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Can conferences change the way you feel about your work?

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This is a re-post of an article I wrote for the WizIQ Blog on April 2, 2015 (published by Sylvia Guinan). As many of us will be heading to IATEFL Birmingham next week – and those unable to make it, will be attending sessions & interviews online – I thought you may find it interesting. So here it goes 🙂

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Image credit: ELTpics by Dace Praulins

Attending conferences can be a rewarding professional experience in so many ways; networking, professional development, travelling and fun. But can it really change the way we feel about our work, and to what extent?

As a regular conference-goer, presenter and, more recently, organiser, my answer is YES.

Here are my top five reasons:

1) Self-efficacy

Self‐efficacy refers to a person’s belief that he or she is able to accomplish a specific task. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura (1977), it is the mind’s self-regulatory function that tells us when to try and when to stop. If someone doesn’t believe something is possible, they are more likely to give up early or not attempt the task at all. When used in the context of teaching, it refers to teachers’ belief that they are able to affect students’ learning positively.
However, do you agree that this is not a belief all educators hold?

Teachers with low self-efficacy usually cite students’ family problems, lack of resources, adolescence or cultural differences as the reasons why they can only have a marginal effect.

Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right – Henry Ford

Believe it or not – and with no intention to generalise here- I have rarely seen this type of teachers at conferences.

Why?

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Image Credit: TESOL Greece Annual Convention, March 2016

Maybe because people who invest in their professional development have realised that in order to have a positive effect on students’ learning, they first need to improve their own skills and knowledge; maybe because the sessions they have attended or the people they have met, have given them a boost to keep trying.

Let’s face it: our pre‐service education may have been sufficient to get us into the profession, but not for the reality of educating a diverse group of students. And even years of experience may not be enough to address challenges shaped by the rapid changes in cultural norms, technology, economic security and family structures.

 Conferences are essentially knowledge communities where people pool knowledge and inspiration towards a common purpose. They allow teachers to get a good sense of what’s going on in their field and, in my opinion, provide a powerful tool for strengthening their self-efficacy.

2) Networking

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Image credit: Newfrontiers

This is one of the most popular reasons people cite for attending a conference. Social media can offer tremendous opportunities for networking but I don’t think they can substitute in-person communication.  There’s power beyond learning in meeting peers, managers and presenters in person and an incredible amount of sharing can happen. Conferences can also be great for socialising and even making friends. Some of my best friends are people I once met at a conference. Having said that, not all the people we network with can be our friends so a distinction between networking and friendship/ personal and professional, is an important one to make.

3) Opportunities

 Whether you are job-hunting, looking for a collaborator for a class project, publishing a book, or wishing to get involved in a committee, opportunities abound at conferences, especially if you network. Almost every conference-goer I have spoken with has something to share about the great opportunities that arose or the deals that were struck in a conference lounge over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

 Of course, I’m not suggesting that conferences can create opportunities. It takes a lot of hard work, time and commitment for this to happen. But people like doing business with people they know personally and conferences can get the right people, in the right place, at the right time. This means that you may be there when the opportunity arises.

4) Creating Content

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Image credit: Doug Belshaw

Tweeting snippets of sessions, posting photos and most importantly blogging, are great ways to create content. You also help other educators who can’t make it to the event, to follow along.

 A few years ago, people went to conferences, learned lots of things but all the learning was restricted to those attending. With the advent of social media this has changed. Just look around a conference room and you will note people tweeting or ‘facebooking’ using conference hashtags.

 How can this change the way we feel about our work?

 My answer is that it is the reflection and the active involvement that can have a positive impact,  with the added effect of using social media to inspire others. By creating a permanent record of  your conference reflections, you become an active part of the event, you get your name out there and you contribute to the learning of others.

And this is leadership :-)

 If you are not convinced, at least make sure you bring something back to share with your colleagues at work. This may involve putting your notes together in a handout, organising a short seminar on activities you found useful etc. Directors of Studies should also encourage and promote this. Schools can’t afford to send all their teachers to a conference so why not ask those attending to share what they learned? Plus, having the extra responsibility to bring something back will encourage your team to be more engaged and present at the event.

5) And what about presenting?

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#ETZ15 Istanbul

 I would need a whole blog post to cover this so I am not going to go into much detail here other than to say that presenting can also have tremendous impact on the way you feel about your work. You don’t need to be a professional presenter or a teacher trainer to give it a try. I know you may be reluctant and that various questions may cross your mind: Do I have anything worthy to be presented? Do I have the skills to present in front of an audience? What if people don’t like what I say? What if no one comes?

 These doubts are absolutely normal, and we all went through these, but it is my firm belief that practitioners’ ideas are worth sharing. They don’t need to be groundbreaking, innovative or impressive to make an impact. If you have learned something through trial and error, if an activity or method has worked for you, go ahead and submit a proposal. It can be a very rewarding experience and may also affect your students’ perceptions with regard to your work.

Just bear in mind that presenting just for the sake of it can have the opposite effect. Don’t just do it to get yourself out there :-)

And some tips:

Image credit: Digital ELT Ireland 2014

As a regular conference-goer, here’s my top five. What would you add to the list?

  • Post-conference parties are great places to network, socialise and have fun after a long day at the conference but you need to realise that you are not really “off duty”. Potential employers, clients, trainees, or collaborators might observe your behaviour. Be aware of that.
  • Use the conference handbook to pick sessions and plan your day ahead of time. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on interesting presentations. Do not only go to your friends’ or acquaintances’ sessions. While there is nothing wrong with that, are you making the most of your conference experience? Challenge yourself by attending at least one session that you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Pick topics that are relevant to your current or future projects. For example, at this year’s IATEFL I’ve decided to focus on emerging research in EdTech and on practical EAP sessions (English for Academic Purposes). Last year, it was leadership that drew my attention. Make your own decisions and plan ahead.
  • No matter how well you plan ahead, there’s no way to take advantage of everything a conference offers. That’s what social media and recorded sessions are for. If you are having a great conversation, don’t cut it short to go to the next session. If you feel you’ve had too much input from the previous session, just take a break and reflect on it. If you want to get a glimpse of the city, take some hours off. You can’t do it all and that’s OK.
  • Take advantage of the exhibition area. You can find out a lot about new course books, methodology books and other materials, often at very good prices. What’s more, most exhibitors are former EFL teachers so they really look forward to networking with you.
  • Conferences can be really expensive and time-consuming so, unless they are part of your job, there is no way you can attend all of them. Be selective. You may decide that you can only afford one out-of-town event a year or every two years. That’s fine. It is not the quantity but the quality that matters and there are always fantastic local opportunities to benefit from.

What are your views on this? Do you think attending conferences can change the way we feel about our job? What are your tips for making the most of the conference experience?  Sylvia and I look forward to your comments.

References:

Bandura, A (1977). “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change”. Psychological Review 84 (2): 191–215

 

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Digital Citizenship through past and upcoming presentations

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Digital Citizenship has been the main focus of my work over the past few years. I explored it through my MA research thesis and have given talks at various conferences around Europe.  My last talk (“Digital Citizenship & ELT: A match made in heaven” ) took place at Digital ELT 2014, in Dublin; an annual event, organised by IATEFL LTSIG and MEI, and supported by ELT Ireland.

The following interview was originally published on Sylvia Guinan‘s blog after Digital ELT 2014. Sylvia, inspired by the event, revisits collective visions on digital learning and takes a look at predictions and trends on the future of education. Here is the original article featuring Gavin Dudeney, Caroline Moore, John Whipple, John Whipple, Nellie Muller Deutsch, Peter Lahiff, Christine Mullaney and myself. A must read!

And below are my replies to her questions:

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Photo taken by Sylvia Guinan at Digital ELT 2014

What did you talk about at the Digital ELT Ireland conference and how can it influence where learning is going?                        

I talked about Digital Citizenship and suggested ways it can be integrated into an ELT curriculum. Digital Citizenship is an educational approach that involves literacies, skills and competences for effective digital participation. It aims at educating people to make informed decisions about the content they consume, create or share and critically reflect on the impact this may have, both on themselves and others. In my presentation, I suggested that technology integration should not be a tool-oriented approach and I challenged the existing paradigms in technology education that merely invest in technology equipment but take its responsible use for granted. Our students might be particularly confident users of technology but this doesn’t mean that they can use it effectively. If we want them to develop these skills, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply teach them.

Can you describe one major highlight from 2014 that makes a difference to you as an educator and/or has wider significance for ELT in general?

I think that the way we connect as educators is evolving. I’ve always been a proponent of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and on a personal level my own network has been a source of inspiration, support and learning for me. However, at times, I felt that ELT PLNs were becoming ‘mutual admiration societies’ where no criticism or debate could be encouraged or tolerated. Also, lack of netiquette or filter by some, self-promotion or cliques by others, made me wonder whether the whole idea was soon going to decline. Networks are ecosystems; to be sustainable all the elements should be healthy. I am happy to see we are gradually taking PLNs to the next level and becoming more conscious and mature about the way we connect and share.

What are your professional plans for 2015 and are there any important trends in digital learning that we should watch out for in 2015?

I plan to write a book on Digital Citizenship drawing on my thesis and ongoing research. Hopefully, this will start in 2015. As for important trends, I think there will be less focus on ‘cool tools’ and more focus on pedagogically-sound, well-researched ways these can be used. Learning (and teaching) is not about mastering 100 tools, it’s not about bells and whistles; it is about making informed and wise choices. It’s high time we moved beyond the hype and invest in what really matters.

A big thanks to Sylvia for the interview and for giving me permission to re-post it here.

 

logoThis weekend (14/03/2015) I I am giving a keynote at the 2nd Educational Technology Summit in Istanbul. The summit will bring together educators, technology companies, entrepreneurs, managers and other stakeholders who will raise new questions and share best practices “in an age shaped by the widespread use of new technologies in education” (ETZ 2015). My speech – “Digital Citizenship: A Burning Issue in EdTech” – will stress the importance of integrating digital literacies and competences into the curriculum and suggest ways educators can be involved. Big congrats to Işıl Boy, the executive committee, and everyone else involved on organising #ETZ15. We need more events like this one.

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Student Engagement – with or without technology

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On the 30th of August I participated in a panel discussion at the 5th Foreign Language Forum in Athens, Greece. The main theme was “Present, Motivate, Engage”; Lilika Couri talked about Presentation, Luke Prodromou about Motivation and myself about Engagement. In this blog I will go through what was in my presentation both for those who attended and did not have the time to make notes and for those who couldn’t make it but are interested in the topic.

What is Student Engagement?

involved students“To teach is to engage students in learning” (Christensen, 1991).

I think the above quote captures the essence of Student Engagement in learning and suggests that the role of the teacher is not to provide knowledge but to design and facilitate learning opportunities.

However, while there is general agreement that Student Engagement is vital to learning, the definition of the term itself is fairly ambiguous (Parsons & Taylor, 2011). For some, it means compliance and academic achievement while for others, active involvement in and enthusiasm about the learning experience. Below are two definitions that clearly suggest that various factors are at play when students fully engage in learning.

‘Student Engagement has been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class’  (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991).

‘Students who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competences, initiate action when given the opportunity and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks’ (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).

Which one do you agree with? Do you think they complement each other (as the audience of the 5th FL Forum suggested) or that they are quite distinct?

How can we increase student engagement in the language classroom?

Below are some steps that I have found effective. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are more than welcome to contribute your own ideas and experiences:

Use technology (but not for the sake of it)

Learning with iPadsStudents today are quickly bored with texts and lectures because of their immersion in technology and the exciting multimedia tools they use everyday to communicate, learn and entertain themselves. The truth is that technology offers amazing opportunities to engage students in learning; we can create content and share it with the world, we can find information at the click of a button, we can interact with people beyond classroom walls. So, technology is engaging but to contribute to learning we need to make pedagogically sound use of it. Technology is not a magic bullet so don’t use it just because it’s available or cool. If you want to read more about this take a look herePhoto Credit: Michael Coghlan via Compfight

Encourage interaction and collaboration

It’s been said that collaboration is the new competition and I totally agree. Apart from being engaging, teamwork is a 21st century skill that we should help students to develop. So get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from another country. In this way they will have a real purpose to communicate in English. Blogging is a great way to extend communication beyond the boundaries of the classroom because it’s highly interactive; students can write blogs for an extended audience but they also read and comment on other students’ blogs.

Just bear in mind that they will need language and teamwork skills to interact effectively; teach them how to negotiate and debate how to disagree politely. They should welcome diversity and appreciate other people’s opinions no matter how different they are from theirs.

Create an emotionally safe environment

To be engaged in learning, students need to take risks but they are not going to iif they feel emotionally unsafe. To help students,

  • create a class environment  that tolerates mistakes
  • teach students to support each other
  • give the thumbs down to people who laugh at others
  • wait for slower students and don’t just call on the first ones that raise their hand
  • Help them to build their self-efficacy by beginning every lesson with a task that all students can do without your help; then gradually follow up with more challenging ones until you give all students the opportunity to be involved.

Scaffold challenging tasks

façade zebréeSuppose you ask your students to find information about a person (historical, celebrity etc) and then write an imaginary interview with him/her. Although this is a very creative task, your students might be challenged by a number of things that can slow production. To engage them, create intermediate steps by:

  • asking them to brainstorm with a peer who they are going to interview
  • teaching them how to search online for relevant vocabulary
  • devising quality questions
  • role-playing the interview with a peer
  • how to cite their sources and attribute the information they use to the writer.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Olivier Jeannin via Compfight

Encourage Reflection

Reflection is key ingredient to learning and engagement. According to Dewey (1933) reflective learners control their learning “by assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap”.

If we want students to get in the habit of reflection, we should regularly invite them to analyse and make judgments about what they have learned.

Start using the “3-2-1” reflection activity at the end of every lesson by asking students to record three things they learned,  two things they found interesting and a question about what was taught (Hurst, 2013). If this sounds  time-consuming, you can ask them to record their reflections on a learning platform such as a class blog or Edmodo which will allow you and your students to interact with each other beyond lessons.

Support exploration and develop digital literacyEye of the Beholder

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: hjl via Compfight

Learning is all about exploration but your students will need to have research skills to engage in it. The Internet can provide access to outstanding sources of knowledge at the click of a button. The problem nowadays, however, is that while young people are particularly confident users of technology, they often lack the skills to make effective and responsible use of it. So, teach them how to:

  • find information by using keywords effectively
  • evaluate and challenge online content; not everything they read online is accurate or trustworthy 😉
  • synthesise information into their own original argument and avoid plagiarism.

Incorporate movement into your lessons

Movement is a vital part of our daily lives and can revitalize both young learners and adults. To influence your students mood make sure you use one (or more) of the following in every lesson:

  • ask students to write on the board
  • ask them to take a stretch break, that is stand and stretch between parts of the lesson
  • use mingling activities. You might think that students will get overly excited but this is because they are not used to the procedures. If mingling is a regular part of your lesson students then students will perceive it as such.
  • ask students to move to a different part of them room to find a partner and compare notes or answers. Don’t just ask them to work with the person sitting next to them.
  • If students have to answer various task questions, divide the questions in 4 groups and ask students to walk to a different corner to discuss them.

Foster creativity

When we ask student to create something, we help them to develop ownership over their learning and feel that their ideas and originality matter. Foster creativity by

  • using art in the classroom
  • asking them to create videos or podcasts. There are some great tools available.
  • integrating digital storytelling tools to create stories with them.
  • asking them to share what they create with others (preferably online) and get feedback. This is when creativity becomes meaningful.

Use humour

Did I Say Something Funny?A good laugh eases tension and helps students to feel more comfortable and open to learning. Even if you are not a naturally funny person, you can still lighten things up with the following:

  • Spice up tests and assignments with humorous items
  • Have a Joke Friday – ask students to bring in jokes to share with classmates
  • Keep a cartoon file – Have an area where students can display a cartoon every day on a rota basis – If you have a class blog ask them to post it there
  • Ask students to try and build humour into writing assignments. This is a valuable writing skill that will also add fun to your classes  (Elias, 2014).   Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt via Compfight

Incorporate alternative ways of assessment

According to Armstrong (2006) ‘standardised testing often leads teachers to teach to the test instead of students’ needs, interests, and abilities’. This may be true. While curriculum-teaching requires teachers to evaluate specific content knowledge through testing, tests should not be the only means students are evaluated. Incorporate alternative ways of assessment such as:

  • student (electronic) portfolios that depict their progress over time
  • student presentations, blog posts or project work. If they work in groups, don’t forget to evaluate their teamwork skills.

Exam classes may be a bit different but you can always use alternative ways from time to time.

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‘Energised teaching fosters energised learning, monotonous teaching sabotages attention’  (Intrator, 2004). So, be an engaged teacher. Be authentic, share personal stories, convey your passion, express emotion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t need to dominate the class to show involvement. As Roppo (2014) suggests “great leaders guide, direct and inspire with an easy strength, but they never dominate.”

Can you add some more ideas to the list? Have you found other ways to engage your students in learning?

References                                                                                                                                                                                

Armstrong, T. (2006). The Best Schools: How human development research should inform educational practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Christensen, C. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Elias, M. (2014). Using Humor in the Classroom.

Hurst, S. (2013). Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom.

Intrator, S. (2004). The engaged Classroom. Educational Leadership, 1 (62), 20-25

Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261-290.

Skinner, E. A, & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.

Parsons, J. & Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? University of Alberta: University Partners.

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My IATEFL Workshop

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After a fascinating TESOL Greece International Conference last weekend, I’m now getting ready for an event I have been looking forward to for a whole year: IATEFL Liverpool! I’m so excited because it’s my first IATEFL ever and because I’m going to attend amazing talks, see friends and meet colleagues face-to-face.

My session is on Tuesday 9 and that’s another reason to get excited. It’s on Internet safety and how it can be integrated into the ELT classroom. If interested, find the details below:

From the IATEFL app

If you come to my session, I would highly appreciate your feedback and insights as this is the topic I’m currently exploring for the purpose of my MA dissertation. If you can’t come but want to share your insights, concerns or experiences in regard to this topic, your contribution would be more than welcome 🙂

I want to wish all presenters good luck with their sessions and thank IATEFL for organising such a great event 🙂