Make the best out of your 20 minutes conference slot

This month alone I attended five conferences, some were small (50 people) some large (god knows, lost count). So here are my suggestions how to improve your presentations.

  1. Balance your slides. Use them as support, but do not just read everything you wrote on them. True story, when someone reads a written text to me my brain goes into “bedtime story” mode and it is kinda weird to realize how easily my Pavlov’s dog reflexes can be triggered during a presentation on power and ideology in L2 teaching. Don’t do that to me, please.
  2. Preload your YouTube videos. And while I am at it, use TubeChop I can’t even count the number of YouTube ads I was forced to watch and frantic fast-forwarding I had to witness, just because presenters did not take time to simply click on the link before they started their talk.
  3. Prepare handouts. Just make sure they are not simple copies of your slides. Maybe throw more resources and relevant literature there and offer to send your slides to the audience. But I need space to take notes and I appreciate your taking time to consider that some of audience members are like me.
  4. Put some pictures up there. My friend Victoria is the goddess of visuals and smart art when it comes to PowerPoints, and I have to say that her presentations are always fun and engaging. Way more than mine, though I try. You don’t have to use all animations or .gifs of cats you can find, but think of those of us who are visual learners and organize your information.
  5. Speak up. Use your outside voice. You don’t have to yell, but “what did he just say?” is a question I hear a bit too often at conference presentations and it is distracting.
  6. Stay true to your abstract and the topic of your presentation.  “So, this paper is different from what I originally proposed…” I mean, excuse me? This is at very least irresponsible and honestly very disrespectful to reviewers, people whose place you took and your audience. I came to listen about policy and planning, but got stuck listening to theories of pedagogy… no.
  7. Stick around. We are all busy people and it does seem pretty arrogant, when you leave right after your presentation. Conferences can be as fruitful and successful as attendees make them to be, so stay and take a couple of extra questions, if you don’t mind.
  8.! Taking your time is not always fair. Not to presenters who come after you (you are stealing their time) and not to the audience. At one conference I almost missed my flight, because the presentation went 20 minutes beyond the announced time and eventually I still left before it ended, sneaking out sheepishly through the back door…
  9. Talk to the audience. I mean, please, there is nothing worse than being forced to stare at the crown of presenter’s head as she sticks her nose and reads from the paper. Make eye contact for goodness sake. I know, that it is tradition and I understand that this might be your first rodeo but traditions can be challenged and if you are starting something, maybe do it right? I confess, I have read my presentations too, but you know why? I just didn’t prepare well enough.
  10. Time yourself. This is different to one, because many conferences have magic 5 min, 3 min, Stop cards that a discussant would hold, forcing you to skip slides. “Ok, I will skip this, skip that, oh yes, the findings” over and over again. I feel frustrated, you are embarrassed and nobody is happy in the end. So just run your PowerPoint and know how long each slide will take. It’s easier than you think.

In sum, all I really want to say: just take time to prepare and practice your talk before you enter the room full of people, who came to listen to your presentation. You managed to catch their attention with your abstract, now try not to lose their  interest.

Ribbons, ribbons everywhere 

I am at TESOL international convention and English language Expo, held at Toronto this year. For those, who might not know, TESOL is the largest professional association of teachers of English as an additional language in the world. Being so large, TESOL is broken into interest sections, and every member can join one or more sections, depending on the field where they work. With one click you can join mailing lists,  get access to forums, share and download teaching materials and such.

Last year, people In charge of TESOL realized that people can’t recognize each other at the convention, even though they might belong to the same interest section. To address this issue, they have introduced ribbons that one can attach to their convention  badge, issued at the beginning of the convention. Here they are this year, so bright and pretty:  

But what I have observed, these ribbons become a powerful tool for identity construction. Do you choose “First time attendee” ribbon and mark your novice status? Maybe you choose  an “award winner” one and brim with pride when people notice it? Or would you forgo these ribbons all together?  How do there’s choices reveal your beliefs and what you hold valuable?

When I got to these ribbons, I did not select the novice ones (new member, first time attendee, student, etc.), neither did I choose any celebratory ones (award winner, distinguished member, interest section leader, etc.), so I was left with these:

It is clear to me in retrospect that for me TESOL is first a professional space where my professional interests should come first. Also I can’t help but notice that all my ribbon colours are gendered (pink, red,gold), but that wasn’t my choice at all. So here I am, having constructed my professional identity, I walk around and search for people who wear the same colours on their badges, but there are so many variations it is hard to single out those who resemble mine. So in the end, what purpose did the ribbons serve? They don’t really seem to  help people connec, but they seem to allow us to please our egos without feeling too bad about it.



I’m on a boat!

The thing that never ceases to amaze me is the grandeur of Russian conferences, and well, many post-soviet for that matter as well. The organizers of the conference always try to impress the participants by the venue, food and entertainment. That is why, I think fellow colleagues envy each other, once the opportunity to go to the conference comes along. Today I am on a boat that is headed from Saint Petersburg to Ladoga and Onega lakes and the reason I am on this boat is the conference. At first I was taken aback when the organizers of the conference informed me about the venues – privat bar, disco bar, panoramic bar – what kind of the conference is this? Well, since this is a cruise ship, I guess the names make sense.

Ladoga and Onega lakes are large navigable lakes in the north-west of Russia.

Ladoga  – the 14th largest lake in the world. Measures up to the Black sea. There are about 660 islands, with a total area of 435 km²

Onega  – 2nd largest lake in Europe after Ladoga. The lake is fed by about 50 rivers. There are about 1650 islands on the lake.

Needless to say it was a pretty cool venue for the conference.

There is not a single conference on boat, to be exact, but a whole international forum. The focus of the forum is the modern information society, its problems, perspectives and innovation approaches. The forum lasts 5 days and is broken into 5 session. The session I participate in is called “UNESCO chairs partnership on ICT in education”. The ICT in education really intrigues me, I love the so called “teacheology”, online platforms for learning and apps for structuring of the course. I use zendock, weebly, courser, open culture, google apps, create forums for my students, hold webinars when I can’t leave the house for some reason. UNESCO puts a lot of emphasis on accessibility of education and this is where ICT technology can be of great help.

When I applied for the conference/session, I thought it would be a practical event where I would be able to see and learn new educational technology, use of ICT in education and so forth, but this turned out to be more of a policy design session and a discussion of broader approaches and curriculum design aspects. It is, of course, extremely interesting and I feel as if I were a student again writing everything down furiously, highlighting catchy phrases like “provide a context”, “project based active learning”, “corporate university” and so on, sketching concept maps “curriculum as a product => bad, curriculum as a process => good” and taking in statistics of universities that work in the sphere of virtual learning. This is all very exciting, and most of participants here are either directors of ICT centers, vice-rectors responsible for informatisation, deans and chairs of ICT departments. As I look at these people, these policy makers, whose decisions impact hundreds of faculty members and even more students, I think whether they are visionaries or just bureaucrats. Some of them talk about the power that education has to trabsform, emancipate and empower an individual to change the world, while others devote their presentation to statistics and student/teacher ratio.

Another thing that really stands out is how different the approaches to the problem are in Russia and European countries. While Russians have a tendency to use these conferences for self-promotion, emphasizing their input in the field, European speakers at this conference talk about trends, global issues and challenge the audience to ask new questions. So it seems as if for Russian participants this is an event to show off or to report on how awesome they are, and Europeans look for new interpretations, new ideas and new approaches to problems. My question is then, where is the innovational driving force located? It seems to me that Russia is again limping long while UNESCO and UN set the goal further and further into the future.

But not to be overly too critical, it is very important to consider serious road blocks for my Russian colleagues: the money, the workload and the fight for survival. OK, the latter two stem from the first one. As long as a university professor has an average salary of 500 USD, with an average of 900 lectures a year (not including time devoted to planning, assessment and consultation of students) we can’t expect overly innovative and active teachers eager to implement new technology and take training courses. It will be easier to just go your old way, use old books, that you are used to and just generally stay “in the swamp”. But not to sound too pessimistic this time, there are mechanisms (including financial stimulus) that are working in some institutions of higher education in Russia, so not all is lost.

A year ago, an European curriculum guide for a joint international master programs in ICT was designed in Germany. This guide was used for the development of a similar program adapted to Russian standards. It seems like this is a very comprehensive and actually an innovative curriculum (not without shortcomings imho) that will be used in joint MS programs in our countries. Another thing that I am looking forward to is the development of educational networks that facilitate communication among universities. I always complain how hard it is to get in touch with colleagues from other regions of Russia – it is a huge country after all – and that we often have no idea what is happening in our fields of work, that leads to закрытость в себе. Hopefully, the clever management of these network systems will make outreach and collaboration easier. I’ve seen it work at the state alumni websites, where all graduates of various US State programs come together, start joint projects and get funding for their work. If something remotely similar can be established between Russian universities, the future of Russian education will be bright.