CoFFEE - Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment
Developer(s) LEAD consortium
Stable release 5.0 / June 2010
Operating system Cross-platform
Type Collaborative software for learning
License EPL

CoFFEE is an open source software for computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) in a digital classroom. Unlike most CSCL envirmonments, CoFFEE is not designed for and indeed does not currently support distance learning, but is rather focused on facilitating group interaction within the classroom.

CoFFEE offers customisable tools for group collaboration, knowledge sharing and representation, such as a threaded discussion forum, a graphical concept mapping tool, dynamic voting and others. It has so far been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and (experimental version) Hebrew and is being used in schools, colleges and universities in the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

CoFFEE is open source and free software released under the Eclipse Public License (EPL). The CoFFEE project is hosted at Sourceforge and offers all the regular tools (SVN, bugtracker, forum etc.) that you might already be familiar with when working with Sourceforge.


Origin of the name

CoFFEE stands for Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment.


  • Vittorio Scarano (team leader of the CoFFEE developers) got the IBM International Jazz Award 2008 [1] for the proposal to integrate CoFFEE tools into Jazz .

Overview of the Software

The architecture of CoFFEE was first presented in [2], while the technical architecture based on Eclipse was described in [3].

Sessions, Steps and Groups

CoFFEE lessons are called Sessions. A session can be a short part of a whole lesson or span several lessons over a period of several weeks. Such a session is composed of a number of distinct Steps, each with different tools or tool combinations. During the lesson, the teacher can navigates from step to step. A Step may contain a single CoFFEE tool, or a combination of up to 5 different tools.

The activities can be performed by the whole classroom (class step) or by dividing the students in small groups (group step). In the latter case, each group may have a different configuration of tools and perform separately by the other groups. Alternating class steps and group steps appears as a promising direction in research [4]


Around CoFFEE's tools, several other components make it possible to plan, run or participate in a CoFFEE lesson (or session): CoFFEE Discusser is the learner's interface to access the various tools. CoFFEE Controller is the teacher's runtime tool. It allows the teacher to load a lesson plan, run it step by step, manage groups, block and unblock learners and of course access each group's tools (except private workspaces) in order to monitor, facilitate or participate in the discussions. CoFFEE Lesson Planner is a tool that allows the teacher to plan the session ahead of time. Planning a session can begin from editing a pre-configured template to creating everything from scratch in the advanced Session Editor, or specifying the list of learners, their names, password (in case this is required) and group affiliation in the CoFFEE Class Editor. The Replayer allows researchers (but also curious teachers) to play back traces of an entire CoFFEE session.


Collaboration tools

There are two main collaboration tools in CoFFEE: The Threaded Discussion tool and the Graphical tool. In addition, there's a simple tool for turn-based collaborative writing.

The threaded discussion tool allows discussion on several topics to occur simultaneously, each dealing with one 'category' or aspect of a problem under discussion. On every aspect there may be several threads, and every single contribution can be applied a 'type' - e.g. an Argument, a Claim or a Rebuttal. The teacher can configure those types in the Lesson Planner.

The Graphical tool represents the discussion spatially. It too can accept different contribution types, as well as different types of relations between contributions (e.g.: 'oppose' or 'support').

The Co-Writer tool allows all the learners in the classroom to write a collaborative text. The teacher assigns writing permission.

Tools for sharing, group awareness and individual work

CoFFEE offers a variety of tools for sharing and awareness (Repository, Positionometer and Presence), communication (Chat and Quick Communication), and individual work (Notes and Personal versions of the Threaded Discussion Tool and Graphical Tool).

The Repository tool provides file sharing functionalities. A repository stores files that can be shared between the teacher and the learners. Learners too can upload files and submit them to the repository. The teacher then decides whether to share them or not.

The Positionometer lets the learners position their opinion about a question, posed by the teacher during the lesson, along a scale that can be configured on a range of 2 to 10 values. Learners can change their position as long as the positionometer is on. They can either do so in private mode (with only the teacher seeing all the votes), shared mode (with all learners seeing each other's shifting positions), or anonymously - i.e. sharing with their peers their opinions, but not their names (although th teacher always knows...)

The Presence tool simply lets the learners see who else is in their group. It's also possible to configure it so that it shows who was in a learner's group in a previous step. In that case, those who were not in the learner's group will be coloured differently.

The Chat tool is unique to each group within the classroom and can support group coordination on a meta-task level, e.g. discussions about tool usage, or in combination with turn-taking enabled tools, for group members to discuss a topic while one of them is writing.

With the Quick Communication tool, which is always present in the teacher's CoFFEE Controller and the learner's CoFFEE Discusser, teachers and individual learners can communicate discretely.

The Notes tool is a simple private space to keep notes. The learner can, for example, paste previous contributions into this tool, edit and develop them and copy to the current step.

Personal versions of the collaboration tools

The Graphical tool and Threaded Discussion tool can also be configured for individual use. It's also possible to place, side by side, a personal and a shared version of the same tool, to allow learners to elaborate their contribution for themselves before sharing it with their classmates.

Pedagogical work with CoFFEE

Several studies about CoFFEE-based pedagogical based are found in literature.

The potentials of bringing computer-mediated communication within the face-2-face activities in the classroom are presented in [5].

The learners' appropriation of CoFFEE tools is analyzed in [6][7][8]


  1. ^ IBM International Jazz Awards 2008,](see the list of the winners and the announcement at IBM University Italian website (in italian))
  2. ^ De Chiara, R., Di Matteo, A., Manno, I., Scarano, V. (2007), CoFFEE: Cooperative Face2Face Educational Environment, in Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Collaborative Computing: Networking, Applications and Worksharing (CollaborateCom 2007), New York, USA, November 12–15, 2007. [1]
  3. ^ Manno, I., Belgiorno, F., De Chiara, R,. Di Matteo, A., Erra, U., Malandrino, D., Palmieri, G., Pirozzi, D., Scarano, V. (2007) Collaborative Face2Face Educational Environment (CoFFEE), First International Conference on Eclipse Technologies (Eclipse-IT 2007). [2] in italian
  4. ^ Van Diggelen, W., and Overdijk, M., Small-group Face-to-Face Discussions in the Classroom: A New Direction of CSCL Research, in: C.A. Chinn, G. Erkens, and S. Puntambekar (Eds.), Proceedings of the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Conference 2007 (Vol. 8, pp. 726-735).
  5. ^ Van Diggelen, W., and Scarano, V., (eds.) (2006), Exploring the potentials of networked-computing support for face-to-face collaborative learning, workshop proceedings Ec-Tel 2006 (October 1st 2006), Utrecht, LEAD project, Utrecht University.
  6. ^ Overdijk, M. & Diggelen, W. van (2007). Tool Appropriation in Face-to-Face Collaborative Learning. In: B. Csapó and C. Csíkos (Eds.), Developing Potentials for Learning: Proceedings of the 12th Biennial Conference for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) Budapest, Hungary.
  7. ^ Overdijk, M. & Diggelen, W. van (2007). Appropriation of a graphical shared workspace: The learner-tool connection. In: C.A. Chinn, G. Erkens, and S. Puntambekar (Eds.), Proceedings of the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Conference 2007 (Vol. 8, pp. 566-568).
  8. ^ Overdijk, M. & Diggelen, W. van (2006). Technology Appropriation in Face-to-Face Collaborative Learning. In: E. Tomadaki and P. Scott (Eds.): Innovative Approaches for Learning and Knowledge Sharing, EC-TEL 2006 Workshops Proceedings, ISSN 1613-0073, p. 89-96.

Other useful material

EduTech wiki entry

van Diggelen,W. & Overdijk, M. (in press, 2008). Grounded design: Design patterns as the link between theory and practice. Computers in Human Behavior.

Iannaccone, A. Tateo, L. Mollo, M. Marsico, G. (In press, 2008) L’identité professionnelle des enseignants face aux changement, Travail & Formation en Education;

Ligorio, M.B. Tateo, L. (2008) “Just for passion”: dialogical and narrative construction of teachers’ professional identity and educational practices. European Journal Of School Psychology, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 115–142;

Overdijk, M. & van Diggelen, W. (2008). Appropriation of a shared workspace: Organizing principles and their application. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3, 165-192. Akkerman, S., Overdijk, M., Admiraal, W. & Simons, R.J. (2007). Beyond Imprisonment of Meaning: Technology that Facilitates Redefining. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, pp. 2998–3011.

Dyke, G., Girardot, J.J., Lund, K., Corbel, A., (2007) Analysing Face to Face Computer-mediated Interactions EARLI'07 , Budapest, Hungary.

Akkerman, S., Overdijk, M., Admiraal, W. & Simons, R.J. (2007). Beyond Imprisonment of Meaning: Technology that Facilitates Redefining. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, pp. 2998–3011.

Ligorio, M.B., Tateo, L., Manno, I., De Chiara R. and Iannaccone, A. (2007), COFFEE: a software to blend face-to-face and written communication in collaborative problem solving-based scenarios, in Summer School "Building Knowledge for deep Understanding" at the institute for knowledge innovation and technology, Toronto, Canada, August 7–10, 2007.

Dumez-Féroc, I. & Baker, M. (2006). Des dispositifs de communication multicanaux au service de l'apprentissage collaboratif en classe : le projet LEAD. Actes du colloque JOCAIR 2006 (Colloque international : Premières Journées Communication et Apprentissage Instrumentés en Réseau), Université d'Amiens (France), 6 - 8 juillet 2006.

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