Very Cool Events: Free Online Conferences for Language Teachers

In the time I’ve been exploring online opportunities for teachers, I’ve come across a number of incredibly cool people who organize workshops and conferences, create tools, nurture groups, and try to make the world (both virtual and real) a better place for us all. Just in case you haven’t already met these people or heard about their efforts, this post begins a new series introducing them. I’m calling it ‘Very Cool’ because, well, that’s what they are and that’s how I actually talk :-). When I wrote the first draft of this post, I focused on the people who make everything happen. However, I realized that they usually choose to stay in the background and would much prefer to shine a spotlight on their heart-projects, and so I changed the focus.

The third Virtual Round Table just finished. What makes this cool is that it’s online, it’s free, and it’s really easy to access. There were 50 guest speakers and more than 500 participants from 60 countries. None of these participants had to travel to participate in the conference, and sessions were scheduled for every time zone. The coolest thing about conferences like this? Even if you weren’t able to attend the conference, or if the session you most wanted to attend happened to be during the middle of the night for you, you can STILL enjoy the sessions. All of the sessions were recorded, so you can enjoy the conference workshops at your leisure. The recordings are archived on The VRT Ning.

While many, many people volunteer for any conference, online or not, the three women losing the most sleep over the Virtual Round Table were Heike Philip, Shelly Terrell, and Berni Wall.

Since Heike apparently doesn’t seem to need any sleep, she’s a big part of another online conference that starts today: SLanguages 2010. I attended my first SLanguages conference soon after beginning to explore online opportunities for professional development. One of the cool things about SLanguages (and one of it’s challenges) is that the entire conference happens over a 24 hour period in the virtual world of Second Life. While teachers do have to create a Second Life account and avatar in order to attend the conference, the actual skills required are few. For most sessions, you teleport yourself to a location and sit. If you can click a mouse, you can attend conference sessions. Information about registration, and the program schedule, is listed at the above link, and on the SLanguages page of the Avalon Ning.

I’m lucky enough to have a small part in this event–I’ll be leading a tour through Virtual Macbeth on Saturday the 16th (1 am GMT/6 pm Pacific Time/10 am in Japan). Since it’s a tour, you will have to be able to walk, in addition to clicking with your mouse :-)

If it seems too troublesome, or you won’t be in the right time zone for your fave presenter, many of these sessions will be recorded and available in archives after the event.

Heike and the SLanguages organizing committee (Gary Motteram and Graham Stanley) and the huge number of volunteers (Carol Rainbow seems to be everywhere!) have done an amazing job organizing this conference. However, SLanguages would not have earned it’s most excellent reputation previous efforts by Gavin Dudeney and his Edunation folks (and another huge corps of volunteers).

It’s amazing how many people are willing to lose sleep in the name of professional development.

Very cool.

P.S. Know someone else doing very cool things for teachers online or off? Let me know so I can introduce them, too. Or, better yet, write about them yourself in a guest post!