Many students have the perception that office hours are for academic (or personal) emergencies only. A last resort or plea for mercy when it is already probably too late. One way to counter this is to
give students more specific reasons to come
: informal conversations about the field, career advice, letters of recommendation, research opportunities, and more. Create a scavenger hunt, part of which requires a visit to office hours.
Put these conversation prompts right on the syllabus and mention it at least every few weeks throughout the course. Another potential barrier is professor (un-) approachability. It can be intimating to walk down a strange hallway to spark up a conversation with a busy expert. Many students feel they must bring a pressing problem or profound question.
Set them at ease by continually creating a welcoming environment in and out of class.
Engage in a little small talk, offer coffee or tea. Let them know office hours are times you specifically set aside for them.
Be mobile and flexible.
Always include "and by appointment" to your set hours on the syllabus and D2L. Consider setting up mobile office hours in the library or a coffee shop. Explore the various online options for video or chat to find what works best for you and your students.