The Innovate ELT 2021 Conference by OxfordTEFL

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What did we learn from last year’s online conference, and what will be different this year?


Last year was our first InnovateELT online conference. We aimed to replicate all the warmth and sparkle of our traditional conference online, not an easy thing to do in the wake of zoom fatigue and a prevailing consensus among conference goers that “it’s just not the same online”. It was our first attempt, so we learned plenty from the experience which has helped us create an even better event this year.


So how did it go, what did we learn and how have we changed things for this year?

The warmth and sparkle- three ways we created this that we will keep for this year’s event

  • Our interactive coffee breaks, which were a stand-out feature of the conference, were so popular that we have extended them this year to one hour. Richard and Luke hosted the zoom room where delegates assembled and were offered some themed conversation prompts and then put into random breakout rooms to meet and talk to other delegates. The BORs were reset several times throughout, so that delegates got to meet quite a few fellow attendees during the coffee break. This year we will be inviting guest groups, including ELT Footprint to host some of these coffee breaks, focusing on the different conference themes
  • Our evening quiz was also a popular event. Delegates competed in teams we assigned to answer TEFL related and general questions, so there will be another one this year. Of course you can expect the customary prizes!
  • Our volunteers will be back! Although the conference was online we transmitted from the garden of Oxford House in Barcelona and some of the classrooms, so that we could have some fun as a team and delegates could experience a sense of live action beyond the zoom room
The quiz was very popular at last year's conference.

The talks and workshops


The traditional Innovate format of short plenaries worked well online, though we are making them 15 minutes this year instead of 10, which seems just a bit too short and left us wanting to hear just that bit more from our speakers. Am I alone in thinking the live 60-minute plenary had died anyway a long time before online conferences came along? Certainly the online medium seems to demand a more succinct approach and the short format has the added advantage of allowing delegates to hear more diverse voices from the TEFL world!


A unique feature of InnovateELT over the last 6 years has been the presence of students in our demo classes. This worked even better on Zoom with delegates able to easily eavesdrop on the zoom class with camera off for 30 minutes before joining the speaker/ teacher on camera in a discussion of issues arising. I love this element of the conference, where we put our ideas on teaching to the sword, “do as I do, not as I say” style, so I am looking forward to these sessions again this year.


An innovation in our call for papers this year was to ask potential speakers to include a one-minute video summarising their talk. The idea was to get speakers to think not just about the main points of their talk, but also about how they communicate on a zoom screen. As a result we are more confident than ever that we have a diverse programme of interesting talks from engaging speakers. Check out the videos here.

Facing Forward and beyond


InnovateELT has always had an eye on issues outside the classroom such as Teacher Development and wellbeing, equality and diversity in the industry, technology and teacher entrepreneurship and the impact of our work on the environment. This year will be no exception as exploring these issues is more important to us than ever. We also have a great cause to support this year, CAMFED, which sponsors the education of girls in Africa and we are hoping – with your help – to raise enough money to send 3 girls to school for a year. Click here to learn more about CAMFED and make a donation to our fundraiser.

So what did we learn?


Last year we had to move the conference on line or not do it all, given the circumstances back then in May 2020. This year there was a feeling that we might be able to offer an event where people meet in person, but there was a chance it would be compromised. We opted for another online event, partly to avoid that risk, but also because we had discovered there are actually some great advantages to the online version. We can attract a wider range of speakers, it’s easier and cheaper for delegates to attend, and it’s easier to learn from a workshop or talk when you can hear everything that is said and see the speaker and visuals clearly.


We also learnt that an online conference can be as much fun to participate in (and to organize!) as a one you attend in person. Join us at InnovateELT 2021 and find out for yourself!

To buy tickets for this year’s event, click here.

To find out more about Oxford TEFL, click here.

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