Advance your career with the Trinity DipTESOL course. Register for our free live seminar

Register now for any of our upcoming ELT events to celebrate 25 years of teacher training

Power to the classroom: InnovateELT 2024 conference summary

It’s fair to say that the ELT industry has experienced a number of changes over the years. Advancements in the internet, mobile apps, and video conferencing software mean that language teaching pedagogies and lessons look drastically different compared to 25 years ago. 

But nothing has had quite such a drastic impact on language learning as AI. Since the launch of ChatGPT in late 2022, it seems to be all everyone’s talking (and worrying) about. 

It’s not hard to see why. Just a few years ago, AI conjured up images of clunky tools which produced error-filled results. Today, however, it’s evolved into highly sophisticated technology capable of creating and grading exercises, correcting our speech, and even simulating the classroom environment.

While some educators see this rapid development as an opportunity, many of us are left wondering what it means for the future. As technology replaces more and more of the work we do as teachers, where does that leave us?

We aimed to find an answer to this question at this year’s InnovateELT conference. Themed ‘Power to the Classroom,’ the event encouraged participants to explore how we can maintain interest in live classroom learning now that students have more options than ever before. 

This wasn’t just any InnovateELT conference, though. It marked the 10th anniversary of the event, drawing educators, innovators, trainers, directors, and writers from over 25 countries. Some from as far as India and the Congo! So, here is our InnovateELT 2024 conference summary for this very special year.

Innovate ELT conference at the garden Oxford TEFL Barcelona
InnovateELT Conference 2024 at Oxford TEFL Barcelona

Check the content of this post:

Power to the Classroom: Keeping live learning alive  

Are traditional ELT classrooms and Zoom classrooms future proof? Do we need to adjust our approaches to make the language classroom more exciting? How will developments in technology influence both pedagogy and business?

Speakers were tasked with exploring these topics from different angles, and they didn’t disappoint. Jim Fuller kicked the conference off with his plenary on the role of managers in facilitating effective learning. He likened the process to nurturing a garden, explaining how leaders can promote growth within their teams by creating the right environmental conditions.  

speaker at Innovate ELT Conference Oxford TEFL Barcelona
Speaker in the Oxford TEFL garden – Innovate ELT Conference 2024

Ceri Jones then followed with a fascinating look at the development of AI and our complex relationship with it both in our everyday lives and in the ELT classroom. The two speakers set the stage perfectly for the rest of the event, giving us plenty to reflect on during the weekend. 

InnovateELT 2024 workshops and talks

The InnovateELT 2024 conference programme featured a mix of workshops and talks. These covered everything from classroom activities to digital tools. 

While many sessions focused on technology, Oxford TEFL Director, Duncan Foord, took a different approach. His popular session forced participants to put tech to one side and explore dynamic activities that focus on communication. It was a welcome reminder that although technology has its benefits, it can’t replace human interaction.

workshops Innovate ELT conference oxford TEFL
Workshop at InnovateELT Conference 2024

Eva Bogdanovic and Ivana Buric also explored an alternative approach to technology-based activities. Their workshop demonstrated how story-based games can help develop students’ critical thinking skills. 

On the other end of the spectrum were speakers tackling the AI-shaped elephant in the room. No less than six people shared their advice on how we can use such tools to enhance language learning.

One of those speakers was EdTech expert, Ciarán Lynch from Kids & Us. He introduced innovative ways to use gamification that go beyond standard multiple-choice questions. 

Session at Innovate ELT Conference oxford TEFL Barcelona
Session at InnovateELT Conference 2024

Finally, other sessions looked at how we can use digital content to enhance classroom learning. Teachers and social media influencers, Claire Bowes and Emma Walker, shared their advice on impacting students beyond the classroom using social media. And video and podcast coach, Laura Wilkes, presented podcasts as a tool to aid learners’ progress. 

These were just some of the fantastic sessions on offer. I wish we had enough space to mention them all! 

Addressing a new trend in ELT

Aside from AI, one of the biggest recent developments we’ve seen in ELT has been the number of professionals choosing to go freelance. The rise of online learning has inspired many teachers to seek additional income streams by offering their own classes. 

As a result, tutoring marketplaces like Cambly have seen huge increases in the number of teachers listed on their platforms. However, there’s now a growing segment of professionals looking to ‘cut out the middleman’ and reach students directly. This, of course, requires them to learn a new set of skills. As well as teaching, they also need to know how to plan, package and promote their own language courses. 

new trends in Teaching English at Innovate ELT conference
Working on a task in a workshop at InnovateELT Conference 2024

So, it made sense that InnovateELT 2024 included talks on these topics. This way, participants could improve their teaching and learn sales, business and marketing skills.

The number of people who attended Ola Kowalska’s talk suggested that these topics were welcome. People were spilling out of the room to hear her framework for building an effective language course that goes beyond the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) levels. 

And, as a language education copywriter, I explored the concept of value from a marketing perspective. I explained how small changes to the way we describe our services can make a big difference in how they’re perceived. 

If you want to learn more about marketing, you can read my full talk summary or Oxford TEFL’s top 10 digital marketing tips

Demo lessons

As well as talks and workshops, the conference timetable also included demo lessons. This is something of a tradition at InnovateELT, and this year was no different. 

David Young, a Trinity DipTESOL Course Director, put the theme of the conference to the test in his session. He questioned whether we’re persisting with live classroom learning for our own enjoyment or if it actually benefits learners. Participants watched as David delivered a standard lesson. They then discussed which elements of classroom learning should stay, and what technology could improve. 

Demo lessons at Innovate ELT conference Oxford TEFL Barcelona
Participants of the demo lesson in the InnovateELT Conference 2024

In another session, teacher and trainer Anna Manchura shared a number of short, engaging activities that can’t be found in coursebooks. Her demo lesson inspired participants with new ideas to engage students without resorting to predictable tasks they’ve done a thousand times before. 

Sharing ideas outside of the ELT classroom 

Workshops, talks and demos weren’t all that were on offer at InnovateELT 2024. Between sessions, we gathered in the garden to network over drinks and tapas. It was great to see people catching up with former colleagues, meeting online connections for the first time and getting to know new people.

As Ciarán Lynch said in a LinkedIn post, “It was truly a hub for the latest innovations and best practices in language education. I actually had a blast engaging in discussions around gamification strategies, implementing edTech tools, and leveraging AI to enhance language learning. Connecting with so many passionate educators in the garden was a real highlight of the year so far!”

Ciaran Lynch at Innovate ELT conference 2024

Outside of the talks, attendees were encouraged to join a few small challenges organised by the Oxford TEFL team. 

One activity helped us get to know the speakers better by guessing which fun fact belonged to who. It’s safe to say that got everyone speculating — who once ate 48 sausages at a barbecue and who’s a pole dancer? Any guesses?

Having good time at Innovate ELT Conference Oxford TEFL Barcelona
Time to relax in the Oxford TEFL graden at the InnovateELT conference

We were also challenged to pick a random topic from a hat and speak about it on camera for a whole minute. Keep an eye out for the videos, which will soon follow on the Oxford TEFL social media channels. 

What does “Power to the Classroom” mean to you?

As well as the challenges, participants also had the chance to win two free tickets to next year’s conference. All we had to do was explain what the conference theme meant to us — in no more than eight words. 

Here’s what some of them had to say:

Damian Odom-Perera won the prize for his answer ‘empowering students and teachers to succeed together’.

Spreading access to education  

Throughout the conference, the Oxford TEFL team was hard at work raising money for Campaign for Female Education. Known as CAMFED for short, this non-profit organisation aims to eradicate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting young marginalised women to access education. 

The team kickstarted the fundraising with an auction for the best seats in the house: a balcony view of the plenary sessions. The starting bid of €20 was quickly bumped up to a generous €50, donated by Victor Horcasitas from Barcelona Metropolitan magazine.

Participants then added to this throughout the weekend. One final auction took place during the closing speeches. This time around, the VIP sofa went to David Young for €40.

This brought the total raised to €420. That’s enough to send 14 girls in sub-Saharan Africa to school for a year and help transform their futures.

Fundrising for CAMFED at Innovate ELT Barcelona
Fundraising for CAMFED at the InnovateELT Conference 2024

What the InnovateELT conference is all about 

I’d been told that the InnovateELT conference is unlike most other industry events, and it didn’t take long to see why. The conference tackled a vast, complex topic, but the organisers still managed to create a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. 

Ambra Pacchioni, founder of Busy Bee Language Academy summed it up perfectly in a LinkedIn post, “What I absolutely love about [InnovateELT] is that speakers, presenters, innovators, trainers, directors, writers.. are not there just to sell a product or advertise themselves. They’re there to connect, share brilliant ideas, offer new perspectives on common topics and selflessly share the results of months and months of research, with the aim of raising the bar of common knowledge. Isn’t that great?”

Comment on LinkedIn by Ambra Pacchione for the Innovate ELT conference

So, what does the future hold for the ELT classroom?

During his opening remarks, Duncan Foord challenged us to find an answer to the questions the conference posed by the end of the final day. So, what conclusion did we come to? Should we be worried about what the future holds for live classroom learning?

After 32 sessions and many insightful discussions, it’s clear that AI is here to stay. And as language professionals, we can’t ignore the impact it will have on our work. That is, both in terms of how we teach and how we promote our programmes.  

While such rapid change can be a daunting prospect, if there’s one thing this year’s speakers showed us, it’s that these developments won’t render human educators redundant. They may spell the end of language education as we know it, but in the right hands, this may actually be a good thing. By learning to use new technologies in creative ways, we can save ourselves time, enhance the quality of our classes, better engage our students and create a new era of live learning. 

Innovate ELT conference Oxford TEFL Barcelona
Coffee break at the InnovateELT conference 2024

As Daniel Berejnoi said on LinkedIn, “To meet other teachers willing to learn as well as to share truly makes you realise the extent of our impact as educators within our societies. Our industry is changing, mostly because of AI. However, so are we (teachers). We are constantly adapting to change and that’s what these events are for.”

Comment on Linkedin Innovate ELT conference

Daniel’s right. This isn’t the first change the language classroom has survived, and it probably won’t be the last.

That’s why events like InnovateELT are so important. Having the space to come together to learn and exchange ideas will help us better navigate these new challenges and ultimately make the classroom a better place — for teachers and our students. 

In other words, technology isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. 

Be the first to find out about the next InnovateELT conference

by subscribing to our Newsletter

Meet the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Download our Working around the world guide

Hey, wait!

Are you thinking of teaching English abroad?

Download our Working around the world guide and compare salaries, cost of living and entry requirements in 50 different countries.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.