From the mailbag [Topic: KOTESOL IC]

mailbagHello folks. I received a question recently and thought it might be worth padding my blog post total sharing the answer here. I have had too many conversations about my treatment of KOTESOL here on this blog. I will never forget, however, a discussion with a member of the KOTESOL brass who said he always appreciates it when I write about KOTESOL because it keeps them on their toes and that I am almost always fair. Tough but fair, perhaps.

The question below is from a friend and prospective attendee for the 2017 KOTESOL International Conference.

I have to admit I have unusually warm and fuzzy feelings towards KOTESOL in the wake of the recent RP SIG Day of Reflection which I found to be an inspiring and thought-provoking day. 

Hey Michael,

Hope you’re well.

Just wondering if you could help me sort out some thoughts about the upcoming KOTESOL International Conference. I’ve been reading your post about past conferences and perceptions of them and my over riding impression is that aside from networking opportunities there aren’t really much other advantages in comparison to reading articles that people post online. I guess I’m trying to figure out how a physical conference is better in regards to say a FB group.
So – my question is: given that I live in _______ *and would need to commute to Seoul and probably stay there for two days, do you think the benefit(s) would outweigh the cost(s) in terms of time and money? I know the answer is probably subjective but any thoughts you may have would be appreciated.

My answer to the above was something like the following:
(this version has fewer typos and more detail)

Hello NameRemoved,

Nice to hear from you. I hope I can be a bit of help. My general thought is that it’s still pretty worthwhile to go to KOTESOL even if it’s not perfect and there are annoyances. I worry that I might have been a bit overly negative at times because I have generally found the conference to be a good (to great) investment of time and money.

My biggest gripes in the past have been occasional lapses in management and manners but I feel like the last 3 conferences have been very good in these regards. I think my hottest rants were about the attitude on their Facebook group and I have since removed myself from that space but have heard reports it’s far more civil lately.

I am glad you searched my blog for KOTESOL and not K0TESOL as the posts with different labels can be a bit different.

Aside from networking and all I’d generally recommend it…unless someone really didn’t like/prefer seeing something in person. I think this speaks to your point about it being subjective. I mean, if you are the type of person that is never going to get any added value out of seeing a talk in person or discussing things with others at the venue then perhaps it’s not worth it.

This is actually something I have been thinking about for a while, this question of the benefits of all getting together at the same place vs. staying home and livestreaming something in the comfort of your own home without the need for showering, shaving and getting dressed. For me, the idea of listening to a long plenary from a big name speaker when I could just as easily read their book or article doesn’t seem like a good time. That said, I think there are and will be a variety of interesting talks and sessions.

One thing I noticed with this year’s IC is an invited panel discussion on, “The Future of Face-to-Face Conferences in the Digital Era” which might be related to our current conversation. As above, my thought is that unless you are really the type who doesn’t like face-to-face conferencing the KOTESOL IC is truly worth it.

I see that Ted O’Neil (aka @gotanda) will be there. I saw him give a great talk at KOTESOL a few years back and highly recommend seeing him. Marti Anderson (@martianderson7)  will be there and she is a very impressive thinker and presenter. I suspect you are familiar with Nicky Hockly of The Consultants-E? She has a few sessions that look interesting.

Some other sessions that caught my eye include:

  • Michael Free & Elizabeth May’s session “Assessment Dialogue: Let’s Talk about Grading Attendance and Participation”
  • Kalyan Chattopadhyay’s session titled “Analogue Teacher Training for the Digital Teacher: What the Teachers Say and Do”
  • Evan Frendo on “Evolving needs in university English for Specific Purposes”
  • Cameron Romney & John Campbell-Larsen with “Small talk is big talk: Teaching phatic communication”
  • Kathleen Kampa’s “No-Tech, Low-Tech, Active Teaching” session
  • Rob Dickey with “Is Teachers’ Technology Over-rated?”
  • Maria Lisak’s “A Pedagogy of Care and New Chances”
  • Jessica Ives with “Exploring teacher beliefs and classroom practices through reflective practice”

I think the above give a picture of the wide range of sessions available. There is also lots of talk about 21st century skills and you know this is a topic that always catches my interest.

I see there are also  “Tea with the speakers” events. I am not sure what I think about the extra 10,000 won fee for this but I can see how it might be a nice experience.

Speaking of costs. I feel like the cost for the conference itself is quite reasonable. Of course it can add up when you include things like travel, accommodation and food. How much is a movie ticket? Around 10,000 won, right? That is two hours. At the conference you can be entertained (and, more importantly, informed) for many hours. Just a thought.

Perhaps this video might help you make up your mind?

This blog post on reasons not to go might help you make up your mind as well.

Now that you have been so thoroughly convinced I can imagine you are thinking, “Okay, great Mike, thanks. See you then and there!” However, I will not be at the KOTESOL IC this year. If you are super curious where I’ll be instead you can click this link.

Thanks for the question and I hope I was somewhat helpful.



  1. gotanda

    Thanks for the shout out. I hope my talks will be useful, or at least give people something worth thinking and talking about later in the day. Catching up with my Internet reading after going on a long trip to a …. conference. I’ll be part of that panel discussion on the future of conferences and so I have been thinking about conferences and their uses (abuses?) more than usual lately. The recent book, Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities, Nicolson, Donald J. Is written with style, humor, and thoughtfulness. Worth a look if you can get it through a library, but kinda spendy for such a slim hardcover nevermind ebook. Your and your questioner’s point about the value of conferences being very subjective rings true to me. (I am clearly a “conference person”) some people aren’t. Trying to include them in some ways is a good idea if we can do it.

    The comparison with FB is useful. FB groups can be a gigantic pile of garbage, attacks, and backbiting interspersed with useful information. The only online communities I have found significant value in have strict, consistent moderation that follows some clear values (eg MetaFilter). Moderation is hard. And, even otherwise genial people can go full throttle wacko in the semi-detached, semi-anonymous world of FB. (That and drunkposting doesn’t help.) In-person conferences generally do not have to deal with that because most people don’t need to be told to bring their “this is how I behave in public with adults” set of rules with them to conferences, so the overhead and work of moderation isn’t needed so much. (Though there are exceptions.)

    Back to that conference I just went to. It was ICLHE in Copenhagen Besides the fact that I got to go and visit Copenhagen, I have to say this was bar none the best academic conference I have ever attended–and I’ve helped plan and co-chair a few myself. The content, discourse, questioning, and even the arguments were all at a level where I came away alternately inspired (OMG I learned all this awesome stuff.) and depressed (OMG we are so far behind.) That may have had something to do with the intensity and clustering of bringing those people together and the serendipity of meeting people at the coffee table etc. that I think is harder to replicate online.

    (Have fun in Sendai. Love Tohoku.)

  2. Eliyahu K

    I feel like this issue comes up a lot in life. We, many times, have to choose between a virtual relationship and a physical one. I think it depends on the person’s personality and attitude. It also depends what the person wants to get out of the experience- they may want a more intimate experience or a less intimate, more comfortable and quicker experience.

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