- C.V. SUM
- ELT CALENDAR
I’ve gone to a good number of conferences, both online and offline over the past decade or so. You likely have too. Many of us often blog about our experiences soon after the conference is over. I’ve read about many of your experiences quite recently even. As someone who organises offline conferences, I’m often curious as to the types of sessions that people like and don’t, and why. It’s not something I’ve seen blogged much about. So at the risk of being shunned by my entire PLN (sidenote: I’ve watched more episodes of Breaking Amish than I care to admit), I’ll tell you mine.
At most language teaching conferences (where teachers are the main audience, as opposed to administrators or academics), there’s an expectation on the presenter to be less “present-y”, in other words, not boring. This expectation leads to a wide variety of attempts to be ‘not boring’ through participant involvement. Some work. Some don’t. I have to admit though, that unless I’m going to support a friend or it’s the only EAP-related session I have to choose from, I almost always avoid any session with descriptors like “interactive”, “peer-led”, “group…work” or any indication that I’ll be expected to get up and move around. But why? Aren’t I, as a teacher, supposed to love interaction?
Participant-driven sessions don’t always work out as they are pitched to. This is when you get to the session on the topic you’re interested in, you are faced with the leaders telling you to group around different tables based on a common interest of a subtopic. Instead of them leading the session, it’s about you and your peers driving discussion on the subtopic for an allotted amount of time. Sometimes there’s a leader at the table; sometimes it’s simply attendees. If you find the topic isn’t so great, you’re expected to get up and move to a different table (cultural baggage can often preempt this from actualising). After a prescribed amount of time, everyone gets up and tries a new table or the session ends. Sounds great, but in my experience, it breaks down.
You never know who is going to join the table you go to. They could be true peers with a similar level of knowledge or people quite inexperienced who join for interest’s sake, just to get information. The depth and quality of discussion is greatly affected. If everyone does share similar experience, the first bit tends to be spent comparing your teaching situations (e.g. logistics of the program, types of courses, student body, etc). This is necessary discussion, but doing this over and over gets tedious. Beyond this chit-chat, there can be too many cooks at the group, keeping discussion rather surface-level. Four seems to be the max for quality. Otherwise, meatier discussion can be had over beer in a pub with a colleague. In both situations, the discussion can feel largely like a interview with people you hardly know.I rarely come away with anything new or any particular take-away to share.
Interaction for interaction’s sake isn’t necessary. When I sit down in a session and the presenter exclaims that everyone is going to work together on activities after hearing about the topic, I cringe just a little as I’m taken back to school projects gone horribly wrong due to an imbalance of prior knowledge or effort invested. Maybe I mistakenly go to sessions where I think attendees will be well versed in the topic, but they aren’t. Maybe I want to hear more about what the presenter thinks, rather than the attendees, considering they’ve been brave enough to lead a session on this topic. Maybe it’s because I’m on committees at school and TESL organisations, or work in a team environment in the course I teach already, where I fill my collaboration quota. Probably a combination of these three.
The participation and experiential learning I do like at a session is individual. I find value in the Q&A with the presenter as questions the audience has while listening to the presentation can be best answered by the leader, not the participants. I love the experiential learning I can do at my own pace and at my own skill level with the tech tools I chose to bring to the session, not slowing down for those that didn’t. This is one reason I love webinars and online conferences: their type of interaction allows you to chat with other participants if the discussion is engaging, participate if you find it useful or multitask without being rude.
Listening to a talk isn’t always passive or ignoring the brilliance of the audience. One downside often heard of presentation-style talks is that the attendees just sit passively listening to the presenter speak. That’s not my case. I like plenaries because I listen to someone I want to hear speak for an hour without much interruption. I like the opportunity to both be a little entertained, but also engaged in the topic that they are the expert about. I like the fact that while I listen to them, questions about some things they say swirl in my head; ideas pop up about how the information they give is relevant to me; I can look something up online that I don’t know or has inspired me, or take notes. All these things I can do in a plenary (or a presentation-style session) without the constant interruption of group work.
So what’s my point? It’s not that interaction is bad. It’s not that all sessions like those above I’ve been to at every conference irritated me. There can be a very valuable and purposeful reason to interaction and great takeaways. However, giving some thought on why you do it, how it’s best executed and whether it’s worth it given your topic is necessary to consider. I’d rather everyone not feel interaction is key because it’s the current thing to be -not boring-.
Otherwise, as I said at the beginning of what hopefully does not border on sounding like a rant (don’t worry–I’m typing this without the least bit of rising blood pressure), the conference organiser in me would like to know what types of sessions you really do prefer to go to.
Please take a moment to rank your favourite (1) to least favourite (6) type of session.
Tagged with: workshops
The Reform Symposium, an annual free e-conference just wrapped up this weekend and as usual, it offered an incredible mishmash of education-related sessions running the gamut of K-12 and higher ed contexts in both content and language learning situations.
I’ve talked about its virtues as a conference before, but made a few observations about how it struck me differently this year.
It’s a testament to the dedication of the connected community
I’d no sooner heard that RSCON4 was in the works than it was planned and executed. Within weeks of announcing it would take place from October 11-13:
- I’d received an invitation to present by email.
- My proposal was approved.
- Keynote speakers had been arranged.
- A billion volunteers availed themselves to its organisation and implementation.
- Promotion was non-stop in many accessible ways (e.g. above trailer video) by almost everyone online I know.
- Another billion Blackboard Collaborate rooms were made available for each session (how, I wonder?).
- The website was continuously kept up-to-date.
- It happened and was over.
As someone who recently decided there wasn’t enough time for me to plan an e-conference (of much smaller scale) with belta for this November, I am in awe RSCON4 pulled it off. This would only be possible by hundreds of organisers, moderators, administrators, speakers and participants volunteering their time to join each other for a common passion: education. We’re an amazing group that gets things done quickly and works together. It’s this amazing, connected group, however, that could be refered to as “the choir”. I sat in on a number of sessions, but not as many as I’d like to have. Some were focussed on classroom activities, others on more meta. In some more geared towards the conference sentiment, the leaders discussed the current state of education as a gloomy time where test scores are the powers-that-be’s focus, where administrative and governmental support for teachers lacks. They talked about how we as teachers need to lead the change towards student-centred approaches, towards supporting each other in our endeavours to reform the system for the benefit of our students. Inspiring messages, really. But I had that recurring thought that eats at me every time I’m at one of these connected conferences:
- Are we feeling inspired because we’re hearing messages we already know? Is our message misdirected towards the wrong people?
- Are we feeling like we’re doing something meaningful for change because so many others are telling us our messages are so spot on?
- Is our inspiration from like-minded educators enough to convince others to change too?
Maybe I’m projecting my viewpoint onto participants who aren’t like me, those participants veiled by the usual suspects at conferences I go to. Maybe they are giving this type of conference a chance for the first time on the suggestion of a colleague, and as a result were inspired to change their practice themselves. I hope so. Either way, the discussion of how to communicate the virtues of reform, both institutionally and pedagogically, to those who can implement the most change, is a valuable one to continue.
This was the most efficient use of resources I’ve ever seen
Normally at an e-conference, you submit your proposal in a traditional way, through online form or email. You wait for acceptance and information about the time slot you’ve been given; you show up when they tell you to. You have your usual technological hiccups just before your session starts and you tell your colleagues who missed out that eventually they’ll be able to watch recordings of your session, but they never do because they forget by the time it’s available. NONE of this was the case for RSCON4; it was crowd-sourcing at its finest.
- Everyone was invited through the wealth of existing connections in our community.
- All session abstracts were entered online by the presenters and immediately became part of the strand organisation of the program.
- Presenters scheduled their own sessions at times they wanted online.
- Moderators were available in every Blackboard room with our slides ready for us.
- A chat box in a general lounge on the website was available to chat in with everyone online about sessions or to ask for help.
- The program schedule was available in EVERY time zone so you didn’t have to fool around with World Time Clock.
- The program schedule included expandable information like the session abstract & presenter bio (see bullet 2), and a direct link to the room where the session would take place. Big plus: NO registration required. I hate the deterrent of registration for online anything.
- Session recordings (as mp3 or mp4 or BBC format) were available almost as immediately as humanly possible.
- It utilised the strength of various social media platforms, like Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Pinterest Boards.
These amazing feats of resources led to only one small criticism:
First, I noticed a couple of session scheduling issues. One, the ration of sessions to participants this year was off at times. At many times, there were 5 great sessions scheduled at the same time. Though I missed a bunch of times, several of the sessions I did attend had fewer than 10 participants, a couple times only 3 or 4 on top of the presenter and moderators. Sure, there are advantages to a small groups, but if it had been my session, I would have had the crushing feeling like I was presenting primarily for the benefit of the recording. Of course, I’m no stranger to organising conferences and know it’s guess work as to how many sessions to schedule based on how many attendees there might be, and perhaps there is a limit to the number of people that Blackboard Collaborate rooms can accommodate, but keynotes had a much higher number, so the limit couldn’t have been too bad. Additionally, because we all (I think) scheduled our sessions ourselves, there was little way to realise that you’d overlap with a particular session you wanted to participate in. This happened with me and Adam Simpson. I wish we had chatted about this beforehand. Lesson learnt.
EDIT: Tara Benwell pointed out to me that you can experience the real recording I mention below by clicking on the BBC version of the recording. So, take the next bit with a grain of salt as the number of recording formats is actually better than ever: Second, the recordings this time around, which may simply be a limitation of the platform, are Youtube-style. Normally in these types of recordings, you experience the session as though you are actually in the session. You see the entire platform with chatbox, slides, and presenter webcam, just like anyone else there. You even see the notifications when someone has entered the room late.You experience the nearly unbearable urge to type along in the chatbox, but you quickly realise you’re simply a fly-on-the-wall of the dynamics of the session and feel that much more motivated to attend the next one live–a frustratingly wonderful type of recording. This time, I notice the recordings are simply a video of the slides and the presenter’s voice, no chat box, no dynamics–a bit like watching an interesting, but online lecture from the past, or attending a GoToWebinar from 2009 (has GoTo improved since then?). I get bored watching this type of post-conference video, but maybe others don’t mind. Others don’t know what they’re missing.
In the end, despite any minor shortcomings, RSCON4 continues to be the model for e-conferences, this year in more ways than one. My observations are one of a repeat participant in online conferences and one who is eventually organising an online conference as well. If it was your first time attending I’m sure none of these things were the remotest of issues for you and that’s the way it should be.
Love & evolution
Two words related to teaching throughout my career
Without one, I dread the class day ahead; I count the minutes until class ends; I like nothing I use in class. One cannot last long without the other.
When one is missing, I choose to change: accept a new challenge, engage in new opportunities to collaborate, teach something different, and teach something differently. Lately, I have been flirting with burnout and need a break, but I also need a plan as the academic year approaches after my break, and have decided to adopt a snazzy new mantra: evolve teaching.
Accept a new challenge
You may have heard of ARC or academic reading circles–it’s been a prominent feature in my life for some time now. I love employing them with my students. I love the improved textual understanding they promote if done well. But honestly, the workshops, webinars, blog posts and video posts I’ve done over the last few years have become a wee bit repetitive. It’s a strange sort of product-promotion without an actual product. I talk about them, giving short examples, but without anything concrete to give beyond a handout and some blog posts to those to help them implement teachers in their classes. Consequently, it’s time to go full-steam ahead this fall putting together an ARC ebook, if all goes well, through the round. It’s the first time I’ve written for this platform and I look forward to the feedback I get to revise it, find a voice that works, and be able to refer those who want to try them out to something other than just a few posts.
Engage in new opportunities to collaborate
An interested colleague, perhaps even more invested in blended learning than me, proposed a collaborative research project involving the movement of ARC online–something I honestly hadn’t given much priority to before. Suddenly, new life is breathed into this project and possibilities abound. It’s the first time I’ll have participated in formal research of this kind. I smell a dissertation topic in there somewhere. Yep, the MA will finish up this year too. Thank God.
Teach something different
It doesn’t have to be completely different, nor even for an entire term. The point is just to get out of my comfort zone i.e. rut. #30GoalsEdu
I had an idea during the summer while I was observing teachers (I manage an 8-week summer ESL program between academic years): many teachers never get the opportunity to observe each other after they complete their initial teacher training practicum. Peer observation is regularly written about, but in my teaching experience, rarely operationalised. Why is this so difficult to do? It’s not; we just get sidetracked by the day-to-day.
I paired teachers up, assigned half the class time to one to teach and half to the other, gave them a few guiding questions to consider while observing, and called it Tag-team Teaching Day. It’s startling the insight into your own teacher presence, lesson organisation & approach, and dynamic with students you can get by seeing what your colleagues do. Afterwards, we all came together as a group afterwards, giving pairs time to discuss their observations, and time as a group to collaborate on class situations they encounter.
I’m inspired now to try this out with my own teaching colleagues, those who teach the same course as me or those who don’t–ideally both.
Teach something differently
The idea of flipping the classroom permeates blogs, Youtube videos and even its own Twitter chat. The basic idea is that the teacher creates a video or podcast of the instructional-side of the class so students can watch it on their own time. Then the traditional homework is done in class. The value is in the time available to thoroughly practice the skills with the teacher present. With reading & writing, there’s always so little time to actually do deep reading or longer writing in class, so I suspect it’s a good fit. I’m going to try it. And I’m going to get my colleagues to try it. We’ll either love it or leave it. But either way, it’s a fresh way to do things for me, my colleagues and likely my students.
In the end, these new endeavours (and many others to come I’m sure) invigorate, inspire and excite me–emotions needed to feel the love again, evolve what I do again and help me grow again.
But first, it’s time for that much-needed break from all things ELT and social media, neither of which I’ve shut off completely for several years. My one-week blackout begins NOW!
Tagged with: #evolveteaching
- November 4th, 2013October 15th, 2013August 26th, 2013August 13th, 2013
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