Last week’s Innovate ELT conference in Barcelona owed much of its success to the incredible delegates so naturally we turned to them for a write up. Keen blogger Adam Beale reflects on his experience for us.
At first glance Innovate ELT wasn’t going to be your ordinary ELT conference.
The first difference was the location. The collaboration between Oxford House Barcelona and ELTjam meant the use of their premises as the venue and, with classes taking place as attendees arrived, the atmosphere was immediately different. Opening night wasn’t just an excuse to pilfer the free aperitivos and wine. The 45 minute opening slot was labelled ‘group activities’. Placed into groups and then into classrooms, we were guided by a pre-prepared PowerPoint with questions which prompted us to reflect on what had drawn us to the conference and to discuss what we understood by the term ‘innovation’. It was the latter question that would shape the rest of the conference.
The session was a great way of throwing together individuals, forcing people out of their cliques and thinking about why we were attending. How often do you get the chance to do this at conferences? Reflection tends to happen at the end, but here we were getting the mental cogs moving early.
The issue of what was meant by ‘innovation’ was partly addressed in the three opening mini plenaries by Nicky Hockly, Lindsay Clandfield and Scott Thornbury . However, the answer remained elusive and we were left to mull over the question as we walked home that night. These plenaries were a nice touch, bringing together well respected speakers to provide alternative views on innovation. They spoke to us rather than at us, the stories were insightful and funny and we felt included on this discovery to pin down innovation and its true meaning.
However, I think they could have been more challenging and provocative, as could the other plenary slot the following day. Instead of personal anecdotes and a chance to push your current product/project why not pose a question which could then be answered or debated throughout the conference, something for the delegates to get their teeth into? An opportunity lost by the organisers but perhaps one to be remedied next year.
The next day was packed with speakers and sessions. Like any good conference, choosing the right talk to attend is the most difficult part and with a combination of hour-long live lessons, panel discussions and 30 minute back-to-back presentations, it was a smorgasbord of high quality choices.
I was lucky enough to see Geoff Jordan challenge the course book. I watched Billy Haase demonstrate a simple yet very effective way of doing in-house observations and Sinead Laffan allowed us to peep into her classroom and see a fascinating experiment with trainee teachers.
Yet, it was the coffee breaks where the magic happened. Upon leaving your chosen session with questions, ideas and opinions bottling up inside of you a huge outpouring occurs amongst delegates. These were the parts of the day where I learned the most, got my answers questioned and ultimately asked more questions. Of course the talks were the catalyst for this, but the chance to have the space and time to do this is paramount to a good conference experience.
Another positive contributing factor was that everyone was on the same level. There was no us and them, plenary speakers, speakers and attendees mixed freely and everyone was approachable without the need for nerves or embarrassment. This was cultivated by the environment of the school and its facilities but also came from the easy-going nature of the organisers and volunteers.
Further reflection came at the end of the day. We returned to our original groups and had the chance to grill a selection of speakers in an alternative speed dating activity. This allowed you to get up close and personal and ask those questions which you didn’t have time for earlier. It was interesting to hear the speakers reflect on how their talks went and what questions had been raised by the experience.
Again, this kind of activity only served to foster the sense of inclusion for the people who attended. No barriers existed and the dialogue was free to flow and take the conversation into new areas. Even our feedback was shared as a whole, seeing group representatives address the conference from the plenary balcony and confirming what we all agreed had been a hugely successful conference.
I had started the conference with the notion that innovation meant technology and its role in teaching. This gradually changed throughout the conference and I veered more towards Anthony Gaughan’s definition which was something that is new and different to the norm and, when applied, is successful and innovative. Therefore, innovation wasn’t exclusively reserved for technology and this allowed me to immediately appreciate the other talks at the conference and what the speakers had been trying to achieve in their experiments and projects. When I stepped back and looked at the conference as a whole I realised just how innovative it had been. It was new, it had been different in many ways and ultimately it was a success.