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The Difference a Year Makes

Almost exactly one year ago, I signed up for two sessions through TESOL’s Electronic Village Online–Becoming a Webhead (BAW) and Virtual Worlds and Language Learning (VWLL). I signed up just before deadline, so if you’re still wondering whether or not to give these, or another of the many EVO workshops a try, there’s still time!

I wanted to try something that would stretch me as a teacher and remind me what it felt like to be a beginner. I certainly got what I was hoping for, and more!

As the 2010 EVO workshops are set to begin, I thought this would be a good time for me to look at how things have changed for me over this past year.

One of the biggest changes is that I’m blogging. In my first blog post I set out my goal:

This blog is one small part of my effort to be part of the teaching “We.” I’m definitely a work in progress, and I hope that you’ll help me grow by connecting and sharing your knowledge, too.

In addition to the larger teaching community I’ve discovered online, I’m also part of a smaller, blogging community. Karenne Sylvester saw enough potential in my early efforts to take me under her generous wing at Bloggers in ELT. Being part of a community of bloggers has been an ongoing education for me. I’m still not all that good at the tech side of blogging, but I’m better than I was. (Thanks, BELTers!)

I’ve met wonderful teachers through the Stories from the Front Lines of EFL series. It’s been fascinating to hear about teaching contexts around the world, and there are still more stories in the pipeline. It’s been so much fun that I’ve got another series in the works–Stuff Every EFL Teacher Should Know. (If you might be interested in writing a guest post for either series, please let me know!)

I’m still vaguely surprised to find that people actually read my posts, so was astonished when Education International asked permission to reprint one of my blog posts (Why I Love Teachers) in their magazine Worlds Of Education (I’m on page 6!).

I wrote, and presented, and taught before I did the EVO sessions, but what I write and present about, and how I teach, has changed.

In the 1990s, I wrote a column for the JALT Teaching Children SIG newsletter called The Teacher’s File. It was a column about teaching resources. I’m going to resurrect it in 2010, to explore ways teachers can use the internet for professional development. It kicks off with a two-part feature called The Teacher’s File for the 21st Century (part two is coming soon).

My presentations have changed, as well. At JALT 2009, I made my first ever techie-type presentation–Can Twitter Make You a Better Children’s Teacher? My February workshops for the Oxford Teaching Workshop Series will also be tech-related for the first time–Interactive Ideas for keeping your English classes relevant in the 21st Century (or, how to include technology in your lessons even if you haven’t got any technology in your classroom).

VWLL introduced me to virtual conferences, and this year I attended more conferences online than I did in person. I still love being at conferences in person, but the logistics of attending very many from Asia are pretty daunting (besides being quite spendy). Being able to boot up my laptop and sit in on a workshop in Second Life is a very decent substitution. One of the nicest things about online workshops is that they generally run on a 24 hour clock (since presenters and attendees are from various time zones) and sessions are usually recorded (so I can view workshops that happen in inconvenient–for me–time zones). Here’s a presentation from SLanguages 2009 about the TESOL EVO on Virtual Worlds and Language Learning.

I’ve also enjoyed following summaries of workshops on Twitter, and on blogs. Not as good as being there, but way, way easier, and much better than nothing.

I still provide handouts for my own workshops, but now include electronic versions as well as paper handouts (another thing I never imagined doing). BAW introduced me to wikis, and now I have my own. For the moment, it’s a nice place to keep electronic versions of my presentations, so teachers who can’t attend my workshops can still get the handouts.

I still teach in classrooms where the highest tech item is the CD player. The challenge has been to find ways to use technology, and engage my students with technology, when we don’t actually have access to it during lessons. After six months, almost all of my adult students have finally tracked down their email addresses, and about half have actually sent me an email message. Most of them access the internet with their cell phones, and had never sent nor received an email message. I’ve started a blog for my students (and anyone else interested), and have even posted a couple of entries created by my adult classes. After I’d posted a video my students made demonstrating origami, I got an email message from one of my students:

When I looked for “Shinfujin paper Balloon” on NET, I was very surprised. Because I thought that was so small article. But I could see it and other people, too. I understood our small world links global world.

Both the sentiment (and the fact that it arrived by email) warmed my teacher’s heart! Not to be outdone, my bilingual children’s class uses the internet for reading, and they blog for writing.

My newest student doesn’t live anywhere near me–she’s in Second Life. Yes, a year after the EVO VWLL, I’m a Second Life resident approaching her first Rez Day (like a birthday, but for my avatar) and a firm believer in the promise of virtual worlds for language learning. In fact, I’ll be back as a mentor for this year’s EVO, Teaching Languages in a Virtual World, and wishing that I could sit in on ALL the TESOL sessions offered this year.

So, if you’ve signed up for one of the Electronic Village Online sessions, my advice to you is to jump into the deep end and embrace the experience. It’s six weeks of sleep deprivation, but totally worth the cost. Thanks to generosity of TESOL and the Webheads (who organize the sessions), these free workshops are some of the best professional development you will find.

They might even change your life :)


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5 Comments

  1. The EVO sessions are always full of amazing content and learning opportunities. It’s good to see teachers dedicating their time to teaching these workshops and sharing what they know. Alas, I’m a bit too busy to join them this year, but I encourage everyone else to join in.

    Thanks for sharing Barbara!

  2. Barbara says:

    Thanks, Neal. It’s tough to find the time, and a lot of the sessions are not really friendly to our time zone, but still so, so worth it.

    Hope you can join next year!

  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by nealchambers: What a difference a year makes http://su.pr/2pR999 @barbsaka reflects on a year after EVO #beltfree…

  4. I love this story! I’ve actually been pottering about with listservs, blogs, forums (even second life) and the like for several years… but it hasn’t been until this year that the web really took off for me professionally. I think things have fallen into place for a lot of people, that ‘tipping point’ of usability, possibility and force of numbers in alignment. Twitter has driven a lot of it…. I’m thankful I got the chance to meet and interview you after a spur of the moment tweet a day or so before you came to town!

    Hard to believe it’s only been a year since you started…. the next year is going to be great!!

    1. Barbara says:

      The web certainly seems to have taken off for you this past year. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you come up with this year!

      I’m really glad we had a chance to meet. I feel like I got a new friend from that spur of the moment tweet–the interview was just icing on the cake!

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