EV and Social Responsibility
I have always enjoyed the spirit of the Electronic Village (EV) sessions at the TESOL Convention. Think of EV as being a convention within a convention. Organized by the Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS), the EV is the ideal place to attend when you want to learn about the way other teachers are approaching a particular skill or task using educational technology. I have always left the EV with something I know I will use in class after the conference is over, and for that reason alone, I recommend anyone who has not been there to make sure to attend. The CALL-IS does an incredible job organizing a mix or workshops and short presentations, so you are bound to find a topic of interest. But something you would not know by attending the conference alone is that the CALL-IS people have such a passion for collaborating and sharing that each year, early in January, they organize the Electronic Village Online (EVO), in which various free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) are open for anyone in the world to join. It’s incredible. Teachers come together online to learn how to teach vocabulary, how to design an e-book, or how to teach pronunciation. All of these courses are free and open to any teacher -regardless of whether they can afford attending or joining TESOL. Talk about democratizing professional development!
But even though I am such a big fan of the work done by the CALL-IS, my TESOL16 highlight was learning about the Social Responsibility Interest Section through the poster sessions of teachers from Palestine, Bangladesh, and Nepal. It was telling to see how their approach to teaching and learning English was inseparable from their social reality. The Palestinian presenters, for example, talked about teaching non-violence, love, and hope (1). The Bangladeshi presenters addressed social and pedagogical responsibilities -the title of their presentation being “TESOL in Underprivileged Communities” (2).
My favorite poster presentation was Sumitra Kumari Rai’s “Breathing Change: The Power of Access” (3). This Nepali teacher talked about her after school program, in which students learn English by identifying community needs and working on them in English. They have (literally) built bridges in their small town. They organize street role plays to talk about violence against women. And they have also learned computer literacy skills at school. I was very inspired by Sumitra’s work, and left TESOL thinking about ways in which the work I do with students could at least in a small way represent the essence of what she is doing with her students in Nepal.
We have so much to learn here in the US from the work being done in places like Bangladesh and Palestine. Sometimes I fear that we think we “only teach English” and we ignore the political and social nature of our work. And it’s all political. We are not neutral when we do not connect English language learning to larger social realities around us.