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April 11, 2012

The never ending conference

I recently attended my first IATEFL conference, after several years of following the conference online. One of the main reasons I chose to attend IATEFL was because of the online access I'd enjoyed in previous years. Of course, having a chance to meet online friends, being invited to participate in a symposium on professional development through social networking, and given a chance to do a Pecha Kucha presentation were also motivating factors :-)


Living in Japan, and not having a travel budget, I really appreciate the online outreach efforts from both TESOL and IATEFL. I've written about TESOL's Electronic Village Online before, and it's no secret that I'm a fan. I'm just as big a fan of IATEFL Online. To support its annual conference, IATEFL broadcasts (and records) all of the plenaries, a fair number of workshops, and a steady stream of interviews during the conference.

One day I found myself sharing a taxi to the conference venue with Marion Williams. It was during her term as IATEFL President that the board decided to make much of the conference freely available online. I asked her if they'd worried that making the conference so accessible would reduce attendance. She said that ultimately, the board decided that one of IATEFL's main missions was to make information available to as many teachers as possible, and even if fewer teachers attended the conference perhaps more would benefit from the sharing that occurred online. (Apologies to Marion for the paraphrasing--it was a taxi ride, not an interview, so I didn't take notes.)

The results of that decision are impressive. While IATEFL attracted over 2000 participants to Glasgow, IATEFL Glasgow Online had over 400,000 page views from 50,000 visitors from 157 countries. While it's possible that some of the 50,000 visitors chose not to physically travel to Glasgow because they could enjoy the conference virtually, it's also true that some of the participants were in Glasgow because of the online access they'd enjoyed during previous conferences. Like me.

The forums remain open for some time after the conference so that discussion can continue, and the archives are available indefinitely. If you want to get a feel for IATEFL 2012, you can read through posts from any of the 77 registered bloggers, browse through the video recordings of live sessions, or the uploaded presentation slides, or the interviews.

If you're interested, my interview touches on the role of Twitter in bringing me to the conference (as well as TESOL EVO, ELT Chat, JALT 2012, and iTDi). Kevin Cleary also did a wonderful job representing JALT in his interview!

There's a lesson here, perhaps. Giving access away doesn't necessarily mean that people won't be willing to pay for membership, or for the chance to attend an event in person. It may even make them more willing to pay in order to support efforts to share. At least, that's what I think. What about you? Does giving free access online help or hurt professional teacher organizations?

April 20, 2012

The Virtual Round Table -- A free online conference for language teachers

The Virtual Round Table is a free professional development opportunity that begins on Friday, April 20th and runs through Sunday, April 21st. It's an online conference about language learning and technology, and if you're interested in seeing what a virtual conference feels like, this is a great chance to check one out!

The conference is a mixture of keynotes, panel discussions, and webinars on technology as it relates to teaching, learning, and presenting. The presentation topics cover a wide range of interests:

Holistic teaching
Digital literacies
Mobile Learning
Online presentation techniques
Games for language learning
Using images and music
Teaching young learners
The effects of texting on language change
Online testing tools
Using and creating video
Teaching in Asia
Online resources

You can see the complete program here: VRT Conference Program

If you've attended conferences in Asia, you'll notice some familiar names in the program. I'll be doing a webinar on teaching writing, Chuck Sandy and Vladimira Michalkova will be talking about Supr@ise, Shelly Terrell will be talking about mobile learning, Nicky Hockly will be talking about digital literacies, and Steven Herder will be talking about innovating EFL teaching in Asia. (Steven and Shelly are also two of the conference organizers.)

The beauty of virtual conferences like this is that you can also see presenters who don't often have a chance to come to Asia. For example, in my session I'll be sharing a room with Patrick Jackson in Ireland, and Ayat Tawel in Egypt. Our session begins at 10:30 pm GMT on Saturday, which means that it will be very late Saturday night for Patrick and Ayat, and early Sunday morning for me in Japan. Virtual conferences are the only way that presenters and participants from different countries around the world can share the same room at the same time without having to travel to do so. I think that's very cool.

The other thing I love about virtual conferences is that everything is recorded. If two presentations you want to see happen at the same time, or if a presentation happens while you are usually asleep, you can always watch the recording later. Recordings from all of the VRT conferences are archived, and presentations from this VRT will also be available long after the conference has ended. (For convenience, I keep links to online conference archives on my wiki.)

Registration and participation is free. You can sign up at: virtual-round-table.com

Sessions will take place in Adobe Connect Pro. If you enter the Adobe room, you will be able to interact with the presenters (just like you do at face-to-face conferences). The links to the various Adobe rooms are listed in the session descriptions on the Events page of the VRT website. If you have problems with Adobe (or don't want to bother with it) the sessions will also be livestreamed (like watching the session on TV).

Here's the complete schedule: Virtual Round Table Conference Program

The times are all listed in GMT, although Tokyo time is also included. If you're in Japan, just add 9 hours to the listed GMT times. You can also use the calculator at TimeandDate.com to figure out what time GMT is for you.

Hope you can join some of the presentations. Virtual Round Table is a great introduction to online conferences, and a great way to learn about technology in language teaching. Plus, you can attend sessions in your pajamas!

April 25, 2012

Behind the scenes at a webinar

Last week, I wrote about the Virtual Round Table, a web conference. If you missed it, all of the webinar recordings are now available online.

Now I'm preparing for the 2nd iTDi Global Webinar, which happens this coming Saturday, April 28th. Since I'm also helping to organize this webinar, I thought it might be interesting to take you along for a peek behind the scenes, so you can see how a webinar is similar to, and different from face-to-face presentations.

Much of the preparation is very similar. You need to find speakers people will want to listen to and learn from. However, one big difference is that for a webinar you don't have to worry about proximity or the cost of flying speakers to your location. You do have to take time zones into consideration, and how comfortable speakers are with the technology of giving an online presentation. There's always a behind-the-scenes juggler or two making sure that everything happens as it should. In our case, the jugglers are Steven Herder and Gareth Knight. They won't be too visible during the actual webinar, but they're the ones who make sure that everything goes smoothly during the event.

For iTDi's upcoming webinar, we'll start with me in Japan, talking about the changing fashions in ELT. I'll be speaking at 12 noon GMT, which is 9 pm for me. Then, we'll hop over to Turkey to listen to Özge Karaoglu talk about what she's learned from using technology with very young learners. It will be afternoon for Özge. The speaker after Özge is Ann Mayeda, back in Japan. Ann will be talking about learner autonomy. Following Ann is Penny Ur, who is in Israel. Penny will talk about effective teaching and teachers. Finally, we'll head to Ecuador for the final presentation, from Kate Cory-Wright. It will still be fairly early in the morning for Kate when she talks about action research.

The audience members are also scattered around the world. So far, nearly 400 people have registered from over 65 countries. It's best to ask people to pre-register for a webinar because the only way to enter a virtual room is with a link to the room. At a conference, you give people a map to a presentation room. For a webinar, the url (link) replaces a map. As you might imagine, pre-registering 400 people and then getting them into one location (and helping everyone with connection problems) can be a big job. I'm glad that Gareth and Steven are willing to take on those tasks.

People who can't afford to travel to conferences can attend webinars. All you need is a computer and a relatively fast Internet connection. That can be a challenge. The concept of having hundreds of people in one virtual room, interacting with a presenter in real time is pretty amazing, so it stands to reason that the technology would have to be pretty amazing in order to make this happen. Some people have trouble attending webinars because either their computers or their Internet are not fast enough. Luckily, there are always recordings for occasions when the technology doesn't work out.

That's probably the biggest difference between a webinar and a face-to-face presentation -- the technology. First, presenters typically have to practice in the virtual room several times before a webinar to make sure that webcams and microphones work and that uploaded slides and videos play correctly. The moderator is responsible for keeping everything moving on schedule, supporting presenters when they run into technical problems, and monitoring the audience chat. The chat is where participants comment on the speakers' points, and ask questions. When you're actually presenting, it's hard to watch the chat closely, so you depend on the moderator to let you know when a question has been asked. iTDi is extremely lucky that Shelly Sanchez Terrell has agreed to moderate our Global Webinars. Not only is she extremely tech-capable, but she makes both presenters and audience members feel connected in what could be an extremely unconnected environment. She also seems to live beyond time zones, which is a plus for this kind of event.

While webinars are often free, the technology is not. iTDi uses Adobe Pro Connect for our webinars. Webinar attendance is generally 1/4 of the number of people who pre-register. Our Adobe "room" seats 100 people, which we assumed would be more than adequate for our needs, since pre-registration for each of our webinars so far has remained below 400 people. We underestimated the enthusiasm of teachers around the world. It's just as frustrating to be unable to enter a virtual room as it is to be denied entrance at a conference because a session room is too small for the number of people interested in attending. Even though we record all of the webinar presentations, we still feel bad knowing that someone who wants to be in the room can't be. But, we can't afford to upgrade to a larger room, either.

Enter Heike Philip of let's talk online sprl. Heike, along with Steven, Shelly, and Berni Wall, coordinated last week's Virtual Round Table. Nearly 700 participants attended webinars in her Adobe rooms. Anyway, Heike figured out how to connect two rooms so that we can double our capacity. (Heike knows her way around Adobe better than anyone I've ever met!) Now we don't have to worry about turning anyone away on Saturday. Chuck Sandy will host the crowd in our second room so that we don't miss any of the conversation or questions that come up there. It will be just like having one large room, I think!

The final consideration for a webinar is promoting it. Luckily, Chuck coordinates our publicity efforts. Chuck has more friends than just about anyone I know -- except perhaps Shelly. There would be little point to the effort involved in putting together a webinar if no one knew about it. Social media makes it relatively easy to share information, as long as you have friends willing to share. In the friends department, iTDi is blessed with the best. Our Associates and friends do an incredible job in sharing information with their online networks.

There you have it -- a peek behind the preparations for iTDi's Global Webinar. It's online collaboration at its best. Organizers in 3 countries have worked to facilitate the event with a moderator and speakers from 4 countries, and participants from 65 more countries. The fun happens this Saturday, April 28th, beginning at 12 noon GMT (9 pm in Japan). I'm happy to be able to say that with our new room arrangement, you can still register for the webinar and be confident about being able to find a seat.

I hope to see you there!

About April 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Barb's Bits and Bytes in April 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2012 is the previous archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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