Using World Cafe Methodology to Transform Classroom Discussions – Svitlana Taraban-Gordon

As I was recently sitting in one of my favourite local cafes surrounded by conversations, I noticed how deeply engaged and connected the participants of these conversations were.  It is not that often that I get to see this type of conversations in the university classroom.  No doubt, the physical layout of a modern classroom is a far cry from the ambient and hospitable space that one expects to find in their favourite cafe.  But is there a way to create a conversation in the classroom that builds authentic connections, engages the learners and makes them fully present in the moment?

This notion of meaningful and deep conversations reminded me of World Cafe, a framework for organizing discussions to which I was first introduced at a communications conference several years ago.  Developed by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, World Cafe was initially used by community-based organizations to guide conversations on important issues.  Today it is often used by businesses, governments, and educational institutions.  Essentially, World Cafe is a methodology (and a metaphor) for creating webs of conversations and dialogic exchanges that are grounded in reflection, deep listening, and collective wisdom.

According to the World Cafe website, “These conversations link and build on each other as people move between groups, cross-pollinate ideas, and discover new insights into the questions or issues that are most important in their life, work, or community.”

World Cafe is based on seven main principles:
* Set the context
* Create hospitable space
* Explore questions that matter
* Encourage everyone’s contribution
* Connect diverse perspectives
* Listen together for patterns, insights, and deeper questions
* Share collective discoveries
You can learn more about it by going to the World Cafe community of practice.

World Cafe methodology can be adapted to a university classroom.  While I am not aware of any instructors on campus who have experimented with this approach in their courses, I found a couple examples from other institutions.  You can read how a health science instructor at Western used World Cafe in her course.   Or check out how a graduate program at Royal Roads University used World Cafe as a framework for a learning reunion.

Give World Cafe a try in your course and see where the conversation takes your students. I would love to hear the results!


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Svitlana Taraban-Gordon

As a Senior Instructional Developer, Svitlana Taraban Gordon oversees all aspects of the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program and works with graduate students who are interested in developing their instructional skills and expanding their teaching horizons. She is also developing new programming related to the internationalization and university teaching. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Svitlana worked with the international education office at York's Faculty of Education, taught several courses at York's teacher preparation program and coordinated Microsoft-funded project on youth and technology through her work with Toronto-based NGO TakingITGlobal. She received her PhD in Education (Language, Culture and Teaching) in 2006 from York University. In her free time, Svitlana enjoys traveling with her husband and young son.

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