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The annual IATEFL conferences held in the UK tend to attract thousands of delegates from all corners of the earth, giving English teachers the opportunity to find out what’s new and current in the industry while networking and exchanging ideas and opinions with our counterparts from around the world. The only drawback about these conferences is the fact that not everyone can afford the time or money required to fly all the way to the UK for the week-long event.

This year, IATEFL put this right by organizing their first ever web conference. Held over Saturday the 18 October and Sunday the 19 October, the web conference featured twelve sessions under the theme of ‘Hot topics across borders in ELT’. And the topics were indeed ‘hot’ as more than 1600 people registered for the conference with attendees logging in from more than 30-odd countries.

After a welcome speech by IATEFL president Carol Read, the organizing committee introduced us to the opening speaker, ex-IATEFL president Hebert Puchta. His session ‘Taking our learners seriously’ started with a quote from Earl Stevick, stating that success depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analysis, but more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom. Arguing that we should not mistrust our learners but instead should create the right conditions to enable them to work together, interacting and learning as the teacher scaffolds and adjusts to suit the learners’ needs.

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In the next session, Israel-based Naomi Ganin-Epstein gave the audience a variety of tips and suggestions of classroom activities that could help lead our students to the ‘Eureka moment’. This included activities that placed the student’s lives, thoughts and opinions at the centrestage of the classroom.

Philip Kerr’s session ‘Leveraging new technology for learner choice: adaptive solutions’ looked at the different online and blended learning tools that are available to language learners and how adaptive they were. Using examples like Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Voxy and LearnSmart Advantage, Philip looked at the difference between individualization (where the learner can adapt the speed of the course to his liking), differentiation (where the learner can adapt both the speed and the method to suit his learning style) and personalization (where the learner can adapt not only the speed and the method, but also the learning objectives and the content).

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Following an interactive session hosted by Nicky Hockley, Waleed Nureldeen and Katie Quartano from the Disabled Access Friendly campaign looked at the importance of going beyond the safe (and perhaps boring) topics of the average ELT course about travel, food, and pets and encouraging our students to think critically and take responsibility as they are presented with real world topics like disability. Waleed and Katie took us through several activities and lesson suggestions before encouraging teachers to take a humanitarian approach to teaching when considering their own professional development.

In her presentation Marisa Constantinides talked about her journey in professional development and showed us how one can try to go online to pursue online professional development. While attending conferences and amassing a large number of ELT and Applied Linguistics books can help one’s professional development, the advent of the World Wide Web has enabled us to learn from others and share what we are learning. Extolling the virtues of Twitter and blogs, along with the relevant hashtags and ELTchat, Marisa showed how online professional development can lead to firm friendships with like-minded ELT professionals, invitations to do keynote speeches, and opportunities to develop material and projects that all, in turn, lead to more learning and development.

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The following morning, author of ‘How to teach Business English’ Evan Frendo walked the audience through a detailed and useful overview of what it means to teach business English. From an engineer speaking to another in technical Engineering terms to an engineer speaking to his client and making small talk, Evan showed a broad spectrum of topics which could fall under business English. Looking at the different contexts in which trainers could be employed to teach business English, Evan looked at the importance of needs analyses and material development, especially when dealing with the specific needs of some clients and corporations.

Web conf 5Barbara Sinclair’s session ‘Learner Autonomy: What’s ‘hot’ and what matters’ started by recognizing the individual psychological differences in our learners, such as differences in learning styles, motivation, attitudes, etc. Barbara did not just pay lip service to the practice of giving learners more autonomy but explored the socio-cultural aspects of social learning (Vygotsky) and the possible accusation of Western imperialism when imposing learner autonomy in non-Western cultures. Encouraging teachers to respect our learners’ skills to learn autonomously, Barbara suggested we pay more attention to the dialogues we have with our students to help them learn and explore.

In a talk entitled ‘Challenging Thinking on Challenging Behaviour’, Marie Delaney addressed issues in the classroom that every teacher has faced: the issue of the problem student. Marie warned us all of ‘projection’ and how our feelings of anger and frustration can be sensed and mirrored by the students in question. In order to comprehend why some students are more problematic than others, it is important to first understand what makes a good student. Marie then exemplified the problem student and how he/she might behave in the classroom, and suggested strategies for helping with such behaviour and to aid self-regulation. Marie’s slides are available on the IATEFL website and are well-worth downloading.

After an interactive session facilitated and hosted by myself and IATEFL committee member Bethany Cagnol, author of ‘Digital Play’, Graham Stanley, who no doubt had the funniest session title, gave his talk ‘Killer bunnies and the quest for the magic carrot’. Filled with practical ideas to help ‘gamify’ the classroom, Graham said that gamification in the classroom to encourage competitive behaviour, positive feedback, and managing learning behaviour is nothing new, but that the tools available to us today could  help win students over.

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I had the honour and privilege of presenting the closing session on Sunday afternoon (British Time), in a talk called ‘What do ELT teachers do all day?’, where I attempted to summarise the wide scope of what it means to be an ELT teachers, provoking discussion in the webinar chat field, bringing together some of the topics that were discussed during the conference, and adding a few ‘hot topics’ of my own.

You can watch my talk here

I might be biased, but I believe IATEFL’s first web conference not only successfully highlighted the ‘hot topics’ in ELT, but also brought the very current and relevant content and the excellent networking opportunities of typical IATEFL conferences to the living rooms around the world. So once again, my most sincere congratulations to the organizing committee on their roaring success.

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