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Meeting of the minds

I love all professional development events–a junkie for it, you might call me.  I love it when teachers, instructors, educators, whatever term you are comfortable with calling us, surround each other in support and growth.  The way so many come together to share ideas in individual or groups sessions fills me with an adrenaline high for several days afterwards.  One session, however, I haven’t been fortunate enough to witness or participate in, online or otherwise, is an ultimate meeting of the minds.

Never have we been so close and interactive with each other through our blogs.  It seems almost everyone has one and is willing to chat via comments.  Never before has there been such a volume of interviews online and recorded plenaries.  All this is fantastic, but I envision an even more encompassing event, online or not – one where all the authors and trailblazers attend, one where they are all available at the same time, one where one issue at a time is discussed from various points-of-view–a roundtable discussion where all attendees to get involved directly with those they admire.

Here are a few alternatives to the regular plenary or typical panel discussion that might make for an interesting 90 minutes or so.

5/10 Q&A Panel
Set up: 4-8 participants; attendees submit questions they have for the group ahead of time.  Ones that seem to allow for the wealth of all panelist opinions are selected. Participants are sent the questions shortly thereafter to think about.
F2F: The group of participants sit in this type of configuration (straight lines of tables just don’t work for face time), facing the audience, with some sort of buzzer in front of each.  The MC starts with a question and participants buzz in to give their opinions about it or another participant’s opinion.  The goes on for 5 minutes. At that point, the MC gives audience members a chance to ask follow-up questions to any of the participants for 10 minutes.
Online:  Participants are available through webcam all available at the same time and are given a way to buzz in (depending on the platform). After the MC asks the question, participants write on the shared whiteboard screen in their colour.  The first gives their answer first.  The rest is the same as F2F.

 Round table discussion
Set up:  4-8 participants; a current issue is given to the participants to think about ahead of time.
F2F: The participants sit around a round table in the middle of the space with audience surrounding them. The MC introduces the participants and the issue at hand.  Participants discuss the topic as they please for 90 minutes.  Audience members then ask questions to the participants about their discussion.
Online: No difference, except physicality.

The randomiser discussion table
Set up: Unlimited participants made up of invited guests and people who volunteer.  All participant names are put into a randomiser of some sort (e.g. this one).  Participants are given a couple of current issues to think about.
F2F: There is a big round table in the middle of the space with audience surrounding it.  The MC uses the randomiser to choose the first 4 participants to sit at the table and introduces them as they go.  Once there, the MC selects the first current issue and the participants discuss it (perhaps a light one to start to break the ice). Whenever one of the participants feels like they’ve said all they wish, they push their buzzer and the next participant is randomly chosen, displayed and comes from the audience to  continue the conversation with the remaining three. This continues until all 4 of the original participants buzz out or 20 minutes have passed, whichever comes first. Then the MC selects the next current issue to discuss.
Online: No particular difference, except that when one participant tags out, their mic privileges are given to the new participant.

Now, who do I suggest is among this illustrious group of speakers? Here are my 8.
Scott Thornbury, Lindsay Clandfield, Jeremy Harmer, Gavin Dudeney, Shelly Terrell, Jamie Keddie, Nicky Hockly, Duncan Foord

So, does anyone think this could happen?  Better yet, anyone want to start organising it? 😉

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I really loved the different configurations but especially the ‘tag’ randomiser discussion styled one (I could imagine doing this in class now that I go off on a tangent!). Loved your 8 choices of invited VIPs 🙂

Beverly schuil

Great idea…I would add alistair smith. It’s not just about language but about learning…


Would be difficult to lure Michael Lewis to come. He only goes to opera these days.
Interesting configurations – very original. I’ll propose them to my co-conveners for the teachers’ conference in Tel Aviv in March. Shame we won’t be able to get the suggested line-up of speakers thought…

Naomi Epstein

Hmmm, very intriguing proposals. I think there may even more ways to do this. If I imagine a session with the some of the people you mentioned, I would be really interested to hear how they discuss certain questions in an round table format but free flowing conversation. They would all have known the question/s up for discussion in advance. I wouldn’t set organized limits for people’s turn (there shouldn’t be too many!). one person should be a “mild mannered moderator” to ensure nobody feels they cannot get a word in.
For this kind of talk it would be very interesting and instructive to hear them discussing the issues without having the ability to ask on the spot questions. Questions following the discussion could be answered on the round table accompanying blog (or other format).
Oh – this was fun to think about!

Shelly Terrell

I think this is an excellent idea! I’d totally organize it if it weren’t for the fact I’m already organizing a million things LOL! Happy New Year, Tyson, & the ever so cute Rocco!

Scott Thornbury

Honored to be in such illustrious company, Tyson (although curious that six of your eight live or have lived in Barcelona).

One of the most pleasant (for me) conference arrangements was when I simply had a public conversation with Paul Nation (now there’s someone who should be on everyone’s guest list). This happened at a special event of the MASH group last year in Osaka, Japan. There were no prepared questions, nor was there a ‘script’ as such, but basically I just interviewed Paul, mostly about vocabulary learning, but in a very informal, chatty fashion, as we sat on a stage in easy chairs in front of a Japanese screen.


You should really try to come to IATEFL then you will see/hear all of them in one go. I’ve heard live 6 out of your 8. Some – not naming names – are always a pleasure to listen to. And there is something about Barcelona, more specifically IH in Barcelona as quite a lot of ELT’s great minds started there


How a think tank where we lock them all in a pub or cafe for an afternoon and then ask them to present their ideas? Maybe with just a ‘what can be improved by EFL?’ theme.

ann foreman (@ann_f)

Meeting of the minds – thoughtful proposal from Tyson Seburn via @seburnt #TeachingEnglish

Jeremy Harmer

Thanks for including me in that company, Tyson. And I love the randomizer! Panel discussions can be really exciting (I remember one at TESOL Greece some years ago) or excruciatingly dull (I remember one at….no, perhaps not!). At a small conference in the south of UK once Scott Thornbury and I were set up to argue with each other & we sort of did, but I don’t think we generated much light – well he probably did, but not me!

But you are 100% right that the format & procedure of panel-type discussions really really matters.

And talking of Scott, he points out the Barcelona connection of some of your participants. Mexico too. 2 of us lived and worked there, one of us has 100% Mexico genes!!


Meeting of the minds > Thx to comments from my chosen participants @harmerj & @thornburyscott. Any organisers want in?

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