All posts by Elek Mathe

The best of the ELT blogosphere 2009

This will be a very subjective and incomplete list of the blog posts I found the best (whatever that means) in 2009. I had no criteria or concept; the list is simply based on my impressions. Please feel free to add your favourite posts in the comments section.

So, these are the posts that I particularly enjoyed in 2009, in no particular order:

Burcu Akyol: My (Professional) New Year’s Resolutions

A truly inspiring list – could apply to all teachers.

Jeremy Harmer: Trouble in twitterland, bullets in the blogosphere

A thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on a recent debate sparked by Gavin Dudeney here on egos and much more.

Gavin Dudeney: The Luddite Codex

An excellent rebuttal to those opposing the use of technology in ELT – brilliantly argued.

Scott Thornbury: D is for Drills

Scott’s first post on his new blog, and what a way to start! Also, make sure you read the comments too – they’re as valuable as the original piece itself, as is often the case with great posts.

Tamás Lőrincz’s guest post on Ken Wilson’s blog: A tribute to the real unsung heroes

I can only repeat what I read in the comments: a touching post.

Lindsay Clandfield: Six activities with camcorders

Original, useful, practical, inspiring.

Tamás Lőrincz: What’s your story? The start of a love affair

Tamás keeps on coming up with touching posts.

Gavin Dudeney’s guest post on Lindsay Clandfield’s blog: Six attitudes to technology

Once again, Gavin takes a critical look at some false assumptions on the use of ICT in ELT. And once again, read the comments by all means – isn’t it interesting that the first negative comment accuses him of making up strawmen? The exact same argument was used against my similar post by a different colleague.

Ken Wilson: “Who CARES what English people have for breakfast?” – My contribution to the culture debate

The title says it all – thoughts on teaching culture; again, read the comments section as well.

OK, this list will have to end here, I’m afraid. It took me well over a day to write this short post because I kept on reading instead of writing (not a bad thing, actually). When I began, I had a vague idea of which posts I wanted to include, but of course I re-read many more, followed links… you know how it goes. So the list remains incomplete and unfair, as there are no posts included from Vicki Hollett, Sara J. Hannam, Stephen Downes, Graham Stanley, Nik Peachey… and many more.

Please help remedy this situation and post a link to your favourite ELT blog posts of 2009 in the comments.

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Create animated cartoons in seconds

OK, this might not be the greatest animated cartoon ever created but it took me about five minutes, starting from scratch:

Your students will need less time and create much better animations too, no doubt. The possibilities are endless – there are so many things you can do with it you actually have to concentrate not to lose focus and get lost while exploring all the options.

You can get your students to create stories based on the topic you’re dealing with or use it in any other way, in groups or individually – you can even make it into a competition and they can vote on the best pieces. Just exploring the options and learning to use the site will be useful in itself – they will have a reason to read for information if they’re interested in creating animations.

Visit goanimate.com to create an account and create your own stuff. I only have one slight misgiving about the site: they use pretty heavy marketing tactics to promote themselves – but, hey, they have to make a living.

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Myths, misunderstandings, misconceptions and more about ICT – Part 1

There are so many myths, misunderstandings, false assumptions and other misconceptions concerning using technology in the foreign language classroom that a meaningful exchange of ideas is often impossible because people on the two sides simply have no common ground. Opponents of ICT surprisingly frequently make value judgements and condemn technology on a moral or psychological basis, which makes a healthy debate impossible. This stance takes the whole issue out of the realm of education and puts advocates of ICT in a position where they have to defend themselves right from the start – this is an unacceptable basis for a professional discussion.

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Also, ICT is often dismissed as a passing fad. Again, this is an unsuitable starting point. It is all very well when somebody believes they are clairvoyants and can reliably predict the future, but we should be talking about the present here. It’s very convenient to want to discuss the future since nobody can have any concrete evidence about it, but it is only an easy way out of a discussion based on observation and proof. We should concentrate on the present, and it is safe to say that technology is very much here with us now, so let’s accept this fact instead of saying that it will go away so why bother.

With this in mind, let me try and clarify a few things that I believe hinder understanding concerning using technology in the classroom.

Another new method? No, thanks

A lot of teachers seem to be suspicious of ICT because they feel this is a fancy new method being sold to them. Well, no. ICT is just a tool, not a method. A relatively new tool, and perhaps more complex than a cassette recorder or the OHP, but still a tool. Of course it is true that using a new tool will inevitably change your teaching – but are you sure that you want to keep on teaching in the same style for 30-40 years? ICT is not a method – just like the communicative approach is not a method either: it is an approach.

What often gets overlooked that it is very much in line with the old tradition of using whatever we have available for teaching – the cassette recorder and the OHP were not invented for language teaching purposes; we just grabbed them and used them nevertheless. Similarly, if you give a good teacher a bag of potatoes, he or she will be able to use it for teaching English – so why not do the same with technology too once it’s available?

I teach communicatively, I have no need for computers

If you really believe in the communicative approach, then ICT is for you. There are a lot of similarities between the two notions. The communicative approach is based on the observation that language is used for communication (should be a no-brainer, really). The idea of using computers in language teaching is based on the observation that our students live in a digital world (again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise either). This digital world is all about communication – and real communication, not simulations that we sometimes have to resort to in the classroom. Your students can exchange views and ideas with others around the globe about the topics that genuinely interest them – would this be possible without the net? And this is just one example – the possibilities are truly limitless.

But if the realisation that we all live in a digital world is not reflected in your teaching, you will not be teaching your students, but their “school personas” instead. Schools today are often so disconnected from the realities of the students’ world that kids (mainly unconsciously) develop a new personality that they “send to school” – this is reflected in the frequently quoted sentence “I have to power down when I go to school”. Schools used to be one of the main information sources – they no longer are. This old video (created more than two years ago, that’s very old on the net!) was a huge hit, with close to 3.5 million direct downloads and probably tens of millions of viewers – and we still have to convince teachers that they cannot go on living in a world that no longer exists?

Technology distances people

Again, this is a classic example of the problem of answering a question without actually asking it. A long time ago someone came up with this completely unfounded statement and it has been parroted ever since, without actually thinking it over. I can only compare this mindless automatism to the well-known “truths” about our brain working at 10% capacity only (or 5%; figures vary; geniuses are believed to be able to use up to 20%), or dissolving a child’s tooth in a glass of Coke overnight (easily proven untrue, but nobody ever cares to perform this simple experiment, just passes on the urban legend without any criticism).

Why would technology distance people? Do you have a mobile phone? There are almost 11 million mobile phone numbers in use in Hungary, a country of 10 million, and the ratio is similar in all developed countries. Why? Because mobile phones are so convenient and make keeping in touch with others so easy. Before mobile phones, when you arranged to meet someone in the evening but found out later in the day, away from home, that it would be better to change either the place or the time of the meeting, you had to find a phone and hope to be able to reach the other person – often it was so hopeless that you didn’t even try. Now it’s not a problem. Or have you ever phoned your husband or children instead of trying to find them when you went your different ways in a shopping mall? Or think of correspondence before you had e-mail. How many “snail mail” messages (formerly known as “letters”) did you write a week? Or even in a month? And how many e-mails do you now write per day? Ten times as many? Probably twenty times as many? Where is that distancing effect then? Just the opposite is true. Technology brings all of us closer instead of alienating us. Frankly, claiming that anything new is dangerous is so lame that I feel embarrassed to have to disprove it. Facebook, Skype, YouTube… the list is endless. So much for distancing…

Technology always breaks down, I just can’t rely on it in my lessonskid-laptop-260

Not this one, please… So basically you’re claiming that there are things in life that don’t always work the way they’re supposed to? Now that’s new. You shouldn’t drive a car or even use a toaster – if these break down, you’re bound to be in greater trouble than in your lesson when you find that there’s no net access. Also, I don’t know if youhave  noticed but anything non-technical can go wrong just as well. No matter how thoroughly you prepare, there will always be aspects that you can’t control. Or are you so lucky that you’ve never had a brilliantly designed lesson go to complete waste because the kids were just in a bad mood or felt too tired, because you suddenly had a splitting headache, because there was a fire drill… ? Even if you say that the chances of something technical going wrong are higher (would be hard to prove, you must admit), you can and should have a backup plan for lessons requiring computers so that when technology fails, you have something to fall back on. Honestly, I have always felt that this “technology never works” slogan is just a poor excuse. Being afraid of anything new is a personality trait some people have, I’m aware of this fact. But we as teachers cannot afford this luxury, sorry.

This video repeats some of the same messages as the one embedded earlier, but I believe it has a powerful message.

Please comment.

To be continued…

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IATEFL Hungary 2009 conference: a look back; Part 1: overall impressions

The conference ended only a few hours ago as I’m starting to write this so it might be too early to draw any serious conclusions but I’ll be back with a more detailed report in the next couple of days – till then, let me share my overall impressions.

The view from the conference venue - photo by Peter Baranyai
The view from the conference venue - photo by Peter Baranyai

I think this was my eighth IATEFL Hungary conference, so I have grounds for comparison. I was there at this conference from opening till close, attended every plenary and went to a talk or workshop in each session. Overall, I think this was the best IATEFL Hungary conference I’ve ever attended – and this is saying a lot, considering the fact that I was involved with the organization of four previous conferences. What made it the best?

Venue: the Balassi Institute in Budapest proved to be a wise choice. Nice location, excellent rooms, all well-equipped.

Programme: this is easily the most important component of every conference. Either I was very lucky (or wise? :)) with my choices or the programme was really this good (clearly, it’s the latter). From time to time, you run into plenaries that you only go to because there’s no choice – not this time. All were interesting and informative, to say the least – more in detail about them in a later post.

Quite a few famous people in the audience at the opening
Quite a few famous people in the audience at the opening - photo by Peter Baranyai

The concurrent sessions were arranged into six slots, eight in each, five in the last; there were also five split sessions with two half-hour sessions in them, bringing the total to 49, unless my calculations are wrong. I find this a decent choice; although I know that we have had conferences with 10 or even 11 concurrent sessions, but that might be too many to choose from. I also know that there have been conferences with more than six concurrent session slots but it’s better to put convenient breaks between sessions than having to run from one workshop to another. I don’t know if this relative scarcity of presentations was due to the volume of submitted abstracts or it happened because the readers were strict but in the end it worked out very well – it’s better to have fewer but higher quality presentations. I think the right balance was found; I only heard very positive feedback from fellow participants. All the workshops and talks I attended were excellent and useful – even the one I very strongly disagreed with (again, more about this and the other talks in a later post).

The SIG afternoon: Definitely one of the highlights of the conference (I’ll be saying this for too many things, I’m afraid). The concept of SIG afternoons was first introduced at the Esztergom conference three years ago and it has worked very well since then. Not surprisingly, I’ve always attended the ICT SIG event, and this year was no exception. What made this year different was that for the first time we were not only in our old circle of converts but had a decent amount of new people. 32 colleagues took part, which was nice – other SIGs didn’t have a lot bigger audience either, which I think is one of the signs that ICT has finally come of age in Hungary too, but I’ll elaborate on the ICT issues of the conference in a later post.

Organization: I can only congratulate the organizers and thank the committee for their hard work; everything went smoothly. This is why I was disappointed to see a relatively low turnout, especially at the opening and close. I know that a Friday afternoon might not be the best time of the week for an English teacher, but to see Éva Illés start delivering her excellent opening plenary to an audience of 44 people was disheartening, even if people started trickling in during her talk. This presentation would have deserved a much larger audience and those who were not there should regret missing it. I didn’t know at that time that Gordon Lewis’ fantastic closing plenary will receive the same number of people. Every English teacher would have benefited enormously from these two presentations. I know that the slides will be published on the IATEFL Hungary website but it’s not the same thing. The committee did everything to get the word out, they put together an excellent programme at a very convenient and beautiful location, invited internationally renowned speakers, and then the largest crowd was around 140-150 for Herbert Puchta’s Saturday mid-day plenary (I didn’t count the audience at the plenary given by Tamás Kiss, again an excellent talk, should have been an eye-opener for most). This is not what these speakers deserved and not what the organizers deserved. I don’t know what else they could have done – perhaps we need to start begging each English teacher personally now to come? I know this sounds like when I was at university and our teachers started complaining about too few of us being present at their lecture – to us, who were actually there; but of course you can only talk to those who will listen… Also, let’s not forget that there were 25 nations represented at the conference (probably the highest number ever), which is excellent news – but not really if you realise that you have to deduct the number of international participants from the total to get the number of Hungarian teachers of English taking part…

The same goes for IATEFL Hungary membership, which now stands at around 420 (has been increasing recently). A decent size, considering the fact that it’s probably the highest ever, and even if it isn’t, I’m sure it’s never been above 500. But in a country of well over 50,000 English teachers, 22,000 of them working in public education, this is again disheartening. Especially if we consider the fact that this is the only professional association for teachers of English. The current committee has been working very hard for the past couple of years to increase membership, and they have managed to recruit quite a few new members – again, hats off to them, unconditionally. When I was on the committee, our priority was also to increase membership – and the same has been true for all committees for the past 20 years. And this is the result: between .5 and 1 per cent, depending on how you define your target audience. And don’t tell me it’s because of the price. Publishers’ free conferences rarely attract more than 300 people, usually fewer – and you mostly see the same faces there too. The interest is just not there, it seems. You can’t say that all the committees in the past 20 years have failed to come up with anything convincing – clearly it’s not their fault. I’ll go out on a limb and say that maybe it’s time to accept the fact that the vast majority of English teachers in Hungary is simply not interested in cooperation and building a community, so maybe we should rearrange our priorities and stop using the scarce resources to try and increase membership – there will be more left for catering to the needs of the existing members.

I just had to say these things because I was really sad to see the most important professional event of the year attract a relatively low number of Hungarian colleagues, especially when it was so great. Those of us who were there definitely enjoyed an excellent conference – the last component that made the whole experience so good is…

Andy Rouse in the middle - photo by Peter Baranyai
Andy Rouse in the middle - photo by Peter Baranyai

The social programme: I must confess that this is where I missed an event but from what I heard, Friday night’s musical entertainment was a huge success. But luckily I did go to Saturday’s Pecha Kucha night, organised by Lindsay Clandfield. This was the first such event in Hungary, and I’m sure there will be many more to follow. It is a stress test for the presenters, and enormous fun for the audience – I don’t remember the last time I laughed so much at a professional event; most probably at a talk given by Peter Medgyes – and this comparison should say a lot about the quality.

One more thing has to be mentioned in connection with the conference: in keeping with the tradition of publishing a “mELTing pot Extra” for each conference, this year’s thematic issue was on ICT. Now, if reading this magazine doesn’t convince an English teacher that it’s worth joining IATEFL Hungary, nothing will. I’ll write a separate post about it later – till then I can only say one thing: grab a copy if you haven’t done so yet. Mark Andrews and Anna Csí­ky did a great job – you’ll learn a lot from reading it.

It would be nice to read other participants’ comments; also, if you have also written a report on this conference, I’d like to link to it. And don’t forget that I’ll be back with a post on the talks I attended, another one on the ICT issues raised at the conference, plus a third one on mELTing pot Extra.

In closing, let me congratulate and thank the committee and the organisers again for all their hard work.

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AzETA International ELT conference

Azerbaijan English Teachers’  Association (AzETA) is delighted to announce 6th International ELT Conference  Reaching Out … for Success  to be held
on 14-15 November 2009
at Baku Slavic University, Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Conference will mainly focus on the following issues:

  • Teaching Civic Education through ELT
  • Methods and Teaching Skills
  • Using Technology for Teaching English
  • English for Specific Purposes
  • Materials development
  • Testing and Assessment
  • Teaching English to Young Learners
  • Online Projects
  • Involving learners in extra-curricula activities

Contact us:
Telephone: +994 12 441 5068 (ext.: 1-51)
Tel/Fax: +994 12 441 3632
Email: elmira_e40@hotmail.com
URL: http://www.az-eta.org/

Address: Room 322, Baku Slavic University 25, Suleyman Rustam Street Baku – AZ  1014 Azerbaijan

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CLIL course in Cyprus

The PROCLIL team is happy to announce a new training course on CLIL which will take place in Cyprus in May.
The course is eligible for EU funding – under the LLP programme – and participants have the chance to have their air fares, course fees and accomodation funded by the EU if they apply for grants by 16th January.

You can find more info here:
http://ec.europa.eu/education/trainingdatabase/index.cfm?fuseaction=DisplayCourse&cid=16148

In order to apply for funding you need to:

1) register for the course with the course organisers and receive a pre-registration document (letter)

2) fill in an application form for the EU which you then have to submit to your Lifelong Learning Programme national agency by the 16th January.

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Call for Papers: Language Learning in Computer Mediated Communities

The Language Learning in Computer Mediated Communities (LLCMC) Conference will take place October 11-13, 2009, in Honolulu. A pre-conference, CULTURA: Web-based Intercultural Exchanges, will take place October 10-11.

Abstracts for papers on the topic of language learning or language teaching in computer mediated communities are welcomed. Abstracts are due by March 1, 2009, with notification of selection results by April 15, 2009.

View the full call for papers at http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/llcmc/call.html

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Call for Papers: 1st International Seminar on Languages for Business

The Center for International Business Research (CIBER) at Florida International University (USA) and the European Association of Languages for Specific Purposes (AELFE) hosted in Spain are jointly organizing the 1st International Seminar on Languages for Business: A Global Approach.

Date: 5-6 June 2009
Location: Avila, Spain

The seminar intends to be a meeting point for academics carrying out research on languages for business from multidisciplinary fields. Papers on textual and discoursal analyses of languages for business, pragmatic, intercultural and cross-cultural aspects on business communication, socio-rhetorical and genre views of professional practices, as well as pedagogical implications and applications of languages for business are welcomed.

Visit the seminar website at

http://ice.unizar.es/portfolio/?page_id=97

or download the call for papers from

http://ice.unizar.es/portfolio/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/borrador-call-for-papers.pdf .

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