Thursday, 3 April 2014

IATEFL 2014: Day One Report

Okay these are my first day thoughts on IATEFL conference. Please note that I got up very early to come yesterday and while I have made some notes on the day the quality of them deteriorated quite badly as we got towards the close of play. So my reflections are a little more focused at the beginning of the day and somewhat less towards the end.

Random thoughts on arrival well, Harrogate - in the words of a friend of mine who I asked about the place - is ‘near Leeds and damn posh’, very accurate description (especially the bit about being near Leeds).

they really love their circular motif at the centre

The conference centre? Confusing. I like the circular walkways down the centre, reminds me a little bit of Minority Report, sadly the technology hasn't quite caught up to that famous film, as usual being able to provide wireless internet to reasonably large group of people seems impossible for conference organisers. And it’s tricky to find session rooms, the conference map seem to be a design of an extraterrestrial ship from Alien 4, very pretty but not massively helpful in locating anything.

David Graddol on English and Economic Development was a risky choice for an opening plenary presentation but a good one. Graddol discussed his research into the future of English particularly focusing on the economic development and how that affects different countries around the world. Lots of intriguing insights. For me the one that blew my mind was this idea that in a lot of countries employers have little or no use for students at roughly intermediate level of English. They generally want employees to have the most basic English to be able to to conduct most basic service interactions, or they need to have a much higher proficient level of English to do high-level jobs. 

Graddol bottom right, graph centre, he did like his graphs

My first real session was on English for Academic Purposes on Short Courses. Richard Hillman showed a variety of ways to make it less tedious and more engaging. He gave lots of practical classroom tips about how to make things like linking phrases and relative clauses the more interesting to students by getting them to relate them to their own situation and their own lives. To me as an EAP teacher there perhaps wasn't huge amounts here but some of the activities I would definitely take back and try my classroom.

Fun consequences activity from Richard Hillman

Loved the next presentation, which was about Project-Based Learning in the ESL classroom by Aysen Gilroy. She is based at a University in the United Arab Emirates and the idea was give students both the academic, linguistic and digital skills they need to cope at university. they have implemented project-based learning by getting students engage in multistage projects using a variety of tools, for example getting them to create commercials through a short movie on a topic of their choosing. It doesn’t sound massively academic, but these projects were heavily guided and the assessment was clear and there was plenty of support for both students and teachers at each stage of the project. At the end the presenter showed uss one example of a students project, this wonderful advert that the students had created for a product they designed. You can see the potential here and this is something I'm going to take back to my own teaching context because I think this is something we need to be doing with our students. It's not enough to just equip them with language skills, they need to know how to integrate both language, digital and academic skills to make it possible to cope at university.

Details of one of the projects on Aysen's course

I went to see How to Publish High-Quality Apps by Jonathan Bygrave, though this is something of a misnomer as the conclusion at the end was that he didn't manage to publish any high-quality apps! Still, it was an entertaining romp through the procedure and the peaks and troughs and the pitfalls of trying to do this.

I was wilting a bit at this stage but still went along to see Nicky Hockly on Mobile Learning. Not much new I hadn’t seen before but as always she gives lots of practical tips for helping integrate mobile learning into the classroom the particular this idea that mobile learning’s not just about ESL/EFL apps, it's about repurposing generic apps to use them in the classroom for example getting students to use their phone’s camera to take pictures and share with each other to personalise their learning and share personal information about each other.

Last session, went to see Chris Baldwin giving a Whirlwind Tour of Technology, notes are pretty sketchy for this one, only ‘no internet’ (for him), ‘tired’ (for me) ‘good ideas’ (for him, I’m assuming, I rarely have any of those). 

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