in which a love for coffee breeds a new open, modular professional development design. A twin tale of learning that solving people's problems is not the same as meeting their needs, and that one university's trash is another university's treasure.


Ascilite 2014


Screenshot of original site


Coffeecourses full text


ANU Coffee Courses

Coffeecourses was another academic staff development project, this time designed to remediate some of the functional issues that preclude engagement in traditional face to face workshop programs, and also address the siloed nature of internal professional development activity.

Time and geography are the great enemies of workshops - only very few staff were able to find the time to walk across campus for 1-2 hour workshops. When teaching development and scholarship is not acknowledged and accommodated in academic workloads, only the most motivated staff find value in allocating big chunks of time to workshop attendance. But, I thought, surely everyone has time for 10 minutes while they are drinking a cup of tea of coffee? And there was some level of irony inherent in a professional development model that required people to be in a certain place at a certain time when our institutional bread and butter, and the model we most pride ourselves on, is the delivery of flexible fully online education because it’s the mode of study that fits in with people’s lives.

And so Coffeecourses were born - fully online, just in time, bite sized chunks of professional development. Built in WordPress for its openness and its feed-based architecture, people could subscribe to a particular course and receive regular (weekly or daily, depending on the course) content and activities via email or RSS. Each chunk was to take no more than 10 minutes to engage with.

I also took the opportunity to exploit the affordances of WordPress, inviting participant interaction via comments and throwing the courses open to worldwide attendance from any sector, allowing participants to engage much more widely than the handful of usual suspects who came to internal workshops.

As it transpired, the internet loved Coffeecourses. From a participant viewpoint, people came from several different countries and a variety of sectors - higher education, but also K-12 teaching, the VET sector and the private sector (Thorneycroft & Landrigan, 2014). They enrolled to learn about games-based learning, using Twitter in the classroom and a range of other topics. But perhaps Coffeecourses’ greatest success was conceptual - other institutions wanted to adopt the Coffeecourses model for their own professional development programs. Some, like the University of Waikato, made only casual adventures in this direction, but ANU ran long and hard with it and still runs a very successful Coffeecourses program today (Stagg et al, 2018).

Once again, though, the engagement within my own institution was only lukewarm. There was some level of uptake, and the model did receive some positive feedback, but in the end it turns out that people who teach online did not prefer to learn this way (Thorneycroft & Landrigan, 2014). Even if they weren’t able to attend, people wanted us to be offering traditional face to face workshops. Ultimately the project was discontinued as there was not enough demand to keep resourcing it with my time.

Part of the problem was my approach - keen to design new and innovative things quickly based on my own perception of needs and my own perception of good design, and harbouring a fairly cynical attitude towards traditional academic publishing, I only engaged with the literature at a surface level. One of my cited influences for this project, for instance, was Guskey’s 1999 paper on the design of professional development. At a glance his work aligned with my goals but had I read deeper I may have gained some key insights on the folly of only identifying symptoms and problems rather than true needs of staff. This is not something I would have been willing to recognise at the time and wouldn’t until several years later.


Guskey, T. (1999). Apply Time with Wisdom. Journal of Staff Development, 20(2). Retrieved from

Stagg, A., Nguyen, L., Bossu, C., Partridge, H., Funk, J. & Judith, K. (2018). Open Educational Practices in Australia: A First- phase National Audit of Higher Education. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3).

Thorneycroft, S., & Landrigan, B. (2014). Having your cake and eating it too: The rhetoric and reality of redesigning staff professional development. In B. Hegarty, J. McDonald, & S.-K. Loke (Eds.), Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology. Proceedings ascilite Dunedin 2014 (pp. 756-760).