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Barb's Bits and Bytes

Web 2.0 for learning and teaching - the continuing online adventures of a not-so-techie teacher

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?

« Socially Responsible ELT | Main | The Virtual Round Table -- A free online conference for language teachers »


A primary driver for setting up was what I saw as a pressing need to “disseminate knowledge” free of charge to those who don’t have access to it. Not everyone can afford to get to conferences and not everyone has access to published research - even if they do have access they don’t always have the time to read research papers or dense heavy going academic books! It’s also nice to put a face to some of those well known leaders in our field. So for me free-on line access to material can only enhance our professionalism be that with and through formal organisational structures (professional associations) or without them. One final point I am very much against the practice of to restrict some access to some areas to members only. I understand restrictions to the journal but why restricted access to “The resource centre” or “My communities”? They won’t allow me to put a link to because I am not a member! Such restrictive practices by professional organisations are most regrettable and should be challenged.

Great to read your comments on Glasgow Online, Barbara.

We're delighted that this British Council / IATEFL initiative reaches so many teachers around the world and provides a 'taste' of IATEFL for those that might never have a chance to attend.

It was back in Cardiff - 3 years ago - when we felt that we were making significant progeress with our online coverage. People generally stopped commenting on the technology we were using and started to focus on the content we were able to deliver.

It was Dr. Bonny Norton, in her plenary at IATEFL Cardiff who commented on this, saying:
'It's the proliferation and democratisation of knowledge that is truly pioneering.'

'What [IATEFL] Online does is provide free access to stunning plenaries and interviews – remarkable! Even in remote African regions, as long as there is connectivity and bandwidth, IATEFL Online can reach and include teachers who were previously excluded.'

Bonny Norton's plenary is still available at:

Thanks again on behalf of the whole team


Thank you, Huw and Julian, for taking the time to leave comments.

Huw, I really appreciate the time and effort you put into maintaining It's a wonderful resource, and growing all the time. The more access we have to academic research, the better for our profession.

Julian, Cardiff was my first online IATEFL conference, and I've been hooked since then! I might not have been in rural Africa, but even high tech Japan can feel isolated! Thanks also for including Dr. Norton's plenary. I'd say that IATEFL's efforts at proliferation and democratization are succeeding, and get better each year!

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