Faculty Blog

But first, coffee

Having a coffee at the office is almost a ritual. It begins in the morning for some, just after the lunch break for the others. It’s also a choice of a specific cup and then of the precious liquid, so espresso macchiato or black? Above all, it’s a place to meet. A break in the day that allows informal exchanges between colleagues of the same floor.

With the containment measures, no more cups go astray in the Maison des Sciences Humaines, but it is also the end of spontaneous chats in front of the coffee machines.

This is why the Department of Geography & Spatial Planning is launching the "Geo Café” on Webex, a videoconferencing platform. Constance Carr, who is behind this initiative, explains, "I was listening to the various voices around the net, and it was becoming apparent that there were likely a variety of different issues surfacing. There are a multitude of difficulties surfacing that affect work. Some are finding it hard to concentrate on work with the kids at home (or to learn with roommates in the background). Some are dealing with isolation.  Some might find it hard to focus with the crisis in the background. There are a bunch of issues. At the same time, while thinking about this, I was experimenting with WebEx and Zoom for teaching purposes, That's when I realised that these might help mitigate some of these negative effects”.

The idea is quite simple. Open up a  Webex channel for 30 minutes, twice a day: one for the morning coffee addicts, the other one for those who prefer their caffeine boost in the afternoon. People can pop in and pop out as they please. "These meetings are entirely social, informal, and optional. The idea is to catch up, share the issues we are all facing, and exchange just like we would on campus”, adds Carr.  She underlines, “In time like these, communication shouldn’t only be top down. Messages from the top are, of course, imperative, but people need means to communicate and share ideas horizontally too”.

Just like in real spontaneous meeting in the hallway, four members of the department met this morning over a home-brewed coffee. "Even if none of us miss the university coffee, it is good to have an opportunity to stay in touch with digital technologies, not forgetting, of course, that these technologies cannot replace face-to-face meetings" says Carr.

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