Well, we all had a great time in Brighton at Iatefl and even if you didn’t get the chance to go you know that a lot of it is available in videos online so you still have the chance… But actually, after a conference, I always seem to suffer from an adrenalin dip, or… post conference blues. I supppose this is normal since you have to gear up to the sometimes daunting task of giving a presentation (if you are a speaker) and you take in a lot of information in a short time as well as, yes, well, as well as all the rest. Brighton, for instance was a wealth of what I can only call “life bytes” moments you experience as you walk round and see all kinds of things: a celebration of diversity, people doing yoga on the beach, a honky tonk piano in a pub or well, the list goes on and on. A conference, in short is a blend of professional development, networking and holiday: a heady mix. No wonder I look forward to it so much every year.
Sometimes people ask: why do you go to these conferences? After all, it takes quite a lot of organisation, lessons to reschedule, the home to organise during your absence, and they are not inexpensive either.
Why go to a Conference like Iatefl?
There are four main reasons, I think, why I go to conferences:
You can learn so much from professionals in your field, and of course the TEFL superstars are there too. I always come home with a lot of new ideas, and some of the things I’ve been mulling over tend to crystalise (no pun intended) at these events. It is also an excellent place for finding out about new tools and books. It is hard in fact not to find something new, and a stroll round the exhibition area gives you the opportunity to take part in all kinds of fun activities like quizes etc. So, there’s really something for everyone.
2) Sharing your ideas and networking:
You can share your ideas, by speaking, doing a poster presentation or taking part in the Interactive Learning Fair… and not only by being a speaker yourself. There are debates like the ELTJournal Debate, or syposiums and workshops, which often provide some scope for discussion. You can talk with others by asking questions, on forums, or simply talking to people over coffee or at the parties etc.
I think it would be hypocritical to say that this one is not important too. The more you speak, share your ideas and network the more visible you yourself are too. This may not be the most altruistic of aims, but if people know who you are it can lead to all kinds of things professionally, and this is essential for all of us.
As I said before, it is a mix of professional development and holiday and there is definitely a holiday feeling in the air. There are so many entertaining activities arranged by Iatefl such as the Pecha Kucha evening which has become a tradition over the past few years, where people give fun or thought provoking Powerpoint Presentations lasting 3 minutes or so where each speaker has to speak about each slide for 10 seconds and has no control over when the slide moves on…(This will probably soon be available on YouTube but if you want a taste of one here is Jamie Keddie from last year’s Pecha Kucha in Harrogate:
Simply being in Brighton, in fact was great fun in itself!
What did I bring home with me this time?
Deeper swimming rather than shallow surfing
When the conference is over, though, and I’m back home again it always takes me some time to elaborate it all but I need to focus on what I’ve borught back home with me. This year there were tow main areas. At such a big conference I find it helpful to choose carefully what I’m going to attend. Obviously you can’t see and do everything that you’d like to so I choose one or two areas I’m interested in. This year it was testing and technology. What I noticed, and a few others remarked on this as well, when it came to technology was that there was a lot of discussion of the effects of using technology (and not only in the classroom). I had been reading an article about The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr, on my way to the conference; a book in which the well known writer and blogger talks about the way we use the Internet may well be rewiring our brains, but I was quite surprised to hear this book mentioned time and time again at the conference. The EFLJournal Debate, in fact, also reflected this as we debated how useful Twitter is in the classroom and outside of it as well. The fear is that the way we tap into information these days hopping from one link to another without taking time to stop and think may well be changing the way our brains work. This is provocative stuff and caused a lot of reactions, as you can imagine. My own stand on this is, as it was previously, that use of the Internet is something that needs to be monitored. As Gavin Dudeney pointed out in the Cardiff Iatefl (2009) today’s young learners may well be tech comfy but that does not mean that they are tech savvy. Our role is possibly to teach them how to process information in a meaningful way… but we all probably need to sit back and think about how we are using these tools ourselves. It is all too easy to go online with the idea of looking for something specific, as Jim Scrivener pointed out when describing how he researched Brighton before the conference, and to end up a million miles away from our point of departure if we can even remember what it was we were searching for. I am definitely in favour of technology, as you know, but I am in favour of a conscientious use of any technology whether it is a pen or an ipod.
Having said that, however, the other discovery I made was thanks to Russell Stannard, who always has such clear, simple, user friendly videos on his site, and who introduced us to Storybird, a site where there is the most gorgeous artwork that artists have posted for use as illustrations in books. So, you can unleash your creativity spurred on to do so by these lovely images, and then motivate your learners to do so as well. So, if you’d like to check it out, here is a little offering I whipped up on this site when I got back: