Last week I received a surprise invitation from Graham Stanley to participate as a panelist in a Round Table online discussion (being hosted by the IATEFL LTSIG group) on Educational Technology which was part of a British Council unconference being held in Moscow: Rebooting the Conference – Technologies in Education. Graham had said he hoped to invite five participants who would share their experiences concerning the implementation of technology in language classrooms in different countries. We would be speaking to an online audience as well as the audience participating physically at the Moscow unconference.
Needless to say, I said yes immediately. Why? Well, the idea of bringing all these ELT practitioners together to share our perspectives made the idea thoroughly appealing. I had previously participated in a few other online Round Tables (as an online participant) and had found the whole process fascinating and incredibly rewarding. The possibility of being able to go beyond the walls of your own language school or institution synchronously via an online environment and share with colleagues all around the world is something I certainly never dreamt of in my wildest dreams when I was doing my initial teacher training over twenty years ago. Indeed, I would say that even a decade ago if you had said this was possible I would have said: no, nonsense! That’s so sci-fi!
After all, it was only twelve years ago that we introduced computers into the classroom in our language institution in which I work here in Brazil. We introduced computers and Power Point so this could act as an additional resource for teachers. A number of us, like myself, were “multipliers” who were there to help teachers use the computers and power point for the first time.
I was lucky in that as early as 1994 I had a computer at home here in Brazil and as early as 1998 accessed the internet at home via dial-up. All due to the fact that my brother was a computer programmer and software developer so I had access to technology at home. Twelve years ago in Brazil most teachers didn’t have computers at home. Many had never even used computers, let alone power point. I remember clearly running dozens of sessions in which teachers were driven to tears just by the perspective of opening and showing power point presentations with learners. Of course, all of them got the hang of things, but it was a painful learning experience for many (this actually influenced me directly when we came to the implementation of the IWBs in our institution and I developed the teacher training programme for this implementation – I didn’t want to repeat what had happened years ago.)
Yes, I am digressing a bit. But there is a reason for looking into the past and this is it: the past is the past. It’s glorious, in all its rich detail and vivid memories. Yes, I love looking back to all those fabulous hours spent in the staff room swapping ideas. I loved writing letters to my friends who had moved to far and distant lands after leaving college and hearing about their teaching experiences in diverse countries and contexts. Yes, I did have time back then to actually sit down and write a letter.
But today is different and the sooner I understand this the better it’ll be for my own professional development and hopefully, as a teacher trainer. Today I do have the wonderful resource of technology. Today I don’t have to wait an eternity for that letter from a friend to arrive and tell me what they’re up to. Today I have social media through which I can have almost instant access to friends, colleagues and what has become known as a “PLN” (Personal learning Network).
Yes, I can and I do share ideas related to ELT through Twitter: receiving very inspirational collaboration from people all over the world. I’m also particularly fond of Twitter as a disseminator of ideas during conferences (tweeted either during the event itself or later). If it hadn’t been for Olga Barnashova (on Twitter known as @olgabarnashova) I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with what was taking place at the Moscow Reboot unconference. Through her tweets I was able to get a general glimpse and then looked at the event blogs to get the full picture. The discussions and sharing of ideas which happened in Moscow are something which I can share with our teachers here in Brazil and then build up on this and take our own reflection to a new dimension, always focusing on our own particular reality here.
Isn’t this simply brilliant? Isn’t this what we educators have always wanted? In fact, isn’t this the essence of education: reflective practice? This is what technology can enable: good reflective practice.
And going back to the online round table. The chance to get speakers talking about their experiences and realities in Brazil (myself) , India (Kalyan Chattopadhyay), Cyprus (Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou), Abu Dhabi (Vance Stevens), Morocco (Nik Peachey) and Graham Stanley moderating from Barcelona was phenomenal. In a single hour we were able to listen to different experiences concerning the implementation of technology in language classrooms around the world and this certainly provided me with a new perspective concerning the manner in which technology can be viewed. The discussion which ensued also provided me with some interesting new concepts and suggestions of further reading, for example, Vance Stevens talking about SMALL – Social Media Assisted Language Learning and the link provided in fact by Vance to IndiaCALL, run by Kalyan. We were also able to listen to one or two ideas from participants who were watching us in Moscow as Gavin Dudeney was one of the facilitators over there.
I won’t go into details about what we actually discussed. To that end you can read Olga’s blog post summary. Yet, what was so fantastic about this all was that for 60 minutes last Friday 44 people who were online and I’m not sure how many were physically present in Moscow managed to come together and discuss issues pertaining to educational technology which are relevant and important in our day-to-day teaching practice.
It was a no-nonsense, practical, pragmatic, informative, revealing, rewarding educational experience. One I wouldn’t have missed for the world.