Coffee beans, data, and wellbeing

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Could we use data from coffee machines to support wellbeing?

Some students live on coffee during their time at university, many would say it supports their wellbeing. Student wellbeing is a key priority for the Higher Education (HE) sector. The Stepchange framework, created by Universities UK, calls on all universities to make wellbeing a strategic priority which is “foundational to all aspects of university life, for all students and all staff.”

We know that good data governance provides the foundation to build new wellbeing support systems that can respond to the needs of students – helping more people more quickly while maximising the use of available resources.

As well as the usual suspects that universities can use to collect engagement data, such as the VLE, library systems and access to learning spaces, could universities use the data from other systems and services to deliver better services and support wellbeing? Could we use data from coffee machines to deliver a better retail experience to students and maximise their wellbeing.


Coffee analytics is a “thing”

It might be a surprise to many that coffee analytics is a real “thing”. Companies such as Bibe Coffee and Flow Coffee have products that enable retail outlets, such as university cafeterias, to analyse their coffee machine activity. A simple IoT (Internet of Things) device is added to the machine, and data on how the machine is being used, when it is being used, bean consumption and other measurements are collected, usually sent to the cloud and then can be analysed. As you might imagine the focus is very much on reliability, consistency, wastage, and other business factors. However, these services are also capable of measuring usage, types of coffee being made, time of production, and other information on the quantity and types of coffee students are buying. These data points can provide a valuable insight into the peak demand for coffee by students. When are they buying coffee, where are they buying coffee on campus, and what types of coffee are they drinking.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

The importance of coffee, and snacks

You can imagine the scenario when a student who is facing challenges on their course, and decides to visit the café in the university library, only to find that the coffee machine is on a cleaning cycle, or they have run out of coffee beans.  This disappointment can lead to annoyance. This small negative experience could potentially impact on the wellbeing of the student. They are probably not alone, as other students (and staff) are equally frustrated and disappointed.

Of course it isn’t just coffee, it could be vending machines, chocolate, crisps and even healthy snacks. If you want something and you find the machine is empty, this can be annoying and frustrating.

Maintaining energy levels, or the positive impact of caffeine; the importance of eating and drinking while studying shouldn’t be underestimated. Ensuring students are hydrated and have the energy to learn is a critical component of a successful student experience. Coffee is one part of this equation.

stove espresso maker
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Using data on coffee to support wellbeing

Analysing the data on coffee (and other food and drink services) could provide a valuable insight into ensuring that when students need coffee the most, the coffee machine is available, and can support wellbeing. Universities could use the data to ensure that when the coffee machine is needed to be taken down, for cleaning, that this is done at the best possible time, for the minimal impact on student wellbeing. Data on coffee usage could also ensure that over time the retail services could predict when there is peak demand for coffee, ensuring that the availability of the machine is enabled for that time. Over longer periods of time, they may want to bring in temporary coffee machines when demand for coffee peaks, such as the revision period before exams.

Coffee isn’t the answer

Of course, when it comes to improving student wellbeing, just having data about the coffee is most certainly not going to be enough. Data on how students interact with online systems and services, what spaces they are using, the resources they engage with, all provide a wealth of engagement data. We know that engagement is one measure that universities can look at to understand if there is a story behind a student’s dis-engagement with the university and work to improve that student’s wellbeing.

As Jisc said in their blog post on data governance,

If their new university does not use data intelligently to improve their day-to-day experience, students could be disappointed, which reflects badly on the institution.  

Universities should reflect on all the data they collect, and decide what the data can tell them about the student experience, and importantly what interventions they need to make to positively impact on student wellbeing. Running out of coffee isn’t the end of the world, but combine many small negative impacts on the student experience, students will not be happy and wellbeing could suffer as a result.

Read Jisc’s framework and code of practice for data-supported wellbeing – which outlines how to promote ethical, effective, and legally compliant processes that help HE organisations manage risk and resources.

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