Sunday, April 5, 2009


Publishers' Display: This was a bit disappointing--the publishers seemed to have just their most recent texts available. I'm used to seeing larger numbers of books available and being able to take time perusing them. This seemed to be more hard-sell on the few texts being currently flogged!
Exhibition Area: In this section, various colleges were promoting their ESL courses or their TESL programs. It was something I'm not familiar with from the Canadian conferences.
Internet Cafe: One of the publishers hosted an Internet Cafe--a very popular venue. There were always lines of people waiting to use the computers.
The National Museum: Some presentations were in the National Museum; it's another impressive building right next to City Hall. However, it's a more modern building, so there aren't the ornate ceilings, paintings and statues of City Hall.
Evening Programs: There were various programs each evening mainly designed to introduce the delegates to Wales and Welsh culture. I can't comment on these as I didn't attend. Perhaps if I hadn't already spent three years living in Wales and didn't have a number of Welsh relatives, my interest might have overcome my jet-lag.
Crowds: There were some 1600 delegates to this conference--more than had been expected when the planning began. As a result, nost of the sessions were very crowded, and it was difficult getting into some of them. The crowds in-between sessions also made it difficult to get around, find refreshments--water, tea, coffee. But I have to concede that this crowdedness did give an air of excitement.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


This was just a part-day--I had on-going travel plans and decided that I could well miss the closing plenary and closing ceremony. Good-bye flowers and parks.

There was a very interesting session on "Bringing Technology into the Classroom". Again, the assumption was that the instructor can take the class to a computer lab--not possible for me. What was relevant was the idea that pedagogy is not keeping pace with the changes in technology--by the time an instructor has figured out how to use some particular technology, the whole situation has changed again! This is very relevant for my situation in which I can't make changes on the fly. Asynchronous course delivery brings its own constraints.

The important concept here was that the task should dictate the tool. I've seen technology being used for the sake of technology, and that doesn't work.

The speaker proposed four models for the use of technology in the classroom:
1. Traditional online--some online activities in class time.
2. Integrated--online activities on an LMS, but course still text-based.
3. Replacement (blended)--not a live classroom.
4. Virtual classroom--fully online (students interact via computer, student-teacher interaction also online).

The AU system doesn't fall neatly into any one of these ...

Friday, April 3, 2009


I should read the program more carefully--I managed to select two sessions that were publishers' promos. Whenever the one guy mentioned the text that he was pushing, he said "ka-ching!" Another session, "The Digital Classroom" picked up on the ideas presented by Marc Prensky in the plenary--digital immigrant vs. digital native. The proposal was that if those two are on one continuum, then an intersecting continuum is from techno-phobe to techno-geek. This model then provides for four quadrants.

In another session, we were given information on a variety of online resources:
Hot Potatoes
Moodle discussions
The Idiom Connection
English Listening Lab Online (ELLO)
CoBuild concordance and Collacations
Study Note

A session on "The tipping point in the EAP classroom" proved interesting; the presenter was talking about the importance of transitions to signal intent in writing. He was particularly concerned with teaching towards the IELTS paragraph writing test, and was particularly fond of the "not only but also" transiton. He also talked about teaching students how to use complex noun phrases at the start of sentence and getting students to recognize these structures and how they modify the basic sentence. There is a big emphasis/focus on IELTS at this conference; I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

It was yet another fine day for lunch in the park.

I still didn't manage to last until the end of the day--it was a combination of jet lag and information overload.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I chose the plenary offered by Bonny Norton from UBC. It was rather academic for a plenary session--win some, lose some! I've just discovered that she's giving the same plenary at TESL Canada this year--win some, lose some!

I found most of the sessions to be very short (30 to 40 mins). It seemed that a presenter had hardly started introducing a topic before it was time to finish. Some presentations lived up to their descriptions--some didn't. I was intrigued by a session titled "What the label says: the meaning of grammatical terms." The presenter had wonderful photographs of South America playing on his computer while we waited to start. Unfortunately, that was the most interesting part of the presentation. It consisted of him giving the audience very obscure grammatical terms that he had found in a book for teaching English in Russia, and seeing whether any of us had heard of these terms or could guess what they might mean! You try--pleonastic, pronominal, dummy operator, stranded operator, pied piping, paucal quantifier, the bare existential, bare relatives (not what I would have thought), and the patient (also not what I would have thought).

It was interesting to go to a presentation on EAP and vocabulary and reading skills. The presenter referred often to the work of Tom Cobb--he was a keynote speaker at ATESL a few years ago, and I remember having a conversation with him about some of his work with corpora and concordances.

Something I thought I would be interested in was "Mobile English: creating English language learning materials for iPhone/iPod", but it turned out to be more about the cost involved either upfront or in monthly fees for using these items.

Had lunch in the park again--bacon sandwich was a real disappointment. The flowers and atmosphere made up for it.

I met up with someone I knew--Robert Berman--who used to head up the ELP at U of A and who is now living and working in Iceland. It was interesting talking to him about his current activities and memories of Edmonton. I also met up with Dafne Gonzales from South America whom I had previously met at the TESOL conference in Seattle two years ago--she's very involved with webheads-in-action.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Some of the sessions are in the most amazing rooms--carved ceilings, paintings, sculptures, stained glass; it's hard to concentrate on presentations at times.

The most interesting sessions for me were those associated with the Learning Technologies SIG--there was a series of presentations. I particularly liked "Digital storytelling ..." by Kirsty McGeoch from Australia. Her students have produced very interesting videos. Another session, "Connect! Communicate! Collaborate!" was offered by Graham Stanley--I'd already met him online through the "Learning with Computers" group in evo (TESOL).He discussed social networking, Wordle, Facebook, cyber bullying and ning. Another presentation was by a young Turkish woman who was a travel grant winner who was blogging with her grade 5 class. I didn't make it to the end of the day--jet lag caught up with me!


Bag lunches are available each day--five pounds each--quite a lot for what's in them, but food is expensive here. It's probably cheaper than going elsewhere to buy something for lunch, and the nice thing is that the weather is holding. I can sit in the park, chat with other conference-goers, and enjoy the flowers--daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, primula--all the things we won't see here for at least another month.

DAY 1: April Fool's Day and a Plenary

I decided to go to the plenary with Marc Prensky. The venue was fantastic--an ornate hall with carved and painted ceiling, and a Welsh harpist playing as we poured in through the doors. I'd walked there with a Japanese Ph.D. student from Austrailia that I had met in my hotel (those conference bags are a give-away). She told me she was going to do a lot of shopping in Cardiff as the shopping was much better there than in Sydney.

The plenary opened with a surprise. The incoming president of IATEFL got up and started speaking in Welsh--someone else translated for him. When the greetings were over, he announced that there was a major change to the program--all the sessions were to be delivered in Welsh! There was a stunned silence, and then a smiley face was projected onto the screen and the words "April Fool"!

I'm known for avoiding plenaries like the plague, but this one turned out to be interesting. He was expanding on the idea he had presented in 2001 in his book about the dichotomy between "digital natives" and "digital immigrants." He contends that anyone born after 1980 is a digital immigrant and, as such, has a "digital accent." It's an interesting concept, especially when there is that easy analogy for language teachers. I'm not sure if his cut-off date is that useful. While I'm perfectly prepared to admit that I'm a digital immigrant, and I have a definite digitial accent, in later discussions many people preferred to think of it more as a state of mind. In reality, I think it's more of a continuum--there are people with varying degrees of "fluency" and some with "near-native" abilities.
The importance of this concept for language teachers is that many of our students are digital immigrants--either because of age or previous access to the technology--yet others are far more fluent than us.