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.
The following is a conversation between present day Michael Griffin (MGN, as in MG now) and Michael Griffin circa 1999 (MGT or MG then). This is, of course, a fictional conversation because I don’t own a time machine and even if I did I wouldn’t risk messing up the space time continuum by talking with myself. No offense to any humans or groups is intentional. I also would like to emphasize my aim and hope for there to be no hint of the aroma of sour grapes here either.
MGN: Hi buddy how are you doing?
MGT: Hey. ‘Sup? What is going on?
MGN: Not too much. One thing on my mind is how I am so gutted because I am not going to either IATEFL or TESOL for yet another year.
MGT: What does “gutted” mean? And what are IATEFL and TESOL?
MGN: Oh, right, sorry. IATEFL and TESOL are professional organizations in the field of English teaching. This is, by the way, your future career.
MGT: Wild. Really wild stuff. There’s more than one organization? OK.
MGN: There are tons of them. Regional ones and country specific and interest specific and probably lots I don’t even know about.
MGT: Wow. Weird. And how often are these conferences?
MGN: The really big ones are yearly but there are regional meetings and all sorts of other events all the time.
MGT: You mean to tell me that there is so much happening in English teaching you need to have major conferences every year? What can change? It is not like English changes all that much, is it? Are there radical changes in teaching styles every year? What could possibly be so new and important that you need to have a new conference so damn often? That sounds bizarre to me. You didn’t answer about the meaning of “gutted” bee tea double you.
MGN: Ahh, sorry, it means sad or hurt or something like that. It is British English. Many of my mates from the Irish Isles use it. MGT: You really *shouldn’t use such words. It sounds like an affectation and makes you sound like a wanker or a jerk or something. Don’t do that. Seriously. Anyway, why are you so bothered about missing conferences?
MGN: Nice question. I think you are onto something with this word “missing” as I think it sort of feels like I am missing something. You know that thing about how you can’t go to bed until you are sure that all the possible fun has been sucked out of the evening? This is sort of similar. It is like a feeling that all the fun and excitement is going on without me. While on the subject, I can report that this feeling of not being able to go to bed while there might still be fun to be had dissipates as you get older.
MGT: I see. I guess that is pretty good news about “Griffin’s Disease.” And as for the conferences., well, what exactly is so fun? MGN: I think part of the fun is meeting like-minded people. I am pretty geeky about this stuff and it is really to find people who share the same interest. It kind of reminds me of a baseball card show or a comic convention. Oh yea, while i am thinking of it, believe it or not, a friend you are going to make in the next 18 months actually attended a Star Trek convention one time.
MGT: I keep learning crazy things from you. So what goes on at these English teaching conferences? Do people seek autographs? If so from who?
MGN: I guess I have seen some autograph hunting but not all that much. It is sometimes fun and interesting to see people freaking out about authors and big names in the field.
MGT: I hope that I..you…we never engage in such nonsense.
MGN: It might be too late. Anyway, your question here got me thinking a bit about the nature of celebrity in this field. I guess it is sort of a peculiar thing.
MGT: It sounds like it. I still don’t really have a clear idea on what goes on at these conferences.
MGN: Presentations and workshops and things like this. It is a chance for networking and learning and sharing.
MGT: I guess I had an idea already. Thanks. Why can’t you go this year?
MGN: Time and money mostly. Those are always key factors with most things as you surely already know. It is also tough to fly out of Korea and get to the US or UK in time to really do much without missing too many classes.
MGT: Wait, what? You live in Korea.
South Korea, right? That is something else. Wow. So, it must be hard for people from around the world to get to these big conferences.
MGT: Aside from the fact that such a conference is all these nerds getting together to talk about teaching English and god knows what else related to it something seems strange to me that in 2014 you’d need to get together in an actual physical place to talk about this. Can’t you meet online? Don’t they have video conferencing, in the future? And yea, what about flying cars?
MGN: Video conferencing is common enough but being at the venue is a special buzz. Nothing on the flying cars yet.
MGT: I can’t help but wonder about the teachers that can’t afford to make it to the US or UK. Surely that is most English teachers in the world, right? I have only heard about this stuff for the last few minutes but I am wondering who is served by these conferences. Who exactly benefits and how? Is it for teachers? All teachers? Or teachers with access to money and time? Teachers from certain places? What is the main purpose of such conferences? Is it for students in the end? Are there other ways to disseminate knowledge? Is it about disseminating knowledge? What is it about, ultimately? You mentioned networking and buzz a few times. Is there more?
MGN: Those are some good questions to consider. I am not sure I really have the answers to them now. Maybe I need to think about them some more. But again, I do think conferences can be a valuable chance for teachers to learn what others are doing and to connect with like-minded people. It can also be inspiring and motivating. I also don’t think you are saying anything that couldn’t be said about any sort of conference in any field.
MGT: Yeah.. OK but somehow it seems different to me when related to something like teaching English. Another thing, while you are wondering about conferences it you might also want to consider things like carbon footprints.
MGN: I never thought of you as the party-pooper type. Gosh. But at the same time, I do thank you for the fresh and outside perspective.
Possibly related links:
James Taylor on attending conferences.
Kevin Stein shares some experiences and gratitude from JALT 2013. Note: This post comes with a dust warning.