coordination and sharing of a Zoom room to allow students from all of our classes to visit us in a common office hours format. In this paper, we will not only briefly outline the origins of this idea and the theoretical principles that guided us, but will also discuss in-depth implementations of this concept as well as the anecdotal results of our collaboration. Finally, we will consider ways to further adapt and refine the idea for future use.