Hospitality at the 2018 Virtual KWB conference
Hospitality at the 2018 Virtual KWB conference
The 2018 Knowledge without Boundaries (KWB) annual conference evolved from a traditional face to face to a virtual experience. The conference has been an annual event for the SAS research hub for several years and features panel discussions of innovative practices, research team presentations of empirical research, and other cutting-edge discussion forums. Most of the 2018 virtual conference mirrored the previous live KWB event. However, the virtual experience included a pleasant surprise in the form of hospitality rooms where additional activities and experiences were available.
Hospitality rooms are unusual in a virtual experience where participants often feel alone in the crowd. The term hospitality conveys an intention to support and engage. Even with that thought as a guide, we had no idea what to expect as we were developing plans for hospitality. We were scheduled through out the day and planned for everything and anything. We had a slide presentation describing the Center for Educational and Instructional Technology Research (CEITR). We had formal and informal word games, and we had a stellar cast of hosts to greet any visitors. The hosts included Mansureh Kebritchi, Elizabeth Johnston, Jim Lane, Rita Hartman, Cheryl Burleigh, Medgar Roberts, Patricia Steele, Louise Underdahl, Debbie Ritter Williams, and Mimi Rogers. As one of the primary hosts for the CEITR hospitality center I would like to share a few reflections. I will describe what happened in the hospitality rooms, add some notes on the highlights, and finally share a few insights or lessons learned that might be helpful next time.
The first morning was a little stiff and formal. We had several visitors, in addition to the volunteers who were manning the podium. We had the slide show in our metaphorical back pocket but quickly figured out that we could share the podium and have conversations with visitors instead. The atmosphere became warm and supportive once the conversations started.
One highlight of the hospitality room was that frequent visitors and hosts began to experiment with the software. We realized we could jump from the podium to small six person chat groups in the “audience.” The chat groups became lively and were often filled with laughter as we compared notes about our new skills (or lack of) to navigate the workshop. We were beginning to explore the software and find new possibilities.
A second highlight was that we gained a sense of community and fellowship because of the informal nature of the hospitality room. We did not need a script or slide show to communicate. After a few days, we realized that our quiet colleague Medgar actually knew quite a bit about the software architecture. Medgar became our on-site expert and added good tips to the conversation. We were learning the software routines painlessly through our conversations and connections.
We gained some insights for the future. First, the hospitality experience is helpful to the overall quality of the conference. Attending a virtual conference can be a solitary experience. In contrast, I remember many wonderful conversations that took place in hallways and corridors at face-to-face conferences. We do not have opportunities for informal conversations in a virtual conference. However, the hospitality centers served as a metaphorical hallway or coffee room where participants relaxed and chatted about presentations, and exchanged ideas. I was glad we had a lot of backup materials such as the slide show, open ended questions to start conversations, and so on, but we may not need much more than a warm and engaged presence.
The final insight is that we do not always have to work within our comfort zones. We had conceptualized hospitality as an opportunity to gain feedback from participants or to share news about CEITR. We were uncertain as to how the experience might go and planned for any eventuality. Backup planning is always good, but we learned the most important ingredient was the safe and welcoming setting where participants felt free to talk with one another and experiment within the new environment. The hospitality room experience showed me that we could end up with a great experience if we relax and play around with the possibilities of something new. My CEITR colleagues and I look forward to future KWB hospitality rooms where we can enjoy community in the virtual conference spaces. Perhaps, next time, we can contract home delivery of snacks coordinated with the hospitality breaks as David Proudfoot suggested.