With IATEFL 2012 fast approaching and in the midst of the spring conference season, this #eltchat was aimed at helping both those who can and can’t attend conferences to get the maximum possible benefit from them.
Before you go
Try to research the people and organisations who will be there. Find people on Twitter if possible – this should make it easier to recognise new faces.
Research speakers you plan to see – this will help you to decide which sessions to attend.
Make sure your bags aren’t too full – there is always something which you must buy!
While you’re there
Go to sessions you’re most interested in, not just because you feel you SHOULD go to a certain session. Do you really want to see big name presenters or are you just attending for the name?
Don’t try to pack too much in. Conferences can be very ‘full on’. Leave space for downtime and reflection; your brain needs a rest sometimes.
You don’t have to go to every session. Make time to speak to people too!
Watch out for signs of overload and skip a session if you need to recharge, especially when the conference is over a number of days.
Ask other participants what they’re going to see as well – weigh their recommendations depending on what you know about them!
Find other people to share the conference with – you can see different sessions and compare notes, or see what you think about the same session: a bit like a scavenger hunt
Look out for people promoting their sessions on Twitter: this can help you to make face-to-face contacts while at the conference.
Get to sessions that are likely to be popular early (especially ones in small rooms) to avoid missing out on them.
It’s probably better not to talk to presenters just before their session, but afterwards it’s normally OK, although you might have to leave the room so the next presenter can prepare.
Notes may never be read again, but writing them can help you to process ideas.
Notes don’t have to be essays: they could just be marginal notes to yourself – whatever helps you remember. You could also try mindmapping or tweeting during the session, if wifi is available. Mike Harrison suggests this mindmapping app for iPad and iPhone, and linked to a guide about how to use it.
Many people post slides on the net after their presentations, or with permission you can take photos of slides during the presentation as notes.
You could also write up key points after the session rather than during it or create audio notes rather than written ones.
Evernote was suggested as a good way to synthesise your notes, as you can include videos, audio, pictures and even text! It is available on nearly all platforms and it uploads to the cloud, so you can organize your notes later on your computer.
Personally, I believe that the most useful ideas will stick anyway!
Here’s an amazing example of notes based on a presentation.
After the conference
You could provide a feedback session at your school, including some useful activities for other teachers, or sharing handouts and ideas with them. This might require you to take detailed notes during the conference.
Try to include one or two of the activities you have seen in your classes during the following 2 weeks. This helps to fix the activities in your mind.
“If I say “wow” afterwards, it means I want to use that in class, want to learn more.”
If you can’t go
Follow the associated hashtag on Twitter – this will give you many insights into the talks being held, and will also help you to find follow-up blogposts. You can still get a lot out of the posts, even if you don’t attend the conference, because it gives you time and space to reflect on the ideas posted.
You can often still download the conference timetable, and could plan your ‘ideal conference’, then try to find out about the sessions afterwards by searching for the presenters.
Don’t forget there are many free online conferences and seminars too! In addition, IATEFL will be streaming many of the sessions. Last year over 50,000 people accessed the online conference area.
Suggestions for conference organisers
It would be great for conference organisers to provide a webpage or wiki to collect all of the associated blog entries and other materials. Ceri Jones says TESOL Spain already have links and handouts on their website.
Another idea would be an interactive agenda which could be designed much like a study guide, a blank template with “big idea” notes and context and contact info.
There can be quite a lot of work to catch up with afterwards.
Conferences: Spreading the Love (an #eltchat summary from this time last year!)
A podcast episode about attending conferences, accompanied by a written explanation of the key points
The #ELTchat symposium will take place on Thursday 22nd March 2012, with a live #eltchat during the session and live streaming too.