Ollie Wood first joined the Oxford TEFL team as a Trinity CertTESOL tutor in 2015, but he’s been working in ELT since 2006. He has covered every position in the private sector from Teacher to Academic Manager. He works extensively to promote CLIL methodology and the use technology in the classroom. He is now tutor of our online CLIL course. Ollie recently presented at the annual Innovate ELT conference, hosted and co-organized by Oxford TEFL in Barcelona. In this blog post, he reflects on his experience at the conference, the theme and his main take-aways.
Another year, another conference – and I’m sure it gets better every time. This was the forth edition of the Innovate ELT conference and the theme this year was ‘fun’. This took the conference in a slightly different direction from previous years, which have riffed on the theme of power: to the teacher in 2016, and to the learner in 2017. Innovate ELT 2018 would be the year of fun. And ‘fun’ would surely be a theme that everyone could get on board with… yes? A theme that would unite teachers from all corners of the globe… right? Wrong. It turned out that ‘fun’ was a more divisive theme than I had initially expected.
So, as it happens, if you put a lot of ELT professionals in a room (or garden!) together, they are going to find ways to disagree with each other. Some argued in favour of fun in the classroom, other argued against it. Sarah Priestly gave an excellent plenary entitled “Do students really want fun in the classroom?”, which argued that, no, perhaps they don’t. However, from where I was standing, I’d say that perhaps many activities have simple been mislabelled: ‘fun’ is being used as shorthand for ‘engaging’. In an age when the number of hits can make or break a website, authors need to find ways to get those hits – and it looks like ‘fun’ is a very clickable word! To paraphrase Sarah, if ‘fun’ is added to the description of online grammar activities, the number of results increases from around 300,000 to over 2,000,000!
However, it wasn’t all just a deconstruction of ‘fun’. A lot of emphasis was also placed on delight and struggle: the former almost always stemming from the latter. The message being that if something requires effort – particularly effort that stretches you just outside of your comfort zone – it will result in delight. In another plenary, Nick Robinson used just this message to tell all of those assembled how to beat stress and fall in love with your work: love what you do, but don’t do what you love!
These ideas resounded in every talk and workshop. Some looked at ways to make coursebook activities more engaging (or how to do away with them altogether!), or how to incorporate online games into lessons. Others shone a light on the the latest EdTech tools, and how to create an engaging user experience. Still more focused on how to inject laughter into classes or how to use video the right way by harnessing the natural elements inherent in film. In fact, the main problem at Innovate ELT 2018 was trying to plan out which talks to attend. The topics were so interesting and the quality so high, that one always felt conflicted!
One of the things that sets Innovate ELT apart from the crowd is the crowd. The conference is attended by teachers, teacher trainers, managers, and publishers from all over the world: every one of them there to share their enthusiasm and knowledge – and have a good time. Indeed, Innovate ELT (and this is my third in a row) never fails to entertain. ‘Fun’ may get a mixed reception in the classroom, but not at this conference. The atmosphere is that of a garden party with good friends.
As always, I left the conference with my head filled with ideas and all the talks, workshops, and conversations had merged into one. However, one week later and the main takeaways have bubbled to the surface. Firstly, whatever you do in your class, make sure ‘fun’ is incidental: it should never be the reason for doing an activity. Secondly, as teachers, we all need ensure that the use of technology is a core component of our CPD: it’s not the future, it’s now. Finally, struggle when managed well, will always lead to delight.