According to V. Robin and J. Pogue et. al. (2001), the concept of Conversation Café was first propounded by three Seattle friends- Susan Partnow, Habib Rose and Vicki Robin. It all started with an experiment. They believed that more spontaneous and drop-in public dialogue would serve democracy, critical thinking and neighbourliness. So, each sat in a different café once a week and invited whoever was there, plus friends, to dialogue about things that really mattered. Thus, the Conversation Café Method was born. The Conversation Cafés spread throughout Seattle then on to Toronto, St. Louis, Tucson and ultimately to seventy cities in the US, Canada and Europe. During the Conversation week, they discussed on the same topic, sharing the wisdom of each group, sought a global sense of what “we the people” were feeling and thinking about the important questions of the times.
What is a Conversation Café?
Conversation Cafe is an engaging edutainment platform. V. Robin et. al (2001) mentioned, it is a gift designed for the world. It witnesses the confluences of critiquing, ideating and proposing while learning and sharing as a collective whole within the scope of respecting diversity of thought. It is an informal dialogue based on a constructive methodology. The essential protocols of the Conversation Café are as follows:
- Open-mindedness: listen to and respect all points of view
- Acceptance: suspend judgement as best you can
- Curiosity: seek to understand rather than persuade
- Discovery: question assumptions, look for new insights
- Sincerity: speak from your heart and personal experience
- Brevity: go for honesty and depth but do not go on and on
- Equality: Everyone has equal right to share their view and express themselves
- Multiple means of expression: While everyone can contribute, there are many means of representing oneself.
However, this sums up everything that the Conversation aims at achieving for a change, a broader mind-set, collective sharing and a learning ground on conversations that matter.
REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
Convesations are the key roles that has the power to motivate, inspire and bring a change. According to E. V. Estacio and T. Karic et. al, (2016) discussed how the World Café method can be used as a platform to encourage reflection on internationalisation in higher education. The World Cafe is a community engagement method that encourages participants to engage in reflection and dialogue in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. It promotes the use of multiple methods in capturing insights that recognise individual and cultural preferences in communication. It values respect for diversity of perspectives, which resonates with the principles of internationalisation. J. Brown et. al, (2010) in his book “The World Café: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter”, mentions “how conversations can ignite- innovation, think together, strengthen community and sharing knowledge. Experiencing a café conversation in action helps us in making personal and professional choices about more satisfying ways to participate in conversations that helps shape our lives”. V. Storey and R. Taylor et. al. (2011), highlighted on Conversation Cafe in higher education which represented to foster mutual engagement-and opportunity for learning-across the institutions involved in the Carnegie Foundation Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED).
L. F. L. Lu et. al, (2008), in her study on “Art cafe, A 3D virtual learning environment for education”, explored the objective to find out participant responses on experiences in Art Café and whether the 3D VLE and designated educational activities were suitable for art education. The cafe brought about an interactive learning with the artist. Its environment enabled participants to easily become active learners, engaged and maintaining a sense of ownership of their art conversation. According to R. D. Eckard and M. A. Kearny et. al, (1981), ESL education was taught to students on how to converse fluently in English and to be natural native speakers. It focusses on aspects of conversational language, pre-conversation activities, passage from controlled to free conversation and conversation activities which include roleplay, question-and-answer activities, class discussions, problem solving, games, and other group activities.
CONVERSATION CAFE IN SHILLONG
The Conversation Cafe (CC) in Shillong was first initiated by Team INDI ED (empowering the youth) on July 2018. There lies a dire gap in the current eduction syatem.. What is this gap that the education sytem has been lacking? And What can we do about it? This has propelled the team to come with the concept of Conversation Café as an alternative to bring a change, to express their opinions and to seek out changes that needs in the education system. The team believes that Conversation Cafe can be an interactive, enjoyable, free-thinking platform for all stakeholders and more over to make use of their cognitive ability, socail skills, communication skills and self-awareness.
This Conversation Cafe was recently started in Shillong in two diverse institutions that is Bethany Society and North Eastern Hill University. The way the Conversation Cafe was practiced around the other countries so also it was followed in a similar way addressing to four crucial questions related to education.
The main objectives of Conversation Cafe are:
- To perceive a clear understanding of the students and on the distinction between education and learning
- How much have they learnt so far? and whether they can truly differentiate between education and learning
- To effectively meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse population of learners,
The team members of INDI Ed, prepared a registration form for the participants which contains name, name of the institution (school/college/university), Class, date and signature. In order to get participants to attend the Conversation Cafe, a poster was prepared to instill curiosity in the mind of the people, invitations were also given to teachers and friends to attend the session and the use of Social Media as a medium to spread the word.
The main tools used to conduct the CC are based on four most critical questions about the education system. The questions differ from both the CCs held in the two institutions.
OUTCOME OF CONVERSATION CAFE
According to the responses, we all agree that education has affected us in a plethora of ways and we adhere to it. The Conversation Cafe was conducted based on group discussion. The following are the results discussed below.
Firstly, the education system is a formal education. It is based on strenous syllabus of which students learn to prepare themselves for their future. Because of the strenous syllabus, students go through a lot of stress to pass in exams. Therefore, most of the time they resort to rote-learning in order to get good marks. Secondly, students acquiring the highest marks in class are considered as the most intellectual while those receiveing the lowest marks in class are considered as the least intellectual. More importance is given to student with high IQ and less importance to those with lower IQ. Thirdly, the education system is not flexible. It is a structured environment and does not give space to think out of the box. Creativity is definitely lacking in the education sytem. Fourthly, the education system in not job oeiented. If the education system is suppose to help us build a future then it should train us to meet challenges that requires us to face in our life like there should be personality development, leadership qualities, enhance communication skills, emphasis on general awareness and career guidance to be taken seriously right from school level. Lastly, the education system is not practical. It is mostly based on theory. Students learn and understand better when they are placed in an environment that allows them to practice what has been taught in the classroom.
With the concept of the Conversation Cafe, there has been a huge turn of events that brought together diverse stakeholders from various backgrounds. The eagerness of the students to express their views in a group discussion and individually did boost their self-confidence. It challenged them to think (cognitive skills), to come out of their comfort zone by meeting new people and it brought about self-awareness. The Conversation cafe has emerged as a powerful tool that can help to bridge the gaps that is lacking in the educatiuon system and most importantly, giving a space for free thinking especially, for the primary stalkholders being children and students.
HOW CAN A CONVERSATION CAFE BE INTEGRATED IN SCHOOL OR HIGHER EDUCATION?
Conversations play a vital role in knowledge sharing in today’s modern world. P. Johnson et. al (2016) mentioned in her study about the role of conversation in a classroom. She said “for students to begin thinking like scholars, they must be placed in an environment that supports a community of practice that operates according to scholarly behaviours. Professional learning activities for teachers must include strategies that effectively increase engagement, critical thinking, and dialogue as methods of developing student agency”. So also the Conversation Café can act as another teaching method to have an understanding of pedagogy and see how students learn across diverse learning environment. It gives a voice, choice and learner’s identity. This will also help the students to come up with thought-provoking discussions and generate new constructive ideas and questions when working together collectively on academic topics. It is, thus, a medium for acknowledging and promoting multiple forms of intelligence into education and rooting it in the reality of the environment. Hence, Conversation Cafe can be integrated as another teaching method and a learning model for students.
In conclusion, based on my experience with Convesation Cafe, I believe that this is a powerful learning tool. It is very interesting, engaging and ideating. If we are seeking to achieve Sustainable Development goals in Education for the betterment of the future generation, then we should also take into consideration the students perception. Let their views be heard, let their creativity be acknowledged and encouraged and let new ideas flow in the system of education. We are all born uniquely and the way we think is also different from one another. A child scoring the highest mark in class does not mean that he/she is the most talented. We should not be judged based on this perception. We have our own abilities and style in performing. The principle of the Education hierarchy has always been a top-down approach. It is high time we change the perception to bottom-up approach. With the proper guidance from the teachers, students will ascend as diverse change makers in the society if given a chance.
Hence, the conversation Cafe has emerged as a new platform that can enhance knowledge sharing and boost confidence. It is a powerfull catalyst to bring about a change in the education system based on meaningful conversations that matter. It offers a practical, social, robust and open-minded space to express freely and lastly, it strives to ensure equalility and justice for all.