Retezat Mountains in the Carpathians

Retezat Mountains in the Carpathians
Retezat Mountains landscape (taken by my daughter Laura and my husband Victor)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Report - First Time Besig-er: BESIG2009 in Poznan, Poland – November 20-22, 2009

Although initially apprehensive to make my entrance into a well-established long-standing community, being a first time Besig-er turned out to be a uniquely rewarding and gratifying experience that crystallizes and amplifies only after the ideas and practical suggestions acquired during the three exciting and fully-packed days begin to be filtered and applied. I have been a Besig yahoogroup member for several years now, theoretically knowing the most important and frequent names, yet actually meeting face to face with people whom I have followed on discussion lists or on blogs like Heike Philp, Holly Longstroth and Karenne Sylvester, Pete Sharma, or Ian McMaster, is one of the most powerful, memorable and bond-consolidating feelings.
Getting to Poznan took an excruciating whole night’s drive and half a day’s (cancelled and re-distributed) flight, an experience that has barely left me and my other two colleagues from Romania with just a couple of hours on Friday afternoon for a walking tour of the ancient Poznan before the evening Opening ceremony, Official welcome and Reception.
Saturday started early with the plenary session by the seminal writer, teacher and teacher trainer Vicki Hollett. For me, as I am positive for all of the other attendees, Relationships Matter represented the highlight, a talk that energised the audience– an eloquent plea for the awareness that politeness is culturally-bound and that the speech acts and interpersonal language we employ are crucial for cooperative communication. I have learnt that it is not just grammar and vocabulary we have to teach our students, rather we should point ambiguity and vagueness so that they grasp the intentions that lie behind the words in order to form good relations and good people skills. Quite frequently, we do not say what we mean but for different reasons such as politeness, desire to be more likeable, protection, and enhancement of ourselves, we may choose to be indirect, ambiguous, tentative or vague.
It was an inspiring, persuasive and motivating course worth the maximum number of Euro-credits of professional development! Henceforth, to the question I often ask my students in class: Have you ever met a famous person? I’ll be nodding, pointing to the author of their Business Objectives course-books.
After delivering my own presentation on Text and Voice Tools to Maximize Our Students’ Writing and Talking time, the next session to attend was Heike Philp and Holly Longstroth’s joint presentation (B1 5 ) Virtual Immersion and the Challenge of Teaching in Second Life, a very friendly incursion into their teaching English in the unfathomed yet potentially-rich virtual territory of Second Life, through the experimental AVALON EU-funded project. The presentation emphasized the great potential of virtual worlds for language education, which unfortunately remains largely unused due to lack of proper training of trainers, partial experience with real students and technical issues.
I particularly enjoyed Marjorie Rosenberg - currently joint Besig coordinator after this year’s final elections - who gave a warm and interactive workshop on Lively activities for Business English Classes. I appreciated the activities that we have tried out in pairs or groups as a real eye-opener, ranging from simple things we can do in class for recycling and reinforcing vocabulary in speaking and writing, such as Bingo and card collocations, to describing graphs and interpreting graph trends, everything unfolding in real class semblance, under our teacher’s sustained reassurance and involvement, invitation to reflection, emulation and engagement. The workshop provided further useful tips for more complex, tailor-made activities such as planning a business trip or selling an item in the classroom, meanwhile consolidating my creed that what is interactive and practical works best.
Viola Mercedes, whom I had encountered during my peregrinations with the Webheads in Action, made the presentation entitled Using authentic materials and new technologies to enrich your training session and it was delivered entirely online from distant Uruguay with Carl Dowse’s local technical assistance. She entertained the importance of story-telling for business and how this can be managed in Windows Live spaces. I have furthermore realized how sustainable and far-reaching the reverberations of a local event such as the BESIG conference could become worldwide through employment of technology-based delivery.
I greatly appreciated the last E2 Saturday session by Genevieve Besser, just before the BESIG Annual General Meeting. For me it meant hands-on experience for creating quizzes, clozes, crosswords, jumbled sentences, matching exercises and whole teaching units with ‘Hot Potatoes’ which can be eventually either printed and used as class handouts, sent by email, or uploaded on the Internet for permanent and transparent access. The workshop has additionally reinforced the valuable message that working with small groups acts as sharing, expression, and cohesion aggregator, and so I left the session richer by two new like-minded friends.
The next Sunday morning sessions were delivered by the teacher, teacher trainer and AISLI consultant Julie Wallis from Italy and Philip Gienandt from LinguaTV Berlin, respectively. The former raised the issue of the ever increasing pressure that teachers face to use modern technology, which translates into the need for fast solutions to create materials and resources in order to meet the customers’ needs. We created a funny film together and Julie demonstrated the potential offered by other writing and talking tools such as wikis, Audacity,, etc. The ease of use of the presented tools as well as the adage Julie quoted to support the tool’s simplicity “if you can type you can create a movie” ( kept echoing in my mind during the last panel discussion. Philip Gienandt’s presentation concentrated on the superiority of employing videos for language teaching as they ‘tell more than a thousand words’, are authentic and entertaining. We were demonstrated how LinguaTV adapted videos to include flexible learning, innovative but proven and easy to use Web 2.0 practice.
For me the final panel discussion (Vicki Hollett, Cleve Miller, Ian McMaster, Petra Pointer, Shiv Rajendran, Byron Russell and Eric Baber) How will they be learning? How will we be teaching? represented the cherry on the cake, a high-note ending to the conference not only because I could find out certified opinions on adding value to lessons versus proving a healthy scepticism in adopting technology-based learning, but because it turned out to be a hectic brainstorming session, a genuine exchange of pertinent opinions involving the audience.
Discussions oscillated between “Teaching with technology is not an easy thing to do well” as one of the participants quoted in the beginning, and visionaries’ envisaging how technology-based teaching and learning are going to develop. Panelists and participants alike argued fervently either in favour of a careful use of technology in the classroom, the classroom as a place for human interaction and the classroom-based learner, or at the other end of the tether, for personalized materials, user-generated content, technology enrichment and enhancement, anything in the name of the student-customer’s needs and wants. At one moment Eric Baber, Skyped in from England and who precisely due to the much-worshipped-and-equally-discredited technology was projecting a commanding presence in the room, intervened with a witty Henry Ford quotation “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” which made the audience laugh as did Pete Sharma’s equally adequate exemplification of things we can well do in Second but not in Real Life such as men and women being able to exchange their clothes, besides the marvellous ability to build a hotel without spending a penny, or to communicate asynchronously and develop language as well as reflective skills.
I appreciated this final heated discussion as it reinforced my conviction that I should continue to do what I have done in the field of applying technology in BE language teaching but also to aim higher and continually adapt to the students’ needs.
Besig was different from other international events that I have attended through the participants’ concerted interest, interactive presentations and practical applications rather than research for research’s sake, as well as through extension of socializing evening sessions in local Poznan restaurants, which unfortunately I missed due to being ‘technically’ overwhelmed.
There was plenty to take back home as the conference offered a varied programme with a great mix of topics, inspiring ideas, opportunities to befriend and network. My only regret is that there was so much to choose from and I found myself torn between anything up to two or three other presentations absolutely worthwhile attending but at the same time forcing myself to be disciplined and obey to the initially expressed choices and interest in IT-based teaching and learning.
I left Poznan and the cozy NH hotel somehow frustrated that it ended so quickly only to embark on my return adventure of another cancelled flight and a memorable night spent in five-star Warsaw Marriott Hotel for which I am deeply grateful to LOT and the foggy November Besig time.
In the end, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the Besig Committee for the Besig grant that has made my attendance, presentation and writing of this report possible, to Wolfgang Ridder for his placid unmitigated assistance and to all the Besig-ers including the hospitable and dedicated organizes and student helpers who, like small grains of sand, brought their precious contribution to the success of the Besig pearl.

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