Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Day 1 of IATEFL 2013 - interviews with key players

In my role as registered IATEFL blogger I am happy to record my thoughts on the first day of events in Liverpool from my desk 6,000 miles away in Binh Duong, Vietnam.

The conference proper doesn't actually get underway until today (April 9th), but yesterday saw several SIG (special interest groups) events, as well as a series of interviews with key players from the conference.  Some of the SIG sessions and all of the interviews were live streamed and my intention was to watch these online as they happened in order to experience as real a sense as I could of being 'at' the conference.  In the event, however, the technology let me down.  

I was hoping to follow the LTSIG (learning technologies) presentations and, after a few technical hitches in Liverpool, this seemed as if it would be perfectly possible.  I could 'see' some familiar faces in the room (@Marisa_C and @ShaunWilden to name but two) and 'chat' to others in the livestream chatbox.  I was enjoying the first presentation on CALL and Learner Autonomy by Huw Jarvis and was looking forward to the next on the flipped classroom when ...... my internet connection dropped out and the reality of living in a developing country hit me full in the face!  After a few short bursts of a very dodgy connection at too slow a speed to watch anything properly, I gave up.  I was surprised at just how disappointed I felt to be prevented from taking any further part in the live events.

This morning, with renewed resolve, I got up early to watch the recordings of yesterday's interviews before I went to work.  Doing so gave me a real sense of the conference ahead and some leads for further reading.

The first interview was with the presenters of IATEFL online who gave an overview of what was to come and advised the audience on how to get involved and keep up with the events in Liverpool.  This was very useful, although, I have to say the IATEFL online website is so clear and easily navigable that participants shouldn't have any difficulty in finding the relevant information for themselves.

Next up was Monika Knapkiewicz, a member of the online team who described her role as moderator of the online communication channels (Twitter, Facebook and forums) as 'the best job I've ever had' despite the fact that she spends most of the week shut in a tiny office!!  She described the buzz she gets from knowing that thousands of teachers around the world are using IATEFL online as part of their CPD, watching live sessions together with their colleagues or reviewing videos of presentations later.

Eric Baber
Outgoing IATEFL president Eric Baber was interviewed next.  He explained how he got the job and what the role involves.  He said that his greatest achievement as president has been to position IATEFL so successfully in online networks and that, contrary to what you might expect, providing stuff for free online seems to have increased membership rather than caused people not to bother joining.  IATEFL now has over 4000 members with 15 SIGS, the newest of these being MAWSIG (materials and writing) which is intended for anyone who's involved in creating materials (i.e. all teachers), not just professional coursebook writers.

Eric's interview was followed by one with the incoming IATEFL president Carol Read.  She has an idea to produce a history of IATEFL from the very first conference which had only 125 people and a flimsy eight-page leaflet to accompany proceedings.

Gavin Dudeney
Gavin Dudeney was next.  He talked about keeping people informed about IATEFL online, the aim being that first time visitors to the conference are better informed than they would otherwise have been.  Despite Gavin's online presence and his advocacy of technology (including the development of the IATEFL app), he said, 'There's nothing quite like having people in the same room drinking coffee together.  Five minutes face-to-face beats an hour online.'  

Gavin also previewed his own presentation which will take place during the last session before the closing plenary on Friday.  He will talk about digital literacies ahead of the publication of his new book written with Nicky Hockley and Mark Pegrum.

The next interview was with Tim Phillips, the British Council's Head of Teacher Development, who talked about the Teaching English website and its benefits for teachers throughout the world.  Through the site, teachers can access a range of free webinars and a wealth of other materials to help with their CPD. He talked about the development of 'a global community for a global profession'.

Deborah Healey from the University of Oregon was interviewed next.  She is visiting IATEFL for the first time as part of an exchange arrangement between IATEFL and TESOL.  She noted more similarities than differences between the two organisations.  She also talked about English language learning through playing computer games.

The penultimate interview of the day was with Kevan Cummins, the man in charge of the British Council's family of learner websites - for kids, for teens and for adults.  He told us that the Learn English Kids site gets over 1 million hits every month and that the new 'Grammar with Gran' feature is particularly popular.  The teen site uses lots of video material and also has a skills section which gives users handy exam tips.  Kevan explained that his main challenge now is to make the content of the sites work on mobile devices and to make them more intuitive for kids to use.  More and more youn learners are using tablets on their own rather than desktops with supervision.

The final interview was with Julian Wing and Martin Heineberg, two of the people responsible for maintaining the IATEFL online website.  Their goal is to provide a great conference experience for teachers who are unable to attend in person.  Online coverage began with the Aberdeen conference in 2007 and attracted a worldwide audience of about 3,500.  This contrasts sharply with last year when over 80,000 teachers took part.  This year promises to be even bigger.  As Julian said, 'This project democratises knowledge.  It gives access to people for whom international travel is impossible.'

I, for one, am grateful for the efforts of all those involved in making IATEFL accessible and am looking forward to following events during the rest of the week - technology permitting, of course!!

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