Getting my Professional Feet Wet
By Kevin Berry
Conferencing. Just hearing that word doesn’t necessarily send excited chills down my spine (or anyone else’s for that matter). Stuffy rooms, people half-awake, as stale coffee and skepticism wafts through the air while one attendee seems to be deliberately coughing in sync with each important point the speaker is making.
Yes, attending a conference is likely to be kept off the bucket-list of most people who are in search of the exchange of creative ideas, ground-breaking learning approaches, innovation, the development of valuable relationships, yet that very description encapsulates my experience in Baltimore this year.
Walking up the stairs and into an enormous ballroom, I was pleasantly surprised at how well-attended this keynote speaker session had turned out to be. Having just checked in to my hotel and feeling somewhat groggy, I wasn’t prepared to be as profoundly impacted as I ended being after hearing Aziz Abu Sarah, the keynote speaker for Tuesday night. Being Palestinian while growing up in Jerusalem had clearly presented a life-sized challenge for Aziz. But through it all, the recurring theme of language learning serving as a device to promote peace and understanding (even in his own experience) really resonated with me. After listening to his message, I gained a new perspective on the value of my profession, and I how I have the potential to impact the world.
After the eye and heart-opening experience I had while listening to Aziz, I decided on looking into the integration of technology in the classroom, or using devices to promote learning as opposed to hindering it. Coming from a perspective of someone who utilizes technology in just about every facet of my life, it was completely refreshing to see instructors, who hailed anywhere from Boston University to Nepal, embrace technology and demonstrate how to incorporate it as a connective device between language learners and instructors. A crystal-clear example of this was an application dubbed Kahoot!, which has students fully-engaged in an activity/task created by the teacher. They must use their smartphone/handheld devices to answer questions and compete; it’s a very innovative blend competition, use of smartphones, and learning points. I’ve been using this in each of my classes weekly since returning home.
While an inspiring speaker and ground-breaking use of smartphones in class have tremendous appeal, using Twitter as a resource for professional opportunity and development had the most appeal from my vantage point. Being the coordinator for my program’s account, I hadn’t had much experience with Twitter. In fact, I was still in the process of developing a plan that would put the platform to best use. After attending this seminar I completely (re)discovered this app as a valuable networking tool with any number of practical uses.
Posting valuable links from accredited resources, sharing experiences and laughs with professionals not only help develop ESL instructors/professionals but also the field itself. Moreover, discovering other tools such as Bitly, and even understanding how a hashtag can help students learn (in groups, chats, threads, etc) all the while keeping pace with the streaming culture of the internet.
All in all, I found enlightenment of some kind around every corner in the Baltimore Convention Center during the conference. In just five, short days I feel much more well-rounded as an ESL professional, and I would go as far as to say that I’m now better equipped to meet the needs and maintain the attention of my students. I fully endorse this conference as a learning tool for instructors and those who look to stay on the cutting edge of this field.