A Virtual Bust: Cocktail Hour for Online Course


(photo credit: Glamour Magazine)

In an earlier post I explained how eager I was to find a way of building relatedness in my online courses. By relatedness, I mean the third component of human motivation that self-determination theory psychologists have identified: where being with others makes what you're doing seem more satisfying and fulfilling. I've struggled with this in the online classroom.

This summer I had a brilliant idea: "What if I made it clear that the purpose of our getting together was social, and that I was not summoning them to hear me give a sermon?" I knew from experience that early afternoon meet-ups (a phrase I use carefully to avoid saying "meeting" and all it implies) were no good, because most online students work full-time jobs. This meant that I would have to start it sometime after 5pm. I chose 6pm in order to give students time to get home and unwind a bit from their 9-5.

But I also knew that 6pm would probably mean that I had a beer in my hand. I decided that that would accentuate that I was not intending to lecture at them. Thus became "Virtual Cocktail Hour." 

I made the suggestion for both of my summer courses, and only one responded favorably. The students of this class received the following invitation:

Here is how it went: I logged in at 5:55pm to find that I had not set up a virtual meeting, but had actually set up a virtual panel discussion. This prohibited attendees from using their cameras or microphones. That is to say, any student who attended would be bound and gagged. Oops. I was, however, able to "add them" as panel discussants, which is what I did for the one student who joined me.

I met with a young woman who was out to dinner with her parents. She had a strawberry lemonade at Cheddars. I felt as though I were intruding on their family dinner. It was as awkward and uncomfortable as a face-to-face cocktail hour might have been, which is to say it was a success. This student lost or seemed to lose internet connection after about 20 minutes, and I was left alone in my office with an empty Heineken bottle.

I tried a week later at the behest of students who were unable to join, but nobody came. 

Thus concluded the Virtual Cocktail Hour experiment.


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