Board Members Reflect on TESOL International’s First Virtual Conference

26 Aug 2020 9:53 PM | Anonymous

Several members of the board of directors attended the recent virtual conference hosted by TESOL International. The face-to-face annual conference which would have occurred in Denver, Colorado, USA in the spring was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. Thus, the organization decided to capitalize on the new virtual reality that has overtaken our world, particularly in the education sector. So, the conference was moved online, making it more accessible and affordable to a wider range of stakeholders the world over. See what both the current president of TESOL Kuwait and the secretary had to say about their experience.

Why did you choose to attend the first virtual TESOL conference? 

VERONICA: I wanted to participate in TESOL International conference for a long time, but the distance and cost made it very difficult for me. The first virtual TESOL Conference offered a solution to my problems, so I was more than happy to participate from home. I am also involved with organizing conferences and I wanted to learn as much as possible from the experience.

ANN: I wanted to find some new approaches to teaching writing to university-level students.

If you were organizing/running the conference, what would you have done differently, if anything? 

VERONICA: Honestly, I would have focused more on big names in the field. I would have involved keynotes who are famous for their research on second language acquisition and who could give us their insights in how people are learning a second language. Concerning normal sessions, I think I would have liked to see something more practical, for example any methodological techniques which could help with teaching in the class. I don’t think many people are interested in a lot of theory being crammed in one- hour video.

ANN: I would have offered more sessions where the presenters demonstrated how to use apps and demonstrate a process step-by-step. In addition, I would have offered more livestream sessions.

How was the overall experience of attending a multi-day virtual conference?

VERONICA: The overall experience was good. We got some new ideas about organizing our own events and about the technology that is involved. However, I think three days is a bit demanding taking into account that some of us are employed and have to work from home. However, TESOL International was kind enough to allow access to the sessions for about 60 days [following the virtual event], and I think this compensates for the inconvenience.

ANN: The conference did not meet my expectations.

What best practices or lessons learned did you glean from the event that you can apply in your teaching context and/or practice going forward?

VERONICA: Well, I’m still learning a little every day but I liked “The Five Steps to Grammar” offered by National Geographic and I’m keen on watching the session again to take detailed notes.

ANN: I learned that H5P can be used with WordPress as well as Moodle.

Where do you see the future of the industry going in light of the ongoing challenges of our day and age? How can educators be best positioned to meet such challenges and to embrace the opportunity of leading change in the TESOL field?

VERONICA: We live, indeed, in a challenging age. I think the future belongs to those who can adapt to the growing challenges and demands of our world. As they say, adaptation is the key to survival, and I think the survival in our times equals technology. Educators and stakeholders need to understand that the educational system needs to undergo major changes. How much has changed in the past 100 years? What started as a heavily teacher-focused approach, must switch to a learner – focused and connectedness – focused approach.

By that, I mean that technology must mitigate the problems in education and work hand in hand with what we already know about learning and teaching. I believe that too many times we underestimate the abilities of our students and that the traditional educational systems do not give a choice to our students to develop their potential by studying the things they are interested in. Technology could assist with that given that we are all willing to walk the extra mile to achieve this goal. 

ANN: If I had a crystal ball, I would probably see more virtual conferences and meetings used for professional development purposes. Also, without any end in sight for the pandemic, educators are going to need to teach more and more online.

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