28 comments on “When the dust settles

  1. Jeremy,

    Many years ago (I seem to remember it was around 2000) Eric Baber ran one of the first online ELT conferences with his then company Net Learn Languages. I remember going to work and meeting Scott there. We had a bottle of wine (I seem to recall) and we both gave presentations online.

    And I remember how odd it felt… no feedback, only myself to laugh at my feeble jokes, no idea really of who was out there, and if they were awake, and what else they might be doing instead of listening. We get so much from real people at a conference, I think.

    I’ve done a few of these things since, and things have changed. You can broadcast yourself on video, andif you’re using a platform liek Adobe Connect, and everyone else is distributed around the world, they can broadcast themselves, and that sort of works, because you can see other people moving, smiling, etc.

    Or you can go to Second Life and not have to worry about that kind of thing, because while you’re speaking people (avatars) are doing things – like leaving, or arriving, chatting in the backchannel, reacting to things you say, either with voice or in text chat.

    And you can get what you had – with a grainy view of the audience and someone nice to advance your slides. And, I suspect, in very little time, in some places, you’ll get a proper view of the room in real time with quality video and interaction will be greater and it might end up being much more comfortable.

    But (and I’m sorry about carbon footprints and stuff) a conference is so much more than a talk, and a talk is so much more than the speaking and the slides. And I sincerely don’t believe I would *choose* to do it online if I could do it in person. It’s too rich a personal and public experience to replicate online, I reckon.

    I may be reduced to doing an online plenary this Saturday… can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Though it cuts out the travel, the carbon, the wasted time, the need to wear clothes, the inability to have a nice glass of wine whilst speaking, and all the rest, it just won’t be the same.


    • Hi Gavin,

      yes I guess I agree with you pretty much – that the technology WILL get better but that face to face – well the sheer enjoyment of it, the living breathing faces in the room, all of that, the talking, chatting etc.

      I do enjoy Second Life – and as you know I got huge pleasure and mental stimulation from attending the technology PCE at Harrogate in Second Life. But it is SECOND Life, not first!


  2. Jeremy,as grateful as I am of all the video resources out there, I have to say that I was glad to see you talk in person.

    I did watch live videostreaming for IATEFL Harrogate, the pecha kucha, which for some reason live is more interesting than captured video for me. (the now-ness of it all, perhaps.) However it is true that a conference can go much further than 4 walls: ted conferences are selling out with 6000 dollar registration prices precisely for the reasons Gavin mentions. (the reasons about real world trumping virtual, not the ones about not having to wear clothes.)

    Banks in Spain have million dollar “telepresence” machines. They have a great “wow” factor, and we will be communicating in even better ways in the future. But a description, however accurate it may be, ain’t the real thing. Probably… talks, concerts, non-wii tennis, and incredibly expensive weddings will be with us for a long time, yet.

    the “Dust in the wind” is fomenting rumours as well. Heard that the dust had the potential to last up to 2 years (from a friend in hot air balloons, really hope there is a cognitive bias happening…) in this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1266300/Iceland-volcano-Ash-cloud-grounds-British-European-flights.html they suggest it could be an ongoing problem. (up to six months.)

    • Hi Matt,

      glad (I think!) that you saw me ‘on person’. I certainly prefer real people in front of me (though see my comments about SL to Gavin above – I mean the comments are above, not that Gavin has suddenly achieved divine status!!)

      I think the analogy of Wii tennis works really well. Great fun, but not a patch on the real thing.

      Or, perhaps just different?


  3. Jeremy,

    The first time I ever saw Eric Baber present was at BESIG through Skype. I remember worrying how this would translate but it was one of my favorite presentations! I think a great speaker and presenter is able to translate across mediums. Yes I love meeting presenters in person, but what I really liked about Eric’s Skype presentations (one was in a panel discussion) was that the audience was able to interact with him. We were able to ask questions and he answered them. I thought this was really fantastic!

    I know plenaries are different but I’ve seen so many TED talks live that still had an impact for me even though I watched them live streamed. I think the trick is to have a backchannel like Gavin said. I love the backchannel! I have great friends on Twitter that I regularly attend live streamed conferences with and we tweet back and forth about it and it’s exciting. It’s a shared experience! At a live conference you can’t really talk during the presentation and after wards people rush off to another event. I’m one of those people where if something impacts me I really, really want to share. This is one reason I’m on Twitter so much and a reason why I blog. Nik Peachey tweeted something the other day about this, “It isn’t knowledge until you do something to share it.” I’m not saying I prefer one over the other but I do believe that you can make an impact even if you aren’t physically there. Of course, I would always prefer to see you live!

    • Hi Shelley,

      thank you for that wonderfully clear explanation of why watching from afar CAN be almost as good as the real thing.

      Sharing. It’s all about sharing! That’s why Twitter works, and it’s why post-talk conversations over coffee or over the web are so important. You remember I talked about the importance of ‘sharing’ as a development tool in my session, but of course, I keep forgetting about it!

      Of course a speaker wants to share too. Sometimes that is difficult in/after a talk because people want to talk to each not you. And when people are tweeting abiut a talk you do you’re pretty left out of it?


      Sharing. The word is sharing!!


  4. Hi Jeremy,

    I don’t know – it was seriously great seeing everyone in person but like Shelly I was in the session with Eric Baber and he was very, very much in the room with us – it was quite fun actually because although he was in the screen it felt like he was there… and again, like Shelly, I have really very much enjoyed the TED channel sometimes thinking that I take in more content in the quiet of my office than when somewhere in person where I might be thinking about other things.

    Re the ash, I dunno, I think they’re quite right to be a wait on flights to be honest – having lived through volcanic eruptions and having been a part of ash-rain I know how thick and dangerous that stuff is. The thought of it getting into engines seems an unnecessary risk and I think, to be fair to the authorities, no one wants to be the one who says (until they know for sure) okay, planes go ahead fly and then one of these, say an Airbus, comes crashing down killing thousands… sometimes we have to be sure, sometimes we have to wait and we have to put our dollars behind the importance of life.


    • Thanks Karenne – and yes, watching online, going into SL etc ARE good fun. But wouldn’t it be awful if they were the ONLY things we could do!

      Ash cloud? What ash cloud?!!

      (Of course ur right about the falling airbus. Horrible thought).


  5. Pingback: HUPE, Hope and Happy Birthday! The Croatian Teachers’ Association comes of age at its annual conference | Classrooms on the Danube: An exploration of the quality of classroom life.

  6. Hi Jeremy,

    You ask many questions but I only feel able to attempt an answer to this:

    Is this the way of the future? I could cut my carbon footprint right down (and not just because of volcanic ash). Many more people could ‘attend’ conferences (as they did at/for IATEFL) from their offices and living rooms?

    I am just an ordinary teacher but would consider the classroom in a similar vein to a conference hall. If I am the speaker, I have to engage and empathise with my listener.

    I have had strange, new experiences today.

    Having been so inspired by Burcu, Ozge and Shelly at IATEFL, I realised that blogging with my students would be a fantastic move to make. As a result, I went to Edublogs, set one up in the middle of last week but kept it very secret, even denying to myself that it existed.

    Then the volcano erupted and the ash cloud appeared. Because I was following the journeys of Callie, Andy Hockley and yourself, it soon dawned on me that my students, who had gone back home for Easter break, could also be in trouble. I asked them, via Facebook, if they were experiencing difficulties getting back to the UK and unfortunately, the responses came in thick and fast.

    My students are due to take their IELTS exam in 4 weeks but it took me long enough to twig that The Blog could be a way of keeping up-to-date, those that couldn’t attend the lessons in the meantime. I posted a few thoughts, questions and links to the students who couldn’t make it back and then introduced The Blog to the rest of the students in class this morning.

    The strange, new experiences that I referred to earlier started happening in the computer suite in the dark depths of our library. My students logged on and I gave them the URL of The Blog. Something magic happened and everything went quiet. Then, one by one each student or pair called me over to discuss, criticise, agree with and laugh at everything they read. They weren’t just reading posts that I had written of course, because at this stage they were also reading posts by their classmates who were stranded as far as Romania.

    This isn’t rocket science for many teachers but I am afraid it was for me.

    Oh dear, I haven’t answered your question in the slightest. What I have just written must prove that conferences, even mini, minute classroom conferences are all more than effective in their virtual form.

    Just as an aside, I need to add that I have spent most of the evening reading and replying to the overwhelming messages of sorrow from the students who really miss their classmates and who do want to be back in the here and now of our real classroom. Please don’t think I am exaggerating. Translate this to the slightly larger scale of the conference hall and you really can’t beat a bit of human contact. The virtual form is absolutely amazing but given the choice, and having been both sides of the fence with ISTEK and IATEFL, there’s nothing like experiencing the real deal 😉

    I can’t wait for the ash cloud to go and for my classes to be put back together again; they just don’t feel right like this.

    • Hi Amanda,

      why was I so moved by this? Why am I so moved by this?

      I think it’s because when you hear teachers talking about their students like you do about yours you know you are listening to the real thing – a real teacher I mean in the best sense of the word.

      I love that a silly ash cloud got you doing something you hadn’t done before (and who wouldn’t be inspired by Ozge, Shelly. Burcu etc). I sensed – from the way you wrote about it – how you felt about all that student engagement and the ones stuck out there.

      So thank you Amandalanguage! Just shows that IT has a place, a real place in the middle of all this.


  7. Hi Jeremy,

    I know many colleagues and friends who “attended” IATEFL through Harrogate Online and having come back from the UK we’ve shared many discussions about some of the plenaries and presentations. That’s why I sort of wrote “attended” – it’s as if they were there…but then I always got a similar sort of question from them: “What was the atmospehere like?” or other teachers tweeted stuff like “I’m a great fan of so and so ..what was it like to attend their sessions personally?”

    So, all in all, this probably suggests that Twitter, video streaming and so on is really great and useful – it helps bridge gaps which before were pretty much left wide open. And I think this is the real gain – the chance to really share these learning opportunities which do in fact foster so much interaction.

    But I actually think this doesn’t really substitute for the experience of being at the event itself, well, at least, not yet. Maybe in the future our mindset will have changed and the odd thing will be to attend a conference personally! Yes, for me there’s nothing like being able to participate personally at events, but that is the reality I’ve become accustomed to. I mean, I would probably feel really daft giving a whoop after the Pecha Kucha presentations if I were watching the live stream, but it sort of made sense during the real thing!

    Oh, and by the way, as for the flight restrictions – hmm, perhaps its better to err on the side of caution?!

    • Hi Valeria,

      thanks for this.

      Now it looks as if the flight ban has been lifted and it may be (MAY be) back to ‘business as usual’.

      I agree that face to face is ?always? better. But I wonder if the whole live-streaming/Twitter thing hasn’t prepped us for wanting ‘more’ – that sense of communion which we look for in conferences but don’t always get.

      That’s the question mark hanging over all this, for me. Have Twitter. Twitter flocks etc raised our expectations too high?


  8. Hi Jeremy,

    You ask this question “Would a combination of tweeting and watching a filmed presentation be a satisfactory substitute for the general melée of conference going? What would we gain? What would we miss? What would we lose?” And Gavin says “I sincerely don’t believe I would *choose* to do it online if I could do it in person. It’s too rich a personal and public experience to replicate online, I reckon.”

    On Saturday at HUPE in Opatija we had a Longman live link up with David Cotton as he wasn’t able to get there and it was managed excellently by the local staff and it gave an added buzz to the conference for me, the first time I had watched a session delivered in a plenary hall from afar. Your experience in Cambridge/Turkey inspired me to write about it here http://markandrews.edublogs.org/ and I think there are benefits from it if we see it as special part of a conference and advertise it as such.

    I think we could certainly begin to think of conferences being enhanced by having some speakers being broadcast live from afar. I will certainly mention it as a feature in our IATEFL conference here in Hungary in October. There is something exciting about being hooked up with somebody else in another part of the world and I didn’t feel it was a substitute for a speaker not being there at all.

    It may be a poor substitute seen from a personal point of view but seen from the perspective as one element among a whole lot of other things it could become a regular feature at conferences and it could be advertised as something special.

    “Live from the comfort of his own home in Cambridge England, Jeremy Harmer delivers interactive plenary on the impact on students’ motivation of communicating in English internationally through skype and other web 2.0 appliances”

    And how about a regular live video link up at conferences with a contemporary writer? “Xiaolu Guo talks about her first novel in “deliberately bad” English. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers” live from China.”

    Thanks for the post Jeremy, I’m sure that there are many benefits which can come out of this Volcanic eruption, both environmentally and also in our own ELT world and the discussion that you’ve started here will certainly contribute to that.

    • You know, Mark, I think you may have hit the mail on the head. It’s not that we want ALL speakers to be beamed in to a hall, just that some of them, perhaps, should be.

      The first time I saw it done at the opening of IATEFL some years ago it was exciting but boring, and I am trying to remember why. Suddenly it seems better, though, and maybe that’s the Twitter thing, or maybe the technology’s better (though my Turkey thing was about as ‘low’ as you can get (skype and someone else doing the ppt etc).

      Let’s see (now that the flight ban seems to be on the way out) how this pans out…


  9. Hi Jeremy

    As someone who also travels a lot and may or may not be affected by this ash cloud (having narrowly escaped it last week) I too have been thinking along the lines of your post. I like Mark’s idea above of making certain sessions via skype or video conference a USP of the conference. It could work, and I can see this as a possibility in the future.

    But the face to face element for conferences, for me, still trumps the rest. It’s what had everyone in the blogosphere happily talking about after ISTEK and IATEFL– the tweet-ups.

    For people like you, or Gavin, or me or others who have to do a lot of conferences maybe it would be good to cut down a little. I certainly would like to envisage doing video conferences for smaller events, where attendance can be irregular (nobody likes to travel a long distance and then be told that over half the teachers who signed up cannot come because the next day is a holiday). I have done sessions on video conference, but not a plenary (yet, we will see towards the end of this week). But for the big ones, I would still like to attend wherever possible.

    Thanks for the post, and good luck with future trips. I am due to fly to Vienna tomorrow. Will I make it, I wonder?

    • Hi Lindsay,

      yes, I think I agree with you pretty much (and Vienna? Hmm. Did you make it?)

      As I said to Mark, I think he’s on to something. Building interactivity/distance into a conference as PART of that conference….that seems to be worth it, perhaps.

      Meanwhile, it’s back into the sky, I reckon!


  10. With the technology at our disposal, it begins to seem irresponsible to me if we don’t exploit ways of presenting and meeting without flying all over the place. If such presentations become widespread, I think the way you put presentations together will completely change, and powerpoint may have then had its day. I can better imagine something with e.g. class clips and then discussion with a couple of teachers (as on your PELT and How to DVDs, and on Your Turn in Action) recorded in advance, with a live discussion with the audience via videolink afterwards, than people sitting at home at their desks talking into a webcam.
    The question is, when you give a presentation, are you just transmitting information, or are you doing something else? I think with a lot of meetings – editorial meetings, marketing meetings – you do just exchange information and that could easily be done by video conferencing, especially if the participants knew each other already. But you aren’t just giving the audience information and ideas, it’s something else. Not quite sure what, but it is something to do with seeing you there galloping backwards and forwards, and you being able to address different people in the audience.
    The previous comments have mentioned lots of good things that could come from this – widening participation etc. You could reach many more people with every talk you do. But if you reached many more people, would there end up being fewer talks and fewer presenters? Would people ask inexperienced presenters to do a virtual talk to a huge audience – and if they didn’t, how would people get started out?
    I think Karenne’s right about the flights, would you want to be on the first flight through the cloud? Would you want your kids on it? Whilst I’m very glad not to be stuck anywhere, it does seem healthy to be reminded now and again that the planet is stronger than we are.

    • Hi Gemma,

      thanks for this considered response.

      I am really struck by your question about whether less experienced presenters would get their turn in a more on-line world. I don’t know the answer to that. The technology is getting easier and cheaper and therefore more democratic. And of course, anyone can put themselves out there in SL, on You Tube etc etc.

      I’ll try and work that one out.


      • Yes, you’re right that for most things participation has become easier. But if you didn’t have to fly, you could do 2 or 3 big talks each day. If it becomes very easy to get a big name, would anyone be interested in the smaller names?

  11. I’ve found it very strange talking to a live audience at a conference on line. You can’t look at folks and see when they’re fidgeting or looking puzzled. And when it’s over and you hang up, you wonder ‘Well, how did that go? Quite possibly, terribly, but I’m still not sure what I need to improve next time because I wasn’t there.’
    Software where you can see a few people – even a few – is great. But a large audience that appears like a sea of undiscernable faces – I find that very tough.

  12. Hi Vicki,

    yes, that was my feeling too. I had to work really hard (and listen carefully) for a laugh – so trying to guage whether they were agreeing with what I was saying was much more difficult.


  13. Hi Jeremy,

    I actually thought about blogging about this issue right when IATEFL was happening and I was enjoying my access to it online. You beat me to it, and you’re more qualified to discuss it than I am, so all’s good.

    Is this the way of the future. Personally, I hope so!

    Okay, some things will be lost – especially the face to face physical presence thing, and also the chats over coffee or in the pub or restaurant after events.

    But these losses pale in comparison to the gains. The savings for publishers (in terms of money) and presenters (in terms of time) – and the savings of money and time for attendees of course – would be massive, and both the money and time can then be re-invested in an online presence at more events in harder to reach places. Going with online conferences (or an online line-in at conferences) is going to benefit a lot more teachers globally – and this all before I even try to deal with the carbon footprint issues.

    I understand the passion for face to face conference attendance, and I feel it too. But this is rather selfish in some ways, as having the time, money (and publisher support) to attend conferences is a luxury and privilege entirely too few in our profession get to experience. I think I would prefer to reach thousands of teachers in a given year through online conferencing than hundreds (of usually better off to start with) teachers in front of publishers’ stands at a “normal” conference.

    In any case, I think it might be a bit wrong to try and directly compare the two options. They are different beasts, with different pros and cons. Considering the backchannel option, for instance, I think online conferencing actually has a lot more potential than the live-in-the-room event.

    And anyway, we’d best get used to it – this IS the way conferencing is going to continue to develop in future. It’s more cost efficient, and our profession is directed by people counting beans.


    • Thanks Jason, as always.

      Your are right to use that word ‘selfish’! of course it is a selfish pleasure to be invited to a conference and not have to pay for attending. It is a privilege, when things go right, to be able to engage with a really nice crowd of people and bask in their good opinion (this is NOT a given, however!!!). And the socialising can be such good fun too (though that is not a given either).

      I think we will see more and more virtual conferences, SL stuff etc and I LIKE that. But we are all human beings too and we like to be in, around and among each other. I hope we retain that blend!


  14. Gemma Ruffino :

    Yes, you’re right that for most things participation has become easier. But if you didn’t have to fly, you could do 2 or 3 big talks each day. If it becomes very easy to get a big name, would anyone be interested in the smaller names?

    One of the most amazing things that HAS happened since I joined the Twitter flock has been the (apparently) sudden emergence and then prominence of a whole new cast of characters. I’m thinking of people like Shelly (see above), Burcu Akyol, Özge, Amanda etc (all of whom feature on this blogsite). Of course they would have risen to the surface anyway because they have something to say, but there IS a new democratisation abroad, and the fact that pe0ple want to watch Petra, for example, a first-time speaker, on You Tube is testament to that new sense of access.

    I think?


    • Yeah, you’re right. (You might want to print that out and frame it 🙂 ) I am in favour of democratisation, of course – just a natural pessimist.

  15. Hi,Jermey
    I agree with you face to face conference is important . Technology will not give ua the enjoyment of face to face conference . I use webcam to chat with my brother who are far from me .I dont enjoy like I meet him face to face .

  16. Mr.Saeed :Hi,JermeyI agree with you face to face conference is important . Technology will not give ua the enjoyment of face to face conference . I use webcam to chat with my brother who are far from me .I dont enjoy like I meet him face to face .

    Mr.Saeed :Hi,JermeyI agree with you face to face conference is important . Technology will not give ua the enjoyment of face to face conference . I use webcam to chat with my brother who are far from me .I dont enjoy like I meet him face to face .

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