Category: Reviews

#ELTchat on publishers’ influence and grasp of reality

The lively and, dare I say inspiring, chat took place on May 16th, 2012 at 12:00 pm BST and was expertly moderated by @rliberni, @Shaunwilden, and @Marisa_C.

The question we started with was, “Do ELT publishers have too much influence and are they out of touch with reality? Do they lag behind the times?

Problem? Solution? Other?

Coursebooks have a big influence

There seemed to a consensus that coursebooks (CBs)  have a big influence in the field. Some chatters mentioned that this influence is  apparent in initial teacher training and that novice teachers tend to rely heavily on coursebooks especialy because coursebooks provide a structure as well as a starting point. @rliberni added another example of the influence of coursebooks by stating,  “Some school timetables are so frantic that there simply isn’t time to create anything new – CBs are the simplest way. ” Again, there wasn’t much disagreement on the influence of coursebooks.

Publishers do more than just coursebooks

@Aslibasarirunlu wondered if it was right to talk about coursebooks and suggested “course materials since it usually so much more.” Additionally, @OUPELTGlobal mentioned that they already have a lot of  learning apps (mainly graded readers) and that “it’s only a matter of time” until they get into making things for ipads. Free webinars, local seminars, free resources, and more teacher resource books were also mentioned as desired directions. 

Publishers can be helpful

The professional development opportunities that publishers provide was mentioned as a positive point.  As @elawassell mentioned, “In some countries – the workshops organised by the publishers are the only form of PD for many teachers.” In terms of positive experiences, @Kevchanwow wrote, “I’ve only had good experiences with publishers. They want to me to keep buying their books after all.”  Another mention of how publishers can be helpful was made by @theteacherjames who wrote, “Despite my reservations regarding coursebooks, I have to say that Resource Books for Teachers are fantastic. #creditwhereitsdue.”

Context and adaptation

The issues of context and adaptation were mentioned quite frequently in the chat, with some teachers expressing the view that coursebooks don’t suit their contexts and wishing for materials that match better.  For example, @worldteacher wrote, “Here in Vietnam we spend a lot of time adapting CBs to make them less euro-centric.” In response @hartle wrote, “we do that in Europe too !!! to make them relevant.” @worldteacher  responded writing, “I agree and I, too, have always adapted for local use but my point is that in Asia EVERYTHING has to be changed!

@Shaunwilden wondered what it would mean for books to adapt to specific contexts, writing, “So what that means is a different book for each local context?”  In response, @elawassell suggested that this was unrealistic and idealistic. @Marisa_C reminded us that, “Publishing HAS become much more localised – diff books for Muslim countries for example.” @Kevchanwow added that,  “There are Japan  ‘focused’ CBs, but even localized CBs can’t make the students suddenly want to talk.”  @teflerinha  added that she thinks CB”s “need to leave plenty of room for personalisation/adapting to local context- provide a framework.” She also mentioned that adaptation is part of using a coursebook, by writing, “Isn’t that part of using a CB- still less work than starting from scratch?” and “Every context is different, nothing will fit all perfectly” Words of agreement were added by @theteacherjames who wrote, “It’s not realistic to expect a book to fit your situation. Adaption should be normal & encouraged.”  Along the same lines, @Marisa_C wrote, “Agree – adaptation a given – no perfect coursebook can exist by definition.”  

Some ideas for publishers

Hey, publishers, not only did #ELTchatters not bash you (too much) they also shared some suggestions and tips. Some of them are as follows (free from the good people at #ELTchat):

  1. “Maybe a digitally evolving CB with print on demand?” @rliberni 
  2. “I’d love to see publishers really adapt to new media. Subscription charges which lead to sending out regularly updated lessons etc” @MrChrisJWilson
  3. “The ideal CB wd be a structure with topics, ideas, suggestions pointing teachers & stds towards all the other resource.” @hartle
  4. I strongly believe that grammar points should not be stuck in with each unit. It assumes that grammar learning is linear. I’d like 2 see more holistic lexico-grammar coverage. None of this: Here are the 5 uses of the present perfect types of confusing lists.” @chiasuan
  5. “The option to adapt should be built into the design of the book, but I don’t think that happens.” @theteacherjames 
  6. “Publisher-provided “skeleton” + localized/owned/updated content = result. In few yrs, this shd be possible.” @Wiktor_K
  7. Echoing some of the ideas mentioned previously, @OUPELTGlobal wrote, “Ideally, we’d move to a mix of online and print, with online being more customizable to different teaching styles and cultures.”

Possible reasons for (possible) inertia  

Some chatters argued that the types of changes being suggested would be prohibitively expensive for publishers and that this was the reason that coursebooks are the way they are. @theteacherjames mentioned that “the licensing, writing, sub-editing & licensing costs would be huge” for these suggestions. @esolcourses disagreed by stating that if a small staff can do it anyone can do it. Some other points mentioned were:

  1. “My biggest concern about publishers is that they tend to talk to/base decisions on ‘the choir’.” @Rliberni 
  2. “I think publishers are trying to update with some  good websites, but they have problems with differing activity types, copyright etc.” @Rliberni
  3. “Impossible to be perfectly “up to speed” here – too many markets and course flavours. Find a niche or stay “general” & slower?”@Wiktor_K
  4. “Let’s face it we here are not the mainstream & pubs need to sell books the market will dictate to a large extent.” @rliberni I personally think this is an important point to keep in mind as the typical #ELTchat-er might not exactly be the target market for most teaching materials.

Hey, let’s not bash publishers

Here are some quotes that “defend” publishers to various degrees.

  1. “Sorry, can’t get on the bash the publishers bandwagon. Teaching starts with the teacher knowing what & how to teach.”  @Kevchanwow
  2. “Publishers have a hard job, need and want to make good material…need to make money and sell them. Sometimes the same” @MrChrisJWilson
  3. It’s worth bearing in mind that traditional doesn’t always=bad though.  Can sometimes still be relevant.”  @esolcourses 
  4. “I’ve been teaching for 30 yrs and the improvement in cbs has been massive imo.”  @timjulian60
  5.  “I think though that publishers cannot be blamed for the huge numbers of untrained blind CB following Ts” @Marisa_C
  6. I think publishers probably have too much [power] but only as much as we give them. @elkysmith 
  7. “CBs are only out of touch if we think of them as THe curriculum  or THE course.”  @michaelegriffin.  A few people seemed to agree with this, and @harrisonmike responded by saying, “Shame that in many contexts the books go hand in hand with the course. ‘Welcome to X school, here is your Headway’’ while @ MrChrisJWilson sagely guessed “ the name COURSEbook helps to create that paradigm.” @OUPELTGlobal added, “Trouble is, many schools have no choice. In some countries, they ARE the ministry-approved syllabus…in many schools too & it makes sure that everyone delivers the syllabus – can’t blame them.” 

What do students want?

Happily, this was a common question as #ELTchatters wondered how students would might feel to not use a coursebook at all. Another concern was students rarely using a coursebook that they purchased and might expect to use.  Another question was what students really want in coursebooks.  @t4lk2pam wondered about students’ expectations and how they are met.  @rliberni asked, “But do students like the feel of having a book for their course? – I think they do.” @Shaunwilden responded with, “I’d say yes but some would argue that they are just used to having them.” Similarly, @mskhogg added, “I think students expect the model they’ve been shown over and over. Doesn’t mean it works best.” 

What’s next?

Towards the end of the chat there was quite a bit of discussion about how publishing companies can find a balance between profits and being a force for good and beneficial to learners and teachers as well as bottom-lines. @Marisa_C  summed things up nicely writing,  “I want to see publishers use their influence to encourage and facilitate change – that IS market-driving/driven!”

Questions to consider:

There were a lot of brilliant questions raised so I thought it might helpful to share paraphrased versions of them here.

  • What does it mean to be publisher these days?
  • Is the concept of coursebooks itself out of date and out of touch?
  • What can publishers do to be a force for change/good? Are they doing enough?
  • What roles can admin play in determining how materials are used?
    What roles can they play in helping teachers with this?
  • Are teachers doing enough to get the materials that they want and need?
  • Are (the majority of) teachers “out of date?” What does this mean?
  • Are materials ultimately the responsibility of the teacher?
  • How does teacher-training fit into all this?
  • How can/should publishers handle ELF?
  • How much further can coursebooks evolve?
  • Is there a next big thing in publishing? What might it be?
  • What is/will be the impact of CEFR alignment?

Link Party:
@Wiktor_K  ‘s thoughts on and ideas for ibooks
Post “Teach Off” student questionnaire findings from @chiasuan ‘s blog
Example of English Upgrade, a coursebook made specifically for Asian students
Wiki link with all the tweets from the chat