My IATEFL session slides, and general conference impressions

April 22nd, 2013
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Here are the slides of the my IATEFL session, and thanks to everyone who emailed me asking for them.

I thought the session went well, although if I do this talk again I’ll switch up the organization a bit, in order to match the case studies to the framework. This would give the audience a real-life example for every step in the framework, instead of leaving the all the examples to the end. And of course I had to rush the end, because, 30 minutes, come on!  Sessions that short are approaching TED Talk length and in my opinion a professional conference is more about in-depth professional development, not the slick and shiny “ideas worth spreading” TED format that is compelling yet often lacking depth.

I spent most of the conference at the English360 stand, which meant I couldn’t see many sessions – frustrating. But the level of interest in open platforms in general, and English360 in particular, was intense. So our time at the stand was spent in energetic discussion about blended learning with our colleagues and customers. Usually you can learn as much doing that as you can going to sessions, if you really listen.

Thoughts on IATEFL Liverpool:

+ It was great to see the interest in the “flipped classroom” – many sessions on that theme. Valentina’s session was packed, and the room held 300. I have some lingering concern about the term though.  I still don’t see the difference between “flipped classroom” and a well-designed, integrated blended language learning course. “Flipped” seems the buzzword for what we’ve been saying all along…input, heads down tasks, and drilling usually take place in the online component, and collaborative, communicative stuff F2F. Furthermore, we really need to differentiate between the aims and approach of the flipped classroom in non-ELT courses (where it originated) and ELT contexts. They are very different beasts. Paul Braddock in his excellent session in the LTSIG pre-conference event did in fact point this out, although he differentiated things primarily through a constructivism lense, whereas I think most of the difference is in the domain itself…acquiring a language is different from learning, say, history, so what you are flipping, and why, will change as well.

+ I fully understad what Pearson is doing with the “all-iPad, zero print books” tactic at their stand, and I applaud them. But Pearson didn’t execute on the concept well at all, and I think the message was lost on the audience there.

+ Panic among the publishers!  There is so much re-organization and job cutting going on among the larger publishers that their staff is feeling immense stress. We had a lot of job inquiries at our stand from recently downsized senior staff – very qualified folks. I encouraged them all to go freelance of course, and to use an open platform (e.g. English360) to deliver products and services.

Here are the slides (you can download them from Slideshare):

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IATEFL 2103 Preview: Growing your ELT career with technology

April 5th, 2013
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Like many of you I’m sure, I can’t wait for next week’s IATEFL 2013 conference!

It’s great to see everyone of course, but this year I’m also very much looking forward to delivering my session, because it’s something I feel very strongly about: career development in ELT.

I feel strongly about this topic because I see so many teachers who would like to branch out within ELT into new roles, who have the talent and energy to do so, but aren’t sure exactly how. The result is that the ELT profession as a whole loses out on a tremendous amount of talent and innovation at exactly the moment when, as a profession, we need it most.

Liverpool Online

The great thing is that it’s never been easier for teachers to move into new roles such as materials design, consulting,research, school ownership, authoring and self-publishing. Why? Because the technology that is available to us today opens up opportunities that just were not there 10 years ago.

So my talk is about how to do this. We’ll look at a practical, 6-step framework that you can use for career development in ELT and reach your personal, professional and financial goals. Here’s an overvew:

  1. + The ethos of the new web and what it means for your career
  2. + The essential skill set of our technology environment, and how to use it
  3. + Defining the best career direction
  4. + Building your “platform” as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur
  5. + The essential technology tool kit
  6. + Building your community

We’ll also look at case studies of teachers who have successfully moved into new roles, and see what worked (and what didn’t).

So please consider coming:  Thursday 14:00 (session 3.3, hall 4b).

 

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IATEFL 2013 Preview: No Flippin’ Idea

April 3rd, 2013
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What is flipped teaching? What is blended learning? What do learners do in class? What do they do at home?

These are some of the questions that, in my role as Learning Manager for English360,  I discuss with educators and the English360 team on a daily basis. My presentation at 2013 IATEFL Liverpool on Thursday 11th at 17.05 will share suggestions on creating individualised learning opportunities and shed light further light on the benefits of hybrid courses.

Liverpool Online

Increasingly, English language teachers are making their own content and their learners’ projects available outside the classroom. Not all learning and teaching is taking place at the same time, in the same place in a “classroom”. Teachers and learners are using web-based tools to share and connect during face-to-face lessons or after class, to expand horizons and to extend learning.  Whether using freely available informal web-tools or a dedicated LMS, together teachers and learners are turning traditional classroom roles, activities, coursebooks, and educational programmes upside down.

My “No Flippin’ Idea” session will showcase examples and briefly explore bottom-up co-created lesson ideas,  activities and jointly developed (non-linear) courses that are personalised and relevant to each specific learner.

I will highlight how the real “flip” in course design and delivery isn’t about new tools. I’ll show how it isn’t just about sharing a new video to watch before a face-to-face session or simply doing homework on a screen. Profitable, successful flips or blends depend on offering opportunities for discovery, co-operation, collective effort and interaction. It’s all about working together to develop knowledge, new levels of engagement and responsibility.

Cristian, Gaia and Giovanni - My third year English Language students at the Orientale University of Naples

Do you agree that making it flip not flop means valuing the humans at the centre of the educational process? How are you doing that? What are the challenges you have faced?

Please feel free to post your experiences as a reply here. Even better, come along to the talk and our stand (#50) to discuss in more depth.

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IATEFL 2013 Preview: Two approaches to ESP course design

April 1st, 2013
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This time next week, I’ll be on my way to Liverpool for the 2013 IATEFL conference. I’m really looking forward to it, not least because it’ll be a chance to meet up face-to-face with so many friends and colleagues from around the world.

liverpool Online

My own presentation, Two approaches to ESP course design is on Wednesday 10th at 16.25, as part of the ESP special interest group day.

ESP course design is one of my favourite topics – I could talk about it all day, but I’ll have to squeeze my ideas into half an hour. The talk is based on my experiences over three parts of my career: Firstly, when I was a teacher creating ESP courses for my own learners; then as Series Editor for the ‘Cambridge English for …’ series; and now as Editorial Director at English360.

In the first phase, I had my own way of designing courses, which I then refined and formalised while working on my books for Cambridge. It was very much a needs-based approach, with a strong focus on practical skills, functional language, situational dialogues and role-plays. I call this approach ‘English for‘, because learners are learning English in order to be able to do something specific.

I still believe this is a really powerful way of designing ESP courses, but in my time at English360 I’ve come to appreciate that it’s not the only way, or even the best way for all teaching situations. Very often, especially in academic contexts, learners need to raise their general level of English, say from A2 to B2. A pure ‘English for …‘ approach is great for practical skills, but isn’t ideal as a level-raiser. So a lot of good ESP teaching involves teaching English (and raising levels) in the context of a given ESP field. So I call this approach English through‘.

My presentation will explore how our choice of approach fundamentally affects everything we do in an ESP course, from the needs analysis, through the syllabus design and materials development, down to the actual teaching and assessment. Of course, many ESP courses include elements of both approaches, but I think it’s vital for teachers and course designers to balance them in an informed way, and to be aware that there are other ways of doing things.

Watch this British Council E-merging Forum interview (Russia Feb 2013) of me briefly describing the two approaches.

Anyway, I hope to see you at the presentation. I’ll also be at the English360 stand every day during the conference, so please come along and say hi.

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What’s in your blended learning toolkit?

March 18th, 2012
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“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!”. Technology-supported learning activities need to be driven by the understanding of the unique opportunities the tools provide. My IATEFL workshop will illustrate how the self-authoring tools on English360 can personalise and humanise course design. The workshop will share ways promoting reflection, increasing interaction and offering unique relevant self-paced learning paths. I’ll post ideas on our blog later this week.

If you can’t attend the event in Glasgow, join us online here:
Glasgow Online

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Virtual Meeting recording and slides

February 29th, 2012
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Yesterday during our English360 Community Webinar presented by Mike Hogan we discussed virtual meeting software and enjoyed some tips and tricks shared by Mike.

Here are his slides

View more PowerPoint from Mike Hogan

Here is the link to the WebEx recording for those who were unable to attend or who would like to review the session.

Thanks everyone for coming, it was great to see you all there. Special thanks to Mike for sharing his knowledge and experience with us.
Our next Community Webinar will be at the end of March. We’ll post more details on this blog and Community forum.

Our next Open Tour will be Tuesday 6 March 10.00 – 11.00 Central European time . The Open tour is a weekly virtual walkthrough for newcomers or all educators interested in finding out more about English360..

We will be holding Open Training sessions for all existing English360 school administrators and / or teachers on

  • Friday 2nd March 11.00-12.00 Central European time
  • Thursday 8 March 9.00 – 10.00 Central European time

Send an email to  ”teacher support at english 360 dot com”  to register or get more details.

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The Unplugged Conference, Barcelona

May 24th, 2011
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“Were you there for the first one?” people may well ask in years to come, when the Unplugged Conference has become a regular feature on the ELT conference scene, perhaps even the go-to event of the calendar.

Even before I’d touched down in the city where I trained as a teacher and spent the early years of my career, I had a sense that we might be in for something special. Organised by the IATEFL Teacher Development Special Interest Group (TDSIG) and sponsored and hosted by OxfordTEFL, we would start by observing a lesson using real learners of English from the local community, led by Scott Thornbury and Luke Meddings, authors of the award-winning Teaching Unplugged. It would be a rare chance to see Scott and Luke put their theory into practice. We’d then have the chance to discuss the class with Scott, Luke and the learners themselves before an afternoon of small-group discussion organised around the principles of Open Space Technology. For those unfamiliar with Open Space (I admit that I was), it is an approach to organising events and meetings governed by four guiding principles and one law. The principles are:

1. Whoever comes is [sic] the right people.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time.

3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.

4. When it’s over, it’s over.

And the “Law of Two Feet” states: “If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else.”

(For more on Open Space, get over to Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT for a great post.)

During my CELTA course, Scott came in to do a session on what he was then calling Dogme (Teaching Unplugged seems to be the preferred term now, but I’ve used them interchangeably in this blog post). The session stuck with me for two reasons: firstly because of a seemingly far-fetched anecdote that Scott told at the start of the session (that I’ve never forgotten but also never completely believed) about a teacher in Papua New Guinea who was forced to embrace materials-free teaching when the pack horse carrying all of the text books to the remote village where he was working fell into a ravine (or was it a river? Scott, please feel free to correct the details in my summary there; it’s been a long time since I heard the story!). To my chagrin (I should be more trusting), I’ve since learnt that the story is completely true. Secondly, I used the activity that Scott showed us in that session with many classes afterwards (it was based entirely around the contents of your learners’ pockets, and it never failed).

Looking back on it now, only two weeks into my teacher training and suffering from the input overload, lack of sleep, and adrenaline highs-and-lows of the CELTA, I think I made a critical mistake in my understanding of Dogme, a mistake that perhaps some of us continue to make: that it is all about what the teacher shouldn’t be doing. I came out of Scott’s CELTA session thinking that Dogme was basically just about not using coursebooks in your teaching. And I’ve since heard criticism leveled at unplugged teaching for the (mistaken) belief that it prohibits the use of technology as part of the learning process. But the Teaching Unplugged “guidelines” (for want of a better word) are not a list of what you shouldn’t be doing as a teacher. Rather, they are a set of useful principles based on the belief that the learner should be at the centre of what happens in the classroom: that lessons should be conversation-driven; that teaching should be “materials-light” (not, you’ll notice, “materials-free”); that lessons should focus on emergent language; and, as Luke put it on the day, that we should draw on “learners’ lives and learners’ language”.

When I later became a publisher, I followed the growing popularity of the Teaching Unplugged movement with interest (a lot of publishers do …). You might assume that ELT publishers consider unplugged teaching a threat to their business, but I didn’t see it like that. For me, the principles behind Dogme were a counterweight to my day job, a way of maintaining a balanced perspective. I could never be completely uncritical of Dogme, and I’m still not. But I couldn’t doubt its importance or deny that a lot of what it stands for appealed to me when I was teaching and still appeals to me now.

None of which is to say that I didn’t feel a *tiny* bit of trepidation about attending this conference. I’ve worked in publishing for longer than I taught. For a time I was in charge of a very well-known and successful adult general English course. I’ve written an ESP course book. My business card reads “Publishing Manager”. How would I be received by the other delegates? Would I be persona non grata? Would anyone else from the publishing industry attend so that we would have strength in numbers?

Of course none of the above turned out to be true (apart from the final point: there was no representation from ELT publishers — a shame, I think). The organisers and delegates welcomed me and showed interest in my perspective. And the more I reflected on it, the more I realised that I would have no qualms talking to a group of unplugged teaching advocates about what I do for a living. Apart from the fact that English360 isn’t a publisher (we’re a tool for teachers, a way for them to use and create learning content), I believe that what we do at English360 is very much aligned with certain elements of the unplugged teaching philosophy, especially in our “bottom-up” rather than “top-down” approach to materials development. At the root of what we do at English360 is the belief that learners and teachers know better than we do what they need most at this particular time, in this particular place, with these particular people. We can’t plan for every context that a teacher will end up in, but we can give them a tool to help them be better prepared for it: a platform for dynamic, flexible, personalised and localised course creation, a way of reinventing (dare I say “unplugging”) the coursebook.

But back to the conference. Scott and Luke did their thing, with the class of 16 learners sitting in a semi-circle, and forty-odd teachers watching attentively. To the students’ credit (and Scott and Luke’s), the large audience didn’t seem to affect the class dynamic. I won’t go into detail here about the class itself and the subsequent discussion and plenary (I’m sure great summaries of both will appear on other blogs), but it was electrifying to have the learners present for the post-class discussion, to hear their thoughts on being taught “unplugged”, to listen to them talking about their experience as learners.

A pause for a quick sandwich and a beer and then it was back to OxfordTEFL for the afternoon sessions. In the spirit of Open Space, it was up to us as delegates to decide what we’d like to spend the rest of the day discussing. We limited ourselves to six questions, each of which we would attempt to answer in a ten-minute presentation at the end of the day. I chose (unsurprisingly) to join a group discussing the question of whether the use of published materials could be compatible with an unplugged approach.

Despite being a small group (Principle 1: “Whoever comes is the right people”), the conversation ran and ran. We all agreed that the use of published materials was not at odds with Teaching Unplugged as such (in fact, it was, for many people, a reality of it): it just required an understanding that in teaching, as in all things, everything must be in moderation, meaning moderation in the use of published materials but also in the application of Dogme principles. When we presented our ideas to the rest of the delegates, we argued for this moderate, “non-dogmatic” approach to Dogme, and for a kind of eclecticism in our choice of materials and approaches. There are good published materials and bad published materials, just as there are good unplugged lessons and bad unplugged lessons. The key for the teacher is to know what will work best in this this context, with these learners.

Despite Principle 4 (“When it’s over, it’s over”), the day was over at exactly the time it was supposed to be, thanks to the organisational skills of Duncan Foord and his team at OxfordTEFL and the TDSIG. There’s an all-too-rare feeling you get as a group when you know that you’ve been part of something special, a kind of collective glow that sadly fades in the subsequent days. It reminded me of my CELTA, in fact. As the post-conference meal turned into post-conference drinks, we said our goodbyes and promised to come back next year and repeat the experience. (As an aside, Lindsay Clandfield made the excellent suggestion of using the “observed-lesson-followed-by-Open-Space-workshops” format as the basis for a “plugged conference” which would examine the use of coursebooks and technology in the same critical way.)

For me this was a benchmark conference, for its format, its content, and its participants. I left feeling energised and keen to deepen my understanding of Dogme, as a teacher, a teacher trainer and (whisper it!) even as a publisher.

Don’t miss it next year!

Some photos of the event courtesy of Graham Stanley.

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IATEFL Brighton BESIG Open forum – prize draw

May 11th, 2011
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English360 are happy to announce that the winner of the BESIG* Open forum raffle is Mercedes Viola, who lives in Uruguay and has been teaching English to all ages for the last 20 years, but whose particular area of expertise is business English teaching.  Having won the BESIG Facilitator Conference Scholarship, Mercedes attended and gave a presentation at the recent 45th Annual International IATEFL Conference & Exhibition which took place in Brighton from 15-19 April 2011.

Mercedes says: “As head of a business English consultancy firm, I work on the design and implementation of Effective Learning Experiences to our clients. I use the word ‘experience’ since this concept moves us from instruction to actions and interactions. I truly believe we need to get off the content bus and start thinking about using, designing and exploiting learning environments full of experiences and interactivity. We need to integrate learning tools that help situate learning and make it more contextual. Collaboration is vital.

Mercedes Viola - IATEFL BESIG prize draw winner

Mercedes Viola - IATEFL BESIG prize draw winner

I’m really thrilled to have won one year’s subscription to the English360 blended learning platform since it offers the possibility of creating tailor-made learning environments for my clients where they can enlarge their learning experience at their own pace together with a network of colleagues. It also offers my organization the possibility of exchanging resources with colleagues from all over the world, a crucial ingredient for our continuous professional growth.

I am really looking forward to starting this experience!”

*BESIG, the Business English Special Interest Group of IATEFL, is a professional body which represents the interests and serves the needs of the international business English teaching community.  Its members are based in more than 65 countries, and are mainly teachers of Business English, both native and non-native speakers of English.  BESIG’s aim is to help its members to improve their expertise in teaching Business English, and to facilitate making connections with fellow professionals around the globe.

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And the winner is….

April 17th, 2011
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Brighton Online
Thanks everyone for coming to the IATEFL workshop and for taking part in the raffle.
The workshop slides can be found here:

The winner of the top-prize (a six-month subscription to English360 for a teacher and their 6 students which  includes all 12 Grammar in Practice and Vocabulary in Practice titles from Cambridge University Press available in digital format on the English360 platform) is Femke Kitslaare.

Second prize goes to Giedre Budienne

Second prize goes to Giedre Budienne

Second prize (six Grammar in Practice titles) went to Giedre Budienne and third prize (the six Vocabulary in Practice titles) was picked up by John Arnold.

If you haven’t picked up your prize yet, please feel free to drop by stand 15 in the exhibition hall.

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Six Technology Things

April 9th, 2011
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Pete Sharma's plenary speech at EAQUALS Prague

Pete Sharma's plenary speech at EAQUALS Prague

Here’s Pete Sharma speaking at the EAQUALS annual conference for school directors yesterday. Pete’s plenary focused on Six Technology Things (with acknowledgement to Lindsay Clanfield!) – six statements, six technologies, six controversies and six practical ideas, including ideas for grammar, vocabulary and language skills. And ways in which learning management systems for language teaching – English360 in particular – were radically changing the way in which we teach and learn. In a show of hands, it was interesting to see that more than a third of the ninety people in the audience felt blended learning was the way to go, over face to face and purely online learning.

Annual Conference Prague 8-9 April 2011

Prague 8-9 April 2011

Yesterday, 8th April 2011, at the his plenary session on school management, George Pickering reinforced the message by saying bluntly that “English360 is fantastic!” His key message to school members present was that the secret of success lay “in customising the learning at low cost”.

An important conference theme  ‘Enhancing Classroom Language Learning: the Challenges for Teachers, Trainers and Managers‘, and many interesting questions being discussed one of which I’d like to copy and share here to get feedback from readers:

“What are the most useful and innovative resources available to learners to continue effective learning outside the classroom during and after their course?”

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