Last night, the headquarters of the British Medical Association at Tavistock House was transformed into the glamorous venue of the British Council’s 14th annual ELTons award ceremony. Complete with red carpet interviews, fancy canapés and women in glittering long dresses, the black tie event celebrated innovation in the English Language Teaching industry by rewarding ELT products in 6 different categories. As I was the official live blogger and post-ceremony interviewer of the event, I had the opportunity to have a closer look at the nominated innovations and innovators.

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Arriving in London to live blog for the ELTons.

It is interesting to even consider how the things that were seen as ‘innovative’ just a few years ago have now become the norm. Take blended learning and mobile learning with the use of online resources for example. Not too long ago, we would be suitably impressed with an English language course that allowed for classroom teaching to be combined with self-directed study with a supply of online resources that can be accessed on a mobile device anywhere in the world.

Today, this has become part and parcel of every course going. A course that didn’t have additional online resources would most certainly be the odd one out. We’ve now moved on to consider the content of the available online resources, the digital platforms that they make use of, their level of user-friendliness and the added value/benefit they give the learner.

In the category of Excellence in Course Innovation, ELTon nominees U Dare 9 (Grijó, Lindade, Zeller and Reis) might have provided teachers with a USB stick loaded up with extension activities, but it is probably their pedagogically sound tasks that promote 21st century skills, aimed at teaching Portuguese teens life skills through English, that clinched them the nomination.

Another nomination in the category for Excellence in Course Innovation was Eyes Open (Goldstein and Jones). Featuring lots of digital support in the form of an interactive students’ e-book, an online workbook and a ‘Presentation Plus’ with support from Interactive Whiteboard software, Eyes Open stood out for its unique approach that promoted global issues and an awareness of the cultures around us. Interestingly, the judge’s quote that was highlighted in the programme mentioned nothing of its digital components, but focused on its high quality materials and interesting topics.

This is mirrored by the interactive e-book series Guess What! (Koustaff, Reed and Bentley), nominated for an ELTon in the category of Innovation in Learner Resources last night. Technology was integrated well into a course that enabled children to explore the world around them and experience English outside the school.

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Sarah Wang and Farringdon Bear representing Business English UK at the ELTons.

In the category of Innovation in Teacher Resources, ease of usage coupled with a range of good content that supported teaching secured nominations for the likes of the free podcast The TEFL Commute (Clandfield, Wilden and Taylor) and the compilation of over 100 ten-minute videos on - talks for teachers (Howard).

Nominees in the category of Digital Innovation had to show that they were putting technology to good use, supporting learning in a well-structured, engaging and motivating way. While the web application EssayJack (Ledohowski, Balasubramaniam and Teng) tackled the complicated issue of essay writing by scaffolding the structured writing process, Wibbu English: The Game lures the learner into some ‘stealth learning’ via a fun and imaginative multi-platform video game. Double nominee Paul Driver’s Listening Post impressed with its multimedia posters fusing augmented reality, 3D sound, kinetic typography and design, but does not fail to ensure that the interactivity of the materials allows language learning to be made more meaningful for the learner.

But innovation is not all about high-tech multimedia products. Local Innovation award nominees Fitzgerald and Prentice brought traditional (paper-based!) books housed in a trolley suitcase to more than 40,000 children around Italy. Via their Read On! Mobile Class Library Project for Italy, their books have inspired learning and acted as a catalyst for multiple motivating classroom discussions and tasks.

Levrai and Bolster’s Academic Presenting and Presentations was nominated in the category of Innovation in Learner Resources for tackling the specific discourse of presenting in academic settings. In an industry where most books on presentations tend to focus on business presentations that are out to impress and make an impact and most books on EAP tend to focus on academic writing, Levrai and Bolster’s book fills a gap in the market in a time where university students are no longer just judged on the written papers they submit, but also on the presentations they give.

But who did the judges eventually give the ELTons to? Let’s have a look at some of last night’s winners.

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The writers of Keynote with their award.

The Award for Excellence in Course Innovation
Keynote by P Dummett, L Lansford and H Stephenson. Published by National Geographic Learning with Cengage Learning.

A very well-structured course that uses TED talks as the foundation for its materials, Keynote prioritises authentic listening practice of both native and non-native speakers and goes beyond the simple teaching of grammar and vocabulary to focus on critical thinking skills, global issues, presentation skills, creative thinking skills and visual literacy.

I could hardly contain my excitement when the host Alan Maley announced that Keynote had won the ELTons in its category as this is a course that I am keen to use in my classroom and one that I believe would generate a good level of interest and discussion among my students.

The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing
Academic English for the 21st Century Learner by Aylin Graves

Making use of Academic Word Lists as a basis for its vocabulary component, Academic English for the 21st Century Learner deals with study skills such as writing essays, citing sources alongside 21st century themes like ethical problem-solving, and collaborative leadership, allowing for learners to apply these skills not only to their university lives but also to their lives beyond academia.

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The writers of Literacy for Active Citizenship receiving their award.

The Award for Innovation in Learner Resources
Literacy for Active Citizenship by Ades, Cheloul, Sadi, Shaheen, Teng and Renner-Thomas. Published by Learning Unlimited Ltd.

This is a series of ESOL graded readers aimed at the adult migrant learning English in the UK. Many ESOL graded readers tend to examine topics on how one should deal with day-to-day life in the UK like going to the doctor, recycling, meeting people from different communities, etc. Literacy for Active Citizenship takes this a step further by soliciting real-life migrant stories from migrant women and volunteer befrienders on the Active Citizenship and English project, recounting funny, personal and less-typical stories of everyday life in the UK, and then turning these stories into A1 and A2+ level graded readers.

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Author and publisher of Digital Video, Nik Peachey, giving his award speech.

The Award for Innovation in Teacher Resources
Digital Video – a manual for language teachers by Nik Peachey. Published by Peachey Publications.

For teachers feeling lost or overwhelmed by the extensive range of resources available online, Digital Video is a manual that provides a step-by-step guide to using online video resources, exploiting mobile apps and building video into blended learning. With 26 tutorial videos and over 40 lesson plans, this e-book is comprehensive and demonstrates a clear understanding of pedagogic principles in the way it guides teachers to use the available technology to build engaging materials and courses.

Another innovative aspect of this winning product is that it is the first publication of Peachey Publications and one that was funded through crowd-sourcing. The 140 people who participated in funding the project contributed more than just finances, and were involved in different stages of the e-book, from ideas to proof-reading.

The Award for Digital Innovation
Movies: Enjoy Languages by the ‘movies team’ of Archimedes Inspiration a.s.

We know that the vast number of English language films out there is a motivating resource to many of our students, but many of us are unsure as to how to exploit this resource. Films are often too long to screen in class and supported activities take time to create. Movies: Enjoy Languages makes it possible for students to not only have transcripts of the film running alongside the translation, but also pop-up footnotes that clarify idioms and cultural elements of the text. Extension activities like grammar and comprehension exercises allow for more language focus and learner-generated bilingual audio flashcards consolidate the learning.

The Award for Local Innnovation
Teaching English in Africa by J Anderson, K Kamau, BM Shiholo, Dr. L Kaviti and S Muchai. Published by East African Educational Publishers Ltd.

When I interviewed the author Jason Anderson about his award-winning product, he was quick to correct me, saying, “It’s just a book. There are no digital components to this ‘product’.”

But Teaching English in Africa is definitely not ‘just’ a book. Dealing with the teaching contexts in Africa, this book simultaneously deals with methodological and pedagogical issues of child-centered learning and CLIL whilst providing practical guidelines for teaching very large classes, as well as lesson ideas for low-tech teaching with minimal teaching and learning resources. In my post-ceremony interview with Anderson, he was quick to point out that this book is not about dealing with ‘African culture’ as the cultures of Africa are hugely varied and diverse. Instead, it looks at teaching in socio-economic contexts that are common in Africa, and addresses the challenges of teaching both in remote rural schools and busy urban ones.

When one considers the amount of English language teaching that goes on in the continent of Africa, it is almost surprising that a book like this has not been written sooner. But we often say such things about great innovations.

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Dr. Catherine Walter getting interviewed by Callie Massey after the ceremony.

The Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award this year went to Dr. Catherine Walter for her contribution to many aspects of ELT, from the books that accompanied us through our pre-service courses, to the research she conducted in the fields of Applied Linguistics, to the championing of equal rights and fairness in the industry. For many attending, meeting Dr. Walter in the flesh was a highlight on its own, worth flying in to the UK for. In the video which featured many of Dr. Walter’s friends, contemporaries and past colleagues giving us titbits about her life and achievements, it was clear that she was not only well respected but extremely well loved by her community.

And filled with inspiration and awe, we all filter from the Great Hall into the reception rooms for food, drinks and some networking, feeling like we can now see further into the future of our industry, feeling like we too can innovate and make a difference.

And the words of Issac Newton, paraphrased by our ELTons host Alan Maley in his opening speech echoes in our heads.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants, and walk on the bones of the dead.”