IATEFL 2103 Preview: Growing your ELT career with technology

April 5th, 2013

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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What’s in your blended learning toolkit?

March 18th, 2012

“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

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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Community webinars in September

August 12th, 2011

Starting in September, you will be able to benefit from our Community webinars.

2nd Sept (16.oo -17.co GMT) English360 – the basics :

  • Browse content
  • Create course
  • Duplicate content
  • Use course with learners

Register for English360 - Community webinars in Webex,   on Eventbrite

13 Sept Sept (14.00 -15.00 GMT) English360  - Online / blended course design

  • basic guidelines
  • adding structure
  • allowing for flexibility
  • ongoing course design issues
  • folders and task patterns

Register for English360  - Course design in Webex,   on Eventbrite

29nd Sept (10.00-11.oo GMT / 12.00 – 13.00 CET) Giving learners feedback at a distance

  • negotiating correction strategies
  • monitoring performance
  • reviewing learner submission
  • giving feedback
  • feedforward strategies

Register for English360 - Giving feedback in Webex,   on Eventbrite

Before you join the meeting, please click here to make sure that you have the appropriate players.

For further information, please contact teachersupport@english360.com

Looking forward to meeting virtually!

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The Unplugged Conference, Barcelona

May 24th, 2011

“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.


And the winner is….

April 17th, 2011

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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Biodiversity in ELT

October 22nd, 2010

The International House 50th anniversary conference on “Biodiversity in ELT” got off to a great start today in Rome, Italy.

“2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity – established by the United Nations to increase worldwide awareness of biodiversity and its importance, and to enage more people in its conservation.

During Margaret Horrigan’s  great presentation on Biodiverse Teaching and her learning activities on the theme of “shoes” (see also her article on If I were in your shoes from the IH Journal) she shared many super ideas on how to promote cultural awareness and sensitivity through respect for what is different among peoples.

The conference presentations will be shared on the IH wikispaces http://ihmanzoni.wikispaces.com/

I have also added mine to slideshare embedded here for your convenience

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News & Updates – managing “noise” online

September 9th, 2010

With the constant stream of information that flows in on a daily basis managing this never-ending overload and carefully selecting what it is that you really want to read or find out about has become an important 21st century skill.  This applies whether you are keeping track of your social media feeds or are a teacher managing multiple courses online.

To help get more out of Twitter and channel the tweets I want to keep track of, I use Hootsuite .  With its powerful dashboard I can view the information I’m interested in more efficiently via tabs and  columns as well as check multiple accounts e.g vale24 or vale 360


Other educators I know are keen users of TweetDeck which is also a “fast and easy way to experience Twitter”.  I also find Netvibes fantastic for collecting my favourite online content and accessing it all in one place from any web browser. I use it to aggregate news feeds, blog feeds, social bookmarks e.g. what my followers on Diigo are saving or talking about, secondary pop mail accounts I have and of course Facebook updates.

When using a web-based platform as an integral part of a teaching/learning programme, the same need arises. How can I be more productive and keep an eye on everything that is going on?

There is a lot to track when you use blended or online solutions for teaching; if you are overseeing or tutoring on multiple courses, you might need to access multiple course forums to post timely replies to learners. You might be receiving learner responses to your private feedback on their tasks or assignments and need to know whether comments have been added to pages that you have set up to increase learner interaction and exchanges. Obviously, going into each course to monitor this activity can be incredibly burdensome and time consuming for the busy educator so we are pleased to announce that we’ve just released a new widget on English360 which allows users to select their preferences for receiving these types of notifications.

For a school owner, that might involve tracking school memberships and new courses being created by school teachers. For teachers working collaboratively, receiving notifications on content that has been added, removed or published on the courses being designed can be extremely helpful in keeping everyone up-to-date on changes.

All users can modify and select their own preferences from their profile area by clicking on the Edit Notifications sub-navigation tab. The “News & Updates” notifications can be received directly on the platform from the Dashboard widget or via email.


Select what suits you best and then enjoy your “News & Updates”. Let us know how you manage your streams of information, it’s interesting to compare notes.

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CC is for Customisable Coursebooks and Creative Commons publishing

May 18th, 2010

Lindsay Clandfield over on Scott Thornbury’s blog in his guest post on C is for coursebook outlines what’s wrong with many coursebooks:

  • They all look the same.
  • They all follow the same syllabus.
  • The grammar is wrong or misleading.
  • Texts serve merely as a pretext to teach discrete language items.
  • Texts and topics are Anglo- or Eurocentric and/or promote a western consumerist ideology.
  • Texts and topics are safe, bland and vapid.
  • Coursebooks are too big.

The 50+ comments that the post has attracted to date have reiterated some of the criticisms being made by many educators around the world.

1.    It’s difficult even for a teacher to identify the aim of coursebook pages
2.    Learning is non-linear, by nature course books are linear.
3.    Language learning is a dynamic, idiosyncratic coursebook aren’t.
4.    Publisher-driven projects often have the wrong focus.
5.    Coursebooks are often artificial and a construct of “some other world”.
6.    Cost are often prohibitive.
7.    Sheer number of different coursebooks can be overwhelming.
8.    Content is very often inappropriate.
9.    Coursebooks can alienate learners from the process of learning English.
10.    Coursebooks often teach a fossilized form of English
11.    They can be overly prescriptive and descriptive (to the point of giving the learners ‘nothing’ to cling to).
12.    They are predicated on a linear and incremental progression through a (fairly arbitrary) sequence of discrete grammar items.
13.    Materials that have been devised for a global market cannot easily accommodate local – and personal – needs and interests.
14.    The whole process is very top down.
15.    Coursebooks are mostly written for teachers (for parents, and head teachers, and ministries and inspectors and exam bodies ) rather than student
16.    There’s a belief that ‘progress’ can easily be measured.
17.    Publishers are bound to produce what is authorised by the ministries.
18.    After 20+ years of market-led material people are tired of it.
19.    Don’t include enough unscripted dialogues featuring non-native speakers
20.    …. and the list goes on…..

    From the  50+ comments so far we can see some of the suggestions or ideas that need to be incorporated to make the ideal coursebook or course material/resources

    • The internet
    • More user-generated content
    • Make it authentic because it is set up such that the student creates the content
    • Adapt and change according to the teacher’s preference
    • Make it customisable
    • Allow teachers /students to add specific local content / their content
    • Integrate with self-publishing elements
    • Educators can work with major publishers rather than against them or outside of them
    • Throw educators’ support behind innovations
    • Push publishers to consider and incorporate more changes
    • Teach unplugged
    • Use the text book as a grounding and supplement it as is relevant to the learning styles and personalities of the learners

    At present the Cambridge University Press material in the system is All Rights Reserved with the setting others may use but not change. I would simply add, real shift is happening now as educators are sharing content too. It’s great to be part of a project that promotes Creative Commons (CC) and seeing authors or course providers selecting “Others may copy and change your work.”.

    English360 creative commons

    This is an important move forward and I hope more authors will come on board prepared to do just that so that the 360° degree perspective can evolve further.

    Material is currently being authored for the platform under the CC licence, that’s evolutionary I find!


    BESIG 2009

    November 25th, 2009

    Attended the BESIG conference in Poznan last weekend, with fellow English360′ers Paul Colbert and Brian Anderson. As always it was great to actually meet with colleagues that had previously been only virtual: met Karenne and Anne face to face finally. Discussed an interesting new project that Cornelia and Paul have cooked up. Met with lots of folks that I only see once a year.

    Vicki Hollett‘s plenary and subsequent session were great. My take away was her discussion on teaching functional language for authenticity when establishing relationships, whether they be business or social relationships. Main point: those nice lists of functional phrases we have in BE coursebooks need an upgrade.

    Another highlight was Jeremy Day‘s session on “Results-focused ESP”.   Jeremy gave us an observation that was new to me. I’m paraphrasing here but he was discussing the question “Who is the most important person in the learning process?” and we were all thinking “the student” (as opposed to teacher-centered, or materials-centered classes of course). Jeremy’s point was that another perspective, especially in ESP, is to see that the most important person isn’t even in the classroom. If we are teaching English for nursing, the most important person is actually the patient, who will be communicating with the nurse (our student). If we are teaching English for students who work in a call center, the most important person is the customer, who will need our student to resolve an issue with a product. This expansion of who we prioritize as stakeholders in the learning process is spot on.