Most our work in the Art of Hosting community involves engaging with colleagues and others on a personal basis; we are working to connect through conversational techniques that help us connect, learn, and teach. The effort is in person and face-to-face; it is a very individual method of communicating, and one that has lasting impact on our lives and understanding.
Practitioners often call the Art of Hosting techniques “technologies of engagement,” perhaps as an intentional contrast to the electronic, digital technologies that dominate our current society. We have learned to consciously use these methods as personal software to structure and develop meaningful conversation.
We are, somewhat ironically, publishing these stories of Art of Hosting application within an eBook. In doing so we seem to recognize the need to use the electronic tools when needed, and to use the personal tools where they are appropriate. Meta-cognitively, we have recognized that there is something missing from our silicone-based communication structures. Our digital communications often are solely information based, simplified to the point where much of the value is removed. We have the empty calories of the data, but none of the richness of a complete meal.
Most of my work in academia involves the use of electronic media; ubiquitous emails, website management, teaching digital design, course management systems, and evolving massive online courses. Additionally, my academic community is in the field of instructional design and technology, and I recognize the isolating nature of much of this communication. Ironically, electronic media is where my application of Art of Hosting has occurred, with the human-based conversations informing work in the digital realm.
I am focusing here on three stories to illustrate this contrast of technologies of engagement: World Café to help plan technology use in the College of Design; ProAction Café and Reflective Listening to lead a research symposium in educational technology; and design of conversations at Professors of Instructional Design and Technology (PIDT), an annual meeting of professors of instructional design and technology.
First, within the College of Design, the management of technology is a topic that touches every staff member, student and faculty. They have disparate concerns and needs, both of which are often in conflict with other College needs. Communicating and weighing these concerns is difficult and complex.
In May 2012, I worked with other Art of Hosting practitioners to host a discussion on information technology services for the entire College community. Eighty-five staff, faculty, and administration participated in a wide-ranging discussion about the use and maintenance of computers within the College. Questions addressed included costs and environmental impacts of printing services for students; replacement planning and budgeting for College computer labs; future need and vision for College computer labs; and IT support in a time when BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is a growing trend.
We used the directed questioning of World Café to structure our conversation. Our audience was seeded with approximately 20 faculty and staff from the University’s Art of Hosting Community of Practitioners, and they served as table hosts.
The use of World Café addressed a number of issues of communication, power, and status within the College. We were able to encourage conversations between support staff and faculty, generate new ideas in a broad context, and lay the foundations for additional conversations at all levels. One member of the IT staff noted that it was the first time he had met or interacted with many faculty members.
Secondly, I was fortunate to successfully propose and run a research symposium in 2012 for the Association of Educational Computing and Technology, an organization focused on the use of technology in education. In each of the previous symposia, papers were solicited from the membership and presented in traditional concurrent paper presentations. I used the techniques of ProAction Café and Reflective Listening to create conversations and engagement; participants were surprised by the intensity and value of the discussions regarding their work. The association director said this strong interaction and growth was the original goal of the symposium series, but that it only now was being realized through Art of Hosting.
The symposium was focused on generating an edited book. We designed it as a collaborative effort, built on the contributions of some of our authors. After each author contributed his or her chapter draft for review (prior to the symposium), attendees questioned and examined the contribution. During the past year, building on these close connections, the authors have honed their work, and publication of the book is forthcoming with Springer. Both this symposium and the process used to create the book focused on building a community of scholars who shared a joint intellectual effort of high scholarly value.
Thirdly, I had the opportunity to facilitate the annual meeting of the PIDT in Bloomington, Indiana. PIDT provides faculty and selected graduate students time gather informally and discuss issues in the field. Intentionally informal, it is exceptionally good for developing and strengthening collegial networks. In previous years, the structure had ranged from highly programmed to generally chaotic. Striking a balance with the history of PIDT, I used ProAction Café to allow participants to present and test their ideas in a knowledgeable and yet flexible environment.
These examples illustrate ways the Art of Hosting approach can be used in higher education. They also reveal its value in communities that are highly skilled, and devoted to technology and electronic media. While most of us use electronic technology for much of our work, there is significant value investing in methods of engagement that enhance face-to-face experiences.
Perhaps the new information technologies may have not developed the ability to fully portray human communication. Alternatively, the problem may lie with our own attention. While we can be distracted or amused by electronic technology, in-person communication engages and encourages us to actually pay attention to “things that matter.” The techniques and technologies of the Art of Hosting build that engagement in various forms. One of the early requirements of participating in the work of Art of Hosting is a requirement that participants fully participate, and that they remain present in mind and spirit as well as body. That is a goal for all our work at the University, in classes and in our research and outreach.