Virtual Coffee

Mae’s Coffee Bar

Mae’s Coffee Bar

I am currently enrolled in a Distance Education (DE) class and we use an educational management system called ‘Moodle’*. We participate by typing into discussion threads, and even though attempts are made to reproduce a f2f (face to face) class, I miss Real Life (RL) coffee breaks!

Coffee breaks are a low key, casual time with no supervisor leaning over your shoulder. People are often more honest and open than in class, and though they might use the opportunity to grumble or moan about the class etc, they share lots of information with each other. The assignments get clarification, and tips and resources are shared. And yes, the various quirks of the instructor are analyzed as students look for clues to help them produce pleasing papers! All these dynamics contribute to the learning process of the class, and though less important than the class itself, they are an important component.

Pacific Coffee

Pacific Coffee on Hong Kong Island

My question is how to recreate a ‘coffee break’ experience in DE with students scattered across the landscape? I found an article on Eurogates: Netherlands Educational Portal that suggests to me virtual coffee breaks in Second Life are possible and could provide this missing experience in DE.

Quote taken from Eurogates:

Rebecca Nesson, an instructor at Harvard who brought her Legal Studies class to Second Life in the second half of 2006.
“Normally, no matter how good a distance-learning class is, an inherent distance does still exist between you and your students,” she says. “Second Life has really bridged that gap. There is just more unofficial time that we spend together outside of the typical class session.”

Joe Sanchez, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated the use of Second Life in education in an interactive qualitative analysis, finding that once students overcome the technical and interface difficulties with Second Life. They “indicate a preference to social learning activities and find it enjoyable to interact with other avatars while learning in this space”.

Hong Kong Island 2

Pacific Coffee on Hong Kong Island

Pearly Gates Coffee Shop

Pearly Gates Coffee Shop

*There is a Second Life version of this for educators who are already delivering classes from within Second Life. This version is called SLoodle

2 thoughts on “Virtual Coffee

  1. I can understand your frustrations. I currently am enrolled in an online course and our management system is VCOLR. It is fabulous. We have the same abilities that you mentioned with yours, but our professor has allowed some tips to help us with “coffee breaks”.

    She has a section in the system called “cyber café”. This area allows us to chat about anything. Now, technically she can still see what students are writing. But, it is for us to vent with each other. She also has an area for “community questions”. Here we can post questions for comments that the whole class and she can comment on. The best option that was given to us was to download Skype. Do you have this? If not you should. It is most commonly used as an instant messaging option with your classmates. The nice this about it is that it is completely secured. The only people that you can speak with are people that you have added to your list and visa versa. So there you can really be open to say what you like. It also has a chat option, where you can be talking to many people, and everyone who was invited into that chat can see what is being said.

    I am like you and enjoy those “breaks”. I love having the F2F time, and our professor has done a great job of providing the next best thing. I really hope that you will consider Skype. I think you will be very pleased with the interaction that you can get from it. Good luck!

  2. Hello Rita, Thanks for your thoughts. Skype would work if established in the early days of a course when everyone is ‘settling in’. I think a class culture establishes very quickly (for better or worse). It seemed very strange to me to not chat to fellow students in a free manner. We did not have a ‘water cooler’ or ‘cyber cafe’ meeting place so I don’t know how that might have helped. I wrote about Weblins in another post as a possible easy solution for students of online classes. Take a look at The little people of the web – I think these have some fun possibilities!

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