IATEFL 2013 Preview: No Flippin’ Idea

April 3rd, 2013

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.

No Comments

Mercedes Viola – webinar recording

July 5th, 2012

Yesterday during our English360 Community Webinar presented by Mercedes Viola we discussed designing effective learning experiences. Mercedes reminded us of the importance of scenario-based tasks and the need for real-world interaction and exchanges.

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

Thanks for the great turn out – a true global gathering –  it was great to see and chat with you all. Many thanks again to Mercedes and 4D content  for sharing course design experience and ideas with us.
Our next Community Webinar will be at the beginning of September. We’ll post more details on this blog and Community forum.

Next Open tour is scheduled for 10th July 2012 from 16.00 to 17.00 and our next Open training is on 11th July 2012 from 13.00 to 14.00 CET

To register, view full schedule from Upcoming events or from our WebEx schedule.

1 Comment

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!

1 Comment

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.


Back from BESIG 2010

November 25th, 2010

This is my first blog post for English 360 since I joined the team in the summer, but I plan to blog pretty regularly from now on.

Last weekend I attended the excellent BESIG conference in Bielefeld, Germany. BESIG, of course, being the Business English Special Interest Group of IATEFL. It’s always a great conference – my favourite of the year – and this year was no exception. The best thing about it, and this goes for all conferences, I suppose, is the networking. I’ve never been a great one for ‘rubbing elbows’ and mingling, but the nice thing about BESIG is that it’s so easy to make friends there. But in fact most of my BESIG friends are people I’ve met through discussion forums, blogging and social networking. (I could add tweeting, but I’m possibly the world’s least active tweeter … which I hope to rectify one day soon).

If you want to get involved (and meet some great people) I strongly recommend BESIG’s Yahoo group, which is always lively and useful. (You don’t need to be a member of BESIG to join, but you’ll need to set up a Yahoo! account, which takes minutes). BESIG also has a group on LinkedIn, which is a great way of building contacts. Finally, there’s also a BESIG Ning group, which is another way to get to know people. None of these will cost you any money – always an important incentive for me.

Anyway, I arrived in Hannover airport on Friday evening and was delighted to find I was sharing a car to Bielefeld with Mark Powell, the plenary speaker at the conference and one of my ELT heroes. I’ve just written the teacher’s notes for his latest book, Dynamic Presentations, so I felt a bit like royalty at the conference (not that anybody else cares about a lowly teacher’s book writer!)

We arrived at the conference just as the opening ceremony was finishing, so we missed the amazing news that English 360 had won the David Riley Award for Innovation in Business English and ELT. But the room was still buzzing from the news, and my English 360 colleagues were still grinning and a bit shell-shocked, I think.

The meal and networking event on Friday evening was excellent, and a great chance to catch up with old friends, meet some new ones, and even do a bit of business. If only there were such an event on the Saturday evening too – for me, this is what the BESIG conference is all about, but there just wasn’t enough time to chat to everyone I wanted to see.

Saturday morning started with an explosion of energy and good ideas from Mark Powell, who was talking about Lean Language: Streamlining Business English. In his new book, he mentions the importance of steak and sizzlein a presentation. Steak is the meaty part, the stuff that you learn and take away from a presentation. The sizzle is the excitement, the energy, the showmanship of a presentation. Think of the experience of a barbecue, where the smell and sound of the sizzling food is just as important as the food itself. A presentation that’s all steak will be boring. A presentation that’s all sizzle will be fun but ultimately not very satisfying. Needless to say, Mark’s session had plenty of both. The audience was roaring with laughter almost all the time, but there was also plenty of meat to get your teeth into (with aplologies to vegetarian readers). I strongly recommend watching Mark’s plenary here – the video’s not available at the time of writing, but I’m assured it’s coming very soon.

The rest of my day was pretty much mapped out for me – I attended the sessions I had a personal connection with. First I went to Mark’s second session , on presentation skills, which was every bit as brilliant as the first session. I also attended Nick Robinson and Mark Ibbottson’s session “From Marketing to Engineering: effective ESP teaching“, which was excellent. Nick and Mark have both written books for my series, Cambridge English for … (see image below), and they showed how to approach the same topic, high-performance electric cars, from two completely different perspectives, Marketing and Engineering, and how this illustrates some important principles in ESP course design – a particular interest of mine.

Cambrideg English for ...

Afterwards, I went to Cleve Miller’s session on Performance-based Business English: Boosting ROI for both students and HR. This was also very thought-provoking: by focusing on particular performance events (such as an upcoming presentation or business trip), we can make our teaching much more effective. I won’t go into detail here – that’s something I’ll leave for Cleve to expand on in this blog.

My final session of the day was Ros Wright’s session on Nursing English: The Ultimate ESP challenge. (Ros is one of the authors of Good Practice, an excellent medical English course which is available on English 360). This is a field I’ve done a lot of work in recently (as editor and presenter, not, you’ll be pleased to hear, as an actual nurse). The topic was very similar to the things I was talking about at last year’s BESIG conference: the huge challenges facing nurses with low-level English in extreme situations. Ros focused on communication skills such as active listening and use of lay language, which can make all the difference in the work of a nurse. It seems that nursing is every bit as much about communication as a therapeutic skill as it is about medicine.

That was all I managed on the first day. My head was very much full as I tried to find my way back to the hotel. (Despite having a map in my pocket, I still managed to get hopelessly lost). In the evening, we had a nice get-together with the Cambridge University Press team and the English 360 team. It was nice for me to be in both camps: I was there as a Cambridge author, but it was also a good opportunity for me to get to know many of my English 360 colleagues, who I’d only ever met on Skype before. The global village we’re all becoming part of is wonderful, but there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face.

The next day, Sunday, wasn’t very productive for me: I had my presentation in the last slot, 12.05, which meant I spent the whole morning preparing, practising, photocopying and generally getting stressed. I did manage to have some good conversations in the book exhibition, but I’m afraid I didn’t make it to any sessions.

My session seemed to go well. I was talking about Open-Source ESP, i.e. focusing on issues connected with sourcing authentic materials for ESP courses. It was a workshop, so I was delighted that the audience really got into the swing of things and offered plenty of good ideas of their own. I’ll have to write up my presentation in this blog in the coming weeks, so I won’t go into any detail now. But I will show a photo that Valentina took of me in full flow, talking about my diagramming technique for teaching contract-writing skills to lawyers.


Anyway, I’ll leave it there. It was a great conference, in terms of both professional development and networking (or rather, meeting up with friends). I’m really looking forward to next year’s event … in Dubrovnik, Croatia.


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!


    Excellent perspective on the future of “books”

    April 22nd, 2009

    This made me think about the “Future of Coursebooks” thread on the IATEFL Cardiff forums. Steven Johnson outlines where he sees e-book technology taking us, and how it will change some of our most basic ideas about reading and reading behaviors. I think his analysis shows clearly the limits of the “one content – many media” re-purposing, where an ELT publisher takes print content, or CD-ROM content, and puts it on the web: while it’s often OK, the content wasn’t developed to take advantage of the social and collaborative nature of the web. Thus, opportunity lost; it’s like turning off the picture on the TV and using it as a radio.

    Anyway, Johnson outlines where ebook technology will take us. In bullets:

    1) Reading will change from solitary to social:

    As you read, you will know that at any given moment, a conversation is available about the paragraph or even sentence you are reading. Nobody will read alone anymore. Reading books will go from being a fundamentally private activity — a direct exchange between author and reader — to a community event, with every isolated paragraph the launching pad for a conversation with strangers around the world.

    2) Book-length content will become granular:

    Readers will have the option to purchase a chapter for 99 cents, the same way they now buy an individual song on iTunes. The marketplace will start to reward modular books that can be intelligibly split into standalone chapters. This fragmentation sounds unnerving — yet another blow to the deep-focus linearity of the print-book tradition.

    3) Google PageRank will fuel sales:

    Writers and publishers will begin to think about how individual pages or chapters might rank in Google’s results, crafting sections explicitly in the hopes that they will draw in that steady stream of search visitors.

    Individual paragraphs will be accompanied by descriptive tags to orient potential searchers; chapter titles will be tested to determine how well they rank. Just as Web sites try to adjust their content to move as high as possible on the Google search results, so will authors and publishers try to adjust their books to move up the list.

    Fascinating stuff. The “social” and “granular” themes are what English360 is all about, and I think that this will bring us a step closer to the goal of radically personalized learning learning content.


    Great resource for BE speaking skills

    October 20th, 2006

    Via Soulsoup, a super useful (and free) .pdf on “anecdote circles” by the Australian firm Anecdote. I’ve just skimmed it but it looks like a very nice business English resource for speaking skills tasks for groups. I’ll definitely try these protocols out over a couple of classes and see how the techniques can be tweaked for a language learning focus.

    No Comments

    New-ish ESL blog

    April 28th, 2006

    Just in case you haven’t subscribed yet, Teacher Dude’s Grill and BBQ is a great addition to any language teacher’s blogroll. What I really like is that he mostly posts lesson plans. If more of us did that it’d help keep the edutech blogosphere’s feet on the ground (and regarding technology intoxication, I’m as much a culprit as anyone). For the life of me I can’t remember who to credit for the original link – maybe EFL Geek.

    No Comments

    Sex and language learning

    September 8th, 2005

    There! Got your attention didn’t I? That’s because after millions of years of natural selection our brains are hardwired to react immediately to a chance to reproduce and pass on our DNA. Studies show that when thinking about sex our brains explode in a frenzy of neurotransmitters.

    What does this have to do with language teaching? The always brilliant Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users explains in this post (her example is teaching IT systems):

    So instead of, “… then the enterprise component will stay synchronized with the underlying persistent store…” I might say, “if you don’t do it this way, you could be a victim of the dreaded Lost Update problem and… that means you could lose the entire record of Suzy’s last Victoria’s Secret purchase.” Then I let them make the one final leap to, “the boss screams at me, it shows up on my performance eval, I don’t get that raise, and that means… less sex.” (And yes, there’s a reason I said “Victoria’s Secret” and not “lose the entire record of Bill’s Office Supplies purchase…”. It’s almost biologically impossible to not have at least some tiny chemical reaction to the phrase “Victoria’s Secret” that simply doesn’t happen when you’re talking about pencils and staplers. And remember, it’s that chemical reaction that leads to attention and memory. It’s that chemical reaction that tells the brain that this is important! Pay attention and record!

    If we all acknowledge that we need to make our classes relevant and meaningful to adult learners, what better way than by acknowledging something so essentially human? We need some neural re-wiring for second language acquisition, and neural activity can spark that. AJ Hoge’s recent post at Effortless Language Acquisition (again, a must read for language teachers) writes

    If “content is king”… if “fascinating topics” are crucial…why are we still reading boring articles in class? I imagine that thought is going through every one of my students’ minds who reads this blog.

    I’ve thought about that question alot and I can’t think of a reasonable answer other than, “I was afraid to go all the way with this idea”. But that fear is evaporating and I realize I’ve got to do more than write or yammer about these ideas.

    Another problem is that it’s not necessarily easy for me to know what fascinates most Thai University girls aged 18-22 (the bulk of my students). It has taken me some time to figure this out.

    My conclusion is that the number one topic of fascination is relationships & dating. Romance, heartbreak, the differences between girls and boys, dating challenges, love, etc. seem to fascinate most of my students. Whenever I ask a class what TV show they’d like to watch in class, “Sex and The City” is always the big vote winner. Romance movies are equally popular.

    OK, time to go spice up the content of my “English for Accounting” course.

    No Comments