Reflections on the 2018 IATEFL conference in Brighton, UK
23rd April 2018
By Pete Sharma
Sitting on the train as it pulls out of the station, writing this blog post gives me a chance to reflect back on another amazing, exhilarating and exhausting IATEFL conference. This post describes my three favourite sessions, three conference highlights, and three tips for would-be conference-goers. I hope it will be of interest to those teachers lucky enough to attend as well as those who didn’t.
My three favourite sessions
Gaining a new perspective: the future of VR in Teacher Training and Materials Development by Paul Driver
This was part of the Learning Technology PCE (pre-conference event) with the theme: “What happens when altered reality meets language learning?” The event looked at and Virtual Reality, a technology that creates an immersive, 3D visual environment which is viewed through a headset.
Paul spoke about some of the ways in which taking a 360⁰ video can help teacher trainees benefit from lesson observation. The camera is less intrusive than a line of observers at the back of the room. Trainees view these immersive videos of their lessons and gain insights into what happened by noticing things they may have missed while delivering the live class, and being able to reflect on these. Reliving events through immersion, trainees can gain different and perhaps deeper insights than watching a 2D video of the class filmed from a static point at the back of the classroom. Fascinating.
Paul’s work involves training staff in hospitals in skills such as showing empathy. It was truly amazing to see a video filmed on a 360⁰ camera being used to give people a real sense of what is it like to undergo a CAT scan; or, when training in the area of mental health issues, showing what the process of being sectioned involves. This kind of VR simulation training is increasingly used for certain situations such as training staff in emergency procedures facing a fire, with clear implications for ESP (English for Special Purposes).
There’s some fascinating information on VR projects here: https://twitter.com/Paul_Driver
Advancing learners’ phonological awareness: putting sound in learners’ hands by Adam Scott (St Giles International)
Augmented Reality (AR) is the overlaying of virtual information on real objects or scenes, usually achieved by apps which use the camera on mobile devices. Before the session, we had to download an AR app called HP Reveal. This used to be called Aurasma until recently, which shows how fast things change in the tech world. By holding your mobile phone over a trigger image, a short audio clip (e.g. of a specific phoneme) plays. The students listen to a number of such sounds and do an ordering task.
There are so many reasons why this was such a great session. We know that sounds change in connected speech, and this is great way to pull out a sound from a stretch of fast, spontaneous speech and give students practice in exactly what they have difficulty in – recognizing (say) weak forms or contractions within the speech stream. AR itself is still new and exciting for many. Watching a video of students using their phones to access a specific sound using the AR app showed how motivating this task can be in class.
The trainer used the metaphor of ‘running with scissors’ to describe the session: we are all not very good the first time, but it gets easier. It took us a while to get the hang of the app. It may take us a while to make a short recording on your mobile phone, edit it and import it the audio file into the app, then link it to a so-called ‘trigger’ image, but do it every day for a month and hey, it gets easier. A wonderful blend of tech supporting real pedagogical advances in developing listening skills, echoing ideas by speakers and writers like John Field, Richard Cauldwell and Sheila Thorne. We could all see the use of building a bank of awareness-raising tasks to help students process spontaneous speech and cope with authentic listening.
Session three: Future-proofing your ELT career in the digital age by Nick Robinson (ELTjam)
This session was well-attended for obvious reasons – look at the title! Will we survive as teachers with the rise of automatic translation tools, artificial intelligence, voice-recognition and personalized learning using ‘big data’? One of Nick’s insightful observations is that if the robots are here to stay, and they are already in language classrooms in South Korea and hotels in Japan, then the jobs which will disappear will be the repetitive ones. Drilling is pretty repetitive. So, as a language teacher, get creative!
We’ve had IQ and EQ. Now, Nick suggested we develop our AQ. According to Inc.com, “AQ stands for ‘adversity quotient’, our resilience or our ability to adapt, also known as ‘change ability’ or ‘change literacy’. I tend to agree and would hate to think I teach now the same way as I did ‘back then’. Expect to be teaching in different ways in the future.
Highlight one: Seeing my new book!
My latest book as co-author with Barney Barrett – ‘Best practices for Blended Learning’ – was delivered from the printers the Friday before IATEFL. Just in time! I had never seen it until the exhibition hall opened and I could rush up and grab my copy. As an author, there’s the usual blood sweat and tears. You write a book in the evenings, at the weekends ...it goes through various incarnations and then there’s that ‘magic moment’ which makes it all worthwhile, when you get to hold the finished product. That happened at IATEFL. Thanks to everyone who contributed, from Venezuela to Tunisia.
Highlight two: Giving a presentation
You plan it but what’s the difference between planning and execution. Nothing quite beats the adrenaline moment when you stand up and present. Our execution thankfully matched the planning. Barney and I asked participants in our session which LMS (Learning Management System) they used and collected in the answers. One LMS was vastly more used than other. Can you guess which one? (Answer at the bottom of this post).
Highlight three: Seeing old friends
One special moment was meeting Mark Gregson of the British Council, Venezuela. Mark was so kind to myself and ELT Consultants’ Coralyn Bradshaw and Wendy Arnold (who was there presenting at the Forum on Educational reform) and it was a tremendous pleasure to pop into the room and say ‘hi’. IATEFL is packed with wonderful moments like this.
My tips for getting the most out of IATEFL
Tip one: watch some of the videos as part of your own CPD (continuous professional development)
In an ideal world, all teachers would attend events like this. In reality, there are often financial and geographical obstacles. The great news is that you can attend sessions online. This is a great place to start:
Why not try the video of presentations by Hornby scholars around how technology is improving the quality of education in different countries? Or the event on the effectiveness of remote teaching and the British Council partnership with Plan Ceibal in Uruguay?
Tip two: be prepared to change your mindset
We usually develop a particular view on a particular aspect of teaching. For example, the growth of MOOCs (Massive Open online courses)
“Great! free access to knowledge will change education in developing countries areas”
“Yes but…. hardly anyone finishes a course - the drop-out rate is astronomical”
One great thing about the conference is that you meet people with different views. It’s great to be challenged; it encourages us to be critical thinkers. Conferences challenge you and actually help you develop.
Tip three: network
When I first went to IATEFL I simply went to sessions. I went to sessions throughout the lunchtime, into the evening, I went to everything possible. Now, I select ruthlessly, go to half the number of sessions and spend the rest of the time networking. Teachers I have met in Egypt, Bangladesh, Peru, wherever I’ve been, are often attending. Meeting them again means we can discuss fond memories and create new ones. Sometimes it’s best to slow down on the input and relax in the moment with friends and colleagues. To network.
I’m pleased to say that my IATEFL 2018 was tech-heavy, stimulating and enriching and oh yes, enjoyable.
[The answer to which is the most used LMS? It’s Moodle, of course.]