Mike says: It all started when I shared a link to the KOTESOL RPSIG August 22nd Day of Reflection on a social network that allows more than 140 characters. My friend and fellow ELT professional commented Steve King on the logo for the 2015 KOTESOL International Conference (which can be seen below) shared along with the link, remarking, “Man that diagram… I’ve seen a dozen like it, a thousand. What is it with ELT conferences and wacky geometrical diagram concept logos?” He then went on to share some other images from various ELT conferences and I suggested a collection of these would be an interesting blog post. To my delight he graciously accepted the offer and wrote the entertaining piece that follows. Please feel free to share your thoughts or other memorable images in the comments. I will turn it over to Steve.
I’ve been working in ELT for quite some time, as a teacher, teacher trainer, and in publishing both as a researcher and as a business representative. That means I’ve been to quite a few conferences. TEFL this, TESOL that. Association of this or that. Here and there.
And it’s alright. I get to travel to a bunch of places, meet new people, meet up with old friends and colleagues, see some interesting talks, and have some meaningful interaction with people connected to a given project I might be working on. I quite like conferences. I’ve been to some tiny ones, such as Panama TESOL in 2013, which must have had all of 70 people, and to some huge ones such as the big TESOL International Events in Toronto, Dallas, and Philadelphia.
There’s one thing though that amuses, bewilders and bothers me. I’ve started even to look forward to seeing what spurious nonsense they’re going to come up with next. The next meaningless banality to wrap around what is plainly no more than a gathering of people who happen to work in the same industry.
I’m talking of course about the logo. You’ll find these on the conference program, on the lanyard you wear around your neck, on a banner above the stage in the plenary room, on posters throughout the conference site. On its website, its social media presence, on its call for proposals and on its conference proceedings book.
I’ll be blunt. More often than not, these are utterly meaningless, comically designed and, on occasion, almost unforgivably pretentious. There are two principally criminal elements to them:
The graphic: You might have a silhouette of the host city’s skyline at best, or, at worst, some contorted geometrical ‘concept’ design that’s somehow supposed to make you think, nay, to reflect on why we’re all here, in this city for the weekend. You get some amusingly trippy colors on these at times too. Bold reds. Pinks. Greens. YELLOW!
The slogan: These buzzword heavy word salads are rinsed, re-used, and repeated ad nauseum. The same freaking words over and over again. Community. Identity. Empowerment. Innovation. Challenges. Solutions. Transforming. I think maybe that there is an Online Conference Theme Buzzword Generator out there somewhere that organizers have been using. Or I would believe that, only there’s the fact that these words have been used continuously since before the internet was invented.
They’re not all bad. Researching this piece after a brief conversation with Mike Griffin, I actually found some I like. So let’s delve in. Here’s The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly of ELT Conference Logos.
TESOL International, Philadelphia 2012
Now this is actually excellent. Right as it says there on the tin. You have a conference theme that actually connects somehow to the host city in a positive way, and a nice graphic of some people, well, they’re just walking to a conference. In order to, I presume, do something or talk about something positive and excellent about their work. Well done, Philly. Well done.
JALT 2006, Kitakyushu
Now I went to this conference and I quite enjoyed it. But I can’t put my hand on my heart and say it had an effect whatsoever on my ‘identity’ or especially motivated me. I mean, presumably most people who were there kind of like their jobs and don’t need to schlep it all the way to Kitakyushu to feel motivated. I guess it kind of helped with community in that I bonded with a bunch of people over six pints of Guinness in an Irish bar on the conference Saturday, but really. Come on.
KOTESOL International Conference, 2015, Seoul
Man, it’s all in there on this one. Wacky geometrical logo: Check. Colors straight from a child’s candy stash: Check. Disconnected, disjointed sloganeering veering off in all sorts of actual and conceptual directions: Check. Confused and somewhat dazed look on my face as I try and figure all that out: Check.
TESOL 2015, TorontoOK. So what do we have here…. “Crossing borders”, huh? So…. Where are we going with this? Some place off to the right on a blue arrow that looks a bit like a Picasso Dolphin? ….so what next. “Building Bridges”. Let’s see, back across the border on the purple arrow thingy and sort of point back at the “Crossing Borders” thing? Why? This would be really confusing, but thank God you have those green and pink square joblets in the background to help you make some sense out of it.
Eurocall 2012, Gothenburg
“Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. Using, Learning, Knowing. You are feeling very sleepy. Using, Learning, Knowing. Come into my cold, deathly embrace”
JALT PanSIG Conference 2015, Kobe
Oh boy. Where do I start with this one? It certainly raises something within me, but I can tell you for free it’s not ‘happiness’. It’s somewhere between ‘bewilderment’, and ‘outright confusion’ as to what possible narrative could come from this to lead to any semblance of tangible clarity around what this weekend was all about? This is straight from the happy-clappy-for-the-sake-of-it farm, isn’t it?
IATEFL BESIG Conference 2013, Budapest
Please folks, can someone who went to this tell me what exactly was going on here? Or are the attendees of this 2013 junket still trying to find their way home from Budapest?
MEXTESOL 2008, Guanajuato
So you’ve got a bronze statue dude, who is sort of inside a church or a cathedral, with another church inside. But it’s also outside And he has a hammer and he’s fixing a bronze shoe. And it’s all going on in a way in which just positively screams “New Ways for New Needs in ELT”
JALT Pan-SIG 2013, Nagoya
Is there something in the water in Japan? Yet again you have the assorted fruit flavors running all around your eyes, and this time they have a JIGSAW! Yeah! A freaking jigsaw people. But no buzzwords this time. Maybe they just kind of gave up.
I suppose that should be “Four activities I wish I’d known when I started teaching” but since I wrote the abstract in about 20 minutes it will have to do. “Which abstract?” you might wonder. I am presenting at CAMTESOL next weekend (Saturday the 28th in the morning) on this very topic. I think I mainly have my activities decided (and my Powerpoint almost done, it’s almost like I don’t even know who I am anymore). I really wanted to include something jigsawy but in the end decided there could be a bit of confusion and moving parts. I also had no real idea how to gauge the size of the audience and I didn’t want to mess around too much with paper and printing.
(Spoiler alert: I am not going to mention the activities in this post! My apologies for the misleading title.)
Here is the abstract:
In this interactive session the presenter would like to share four of his favorite activities, learned in his 15 years in the field. All the activities to be shared can be modified for different language points, contexts, learners and situations. The activities are relatively light on materials and preparation while high on interaction, fun, and learning. The activities range from those that are widely known to those that are not so well-known. The presenter will also share some tips and strategies for setting up the activities. The hope is that by actually experiencing the activities and reflecting on the experience teachers will be able to decide if they want to add these activities to their tool kits and maybe even use in their next class.
Close readers of the blog and cynics might recall that I have been known to be something of “an activity snob” in the past. “Why simply present activities, Mike” you might wonder. When I attended CAMTESOL in 2013 I got the sense that many of the attendees were starved for activity ideas and were excited to hear about ways their students could use English in classes. I also thought materials light and flexible is the way to go. My experience thinking and talking about the glorious Flashmob ELT movement also (hopefully) gave me some insights on how workshops can feature and focus on activities in thoughtful way.
As I was
procrastinating preparing for my presentation I thought this was a nice opportunity for some crowdsourcing.
So, here are my offers and requests.
a) If you’d like to mention an activity (or a few) you wish you’d known when you started teaching please feel free to add it in the comments. I will share this post with those attend my workshop. I will also break my recent tradition of not responding well to blog comments and give a hearty thank you.
b) If you’d like to write a blog post about activities (or an activity) you wish you’d know when you started teaching I will link to it (in this or a future blog post) and share it with conference attendees.
Any other manner of sharing an activity that I can pass along easily is also something I’d gladly consider. I’d especially be interested in activities that fit the description in the abstract. Thanks for reading and thanks in advance to those that share their ideas and activities.
I can’t believe it has already been a week since the CAMTESOL conference ended. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences before they get crowded out by other things like the new semester starting (tomorrow!?!?) and some other presentations in the pipeline. So, instead of worrying about or working on what is coming in the very near future here comes my review of the 9th CAMTESOL Conference.
I loved it. What a great experience. Highly recommended.
- Great conference
- Lots of enthusiasm and passion for learning and developing all around
- Filled with friendly, approachable, knowledgeable and nice people
(presenters, organizers, and delegates alike)
- Nice presentations with a wide range of topics and chances to learn about other regions (especially South East Asia)
- Clear emphasis on the context in a conference (to my eyes at least) that didn’t try to be mini-IATEFL or TESOL-light but tried to be the best CAMTESOL it could be with a clear sense of place and purpose.
Long Version: As follows… highlights included:
This was surely a major theme of the conference for me. I met so many interesting and nice people from all over. Some, like Andrea Wade and Leslie Cioccas, I’d already had some PLN/Twitter connections with. It was so great to meet them and to participate a bit in their excellent presentation on connecting with teachers from around the world. You can see Andrea’s blog post on their presentation here.
Meeting interesting and thoughtful people started right as I entered the departure point for the Friday morning site visit. A friendly teacher from Malaysia asked who I was and where I was going and we realized we were going on the same trip and I felt like I had a friend for life. I had the same feeling when another trip goer recognized my name and said he liked my blog/writing. This was all within the first 20 minutes of the pre-conference trip! Things continued along the same path and this helped make the conference such a wonderful experience.
Laughs and new friendships, insights and information were a key aspect of the conference for me and this alone made the conference more than worthwhile. I
won’t can’t list all the people met because it would take aged and I would probably end up leaving out someone amazing so let me just say again that I met lots of great people and this was a highlight.
Site Visit –Regional Teacher Training Center
A veteran CAMTESOL attendee told me the site visits were not worth the time and money and that he could have learned more about Cambodian schools touring around Phhhhhnom Penh on a bicycle. I ignored his advice and was very pleased I did.
I thought the tour of the training college was great. I think it was great for me in two main ways. One is because I think this is one of those cases where a picture is really worth a thousand words. Seeing the setting, actual classrooms, and library gave me a lot of insight about teacher education in Cambodia at the moment. The second great thing was that I was able to have a chat with quite a few trainee teachers. My first impression was how inquisitive and eager to learn and develop more. This was a bit of a breath of fresh air for me! I was very happy to meet them and their enthusiasm was contagious.
Everything felt very organized and smooth. I knew where I needed to be and when. Everything was laid out clearly. Volunteers were helpful and friendly. Tea times as well as the opening dinner and conference dinner were pleasant affairs that offered chances to meet people and unwind a bit.
I saw lots of interesting and informative presentations. In addition to the aforementioned one by Andrea and Lesley a few others stood out.
(In no particular order)
- “A Blooming Flower–a good technique for teaching stress to Vietnamese students” was an interesting presentation where I heard how some Vietnamese English teachers help their students deal with word stress in English. The presenters shared some key distinctions between English and Vietnamese and how these can impact students’ use of stress. They offered a way of thinking about English word stress as more than than just a higher pitch but also longer and louder. I enjoyed their examples and think their ideas would be especially useful for teachers in Vietnam. The presenters were Hoang Thi Nhat Tam and Phan Thi Tra Khuc.
- A presentation on habitus by Heather Swenddal and how it might affect our conscious and unconscious teaching decisions was eye-opening. The title was, “I do that? Exposing teacher habitus for professional learning” and it reminded me in some ways of reflecting in and on action and gave me a lot to think about. The presenter was especially passionate and enthusiastic about the topic which made for an even more interesting presentation.
- Tim Knight deserves a special shout out for his (provocatively titled) poster presentation “Restricting students’ creativity to help them write better academic English” and the discussions that stemmed from this.
- I enjoyed hearing about the challenges trainee teachers in Indonesia face from Amalia Lulu Laela and Siti Rodliyah Rojayb in their presentation entitled, “Pre-service teachers’ performance during professional training: some challenges.” It was it was equal parts fascinating, inspiring and disheartening to hear how similar what they reported is to how things are in Korea.
- An extremely memorable and captivating presentation was from current trainees (some of whom I met on the site visit) in “Becoming a state school English teacher in Cambodia: Teacher trainees report on their experiences.” I was very impressed with their candor, humor, confidence and how well they engaged the audience.
Paul Nation’s Plenary
The title was, “What should every EFL Teacher Know?” Great stuff. Practical, thoughtful, based in theory, seemingly pitched perfectly to the audience in the room. I felt this was everything a plenary could be. Rivaled Thornbury and Canagarajah for the best plenaries I have ever seen. In this excellent plenary Nation detailed what he thinks are the 20 best techniques for EFL as well as the proportions of a well-balanced course (while introducing his 4 strands: meaning-focused input, meaningful-focused output, language focused learning, and fluency development) There was a lot of food for thought here, especially for course developers and ER ponderers. Kudos!
As an added bonus Dr. Nation briefly mentioned his new books “What should every EFL teacher know?” and “What should every ESL teacher know?” Please note that the latter is available from free download (with registration) from the good people at Compass Media.
Maybe not so great things
- My impression was that the majority of the audience (especially the local audience) was mostly interested in “workshoppy” stuff so I think that more (or longer) slots for these in bigger rooms (if possible) might be the way forward.
- All the presentations (regardless of style or format or topic) were 30 minutes. I think some presenters would have preferred more time for more “workshoppy” things.
(For the record, as a presenter, I loved the 30 minute thing becuase it forced me to make decisions and helped me relax because I knew I wouldn’t be stuck at the front with nothing to say)
- For some reason the first presenter I saw decided that the talk she had proposed was too technical and academic so she did something totally different than what was on the title. I was there because I wanted to hear what she had to say about her title/topic and not because I wanted a general overview of education in her country
(which just so happens to be the country I currently live in)
- Some attendees complained that there were too many presentations and too many options crammed into too short a time period. I guess this is always going to happen at a big conference.
- I didn’t have the nerve to pass along any secret messages from Kevin Stein to Dr. Nation.
(Not really about the conference itself but still not so great)
The end…till next time…or next year?
Please see my reviews of (2012) KOTESOL and JALT and my post on meeting people at conferences with and without Twitter if you are into that sort of thing.
It might be worth noting admitting upfront that I held JALT to much higher standard in terms of wifi than CAMTESOL and probably had higher organizational expectations from KOTESOL. Thanks for reading!