Delightfully retro-themed conference with a cutting-edge online support programme.
The 22nd annual IATEFL – Hungary conference took place in the elegant and tranquil spa town of Eger, a 2½ hour train ride north east of Budapest. It was housed mainly in Building B of the Eszterházy Károly Föiskola, but the first day’s final plenary and welcome cocktail was held in Building A. This later was an astonishing venue, a massive and historical building, and a plenary room about 3 stories high, with walls and ceilings fully painted with frescos.
Building B was perhaps less inspiring, but spacious and convenient enough, and everything seemed to work smoothly thanks to the discreet and cheerful team of student helpers. Many of these students are future teachers of English, encouraged by their teacher to get involved with the conference as helpers so they could initiate themselves into the wider ELT community.
Very clear and simple, with helpful maps of the site. The presentation of abstracts in a table form made it very easy to locate what was going on in each slot – this was probably the clearest layout we’ve seen in a conference programme. Two things lacking were biodata for the speakers and email addresses for conference participants.
The theme was “Inspired – the pleasure of learning and teaching”. This was a very refreshing title – so much so that it was one of the reasons we specially wanted to attend this conference.
There were six plenaries (Margit Szesztay, Steve Oakes, Bonnie Tsai, Michael Carrier, Ken Wilson and Scott Thornbury). Margit, Bonnie and Scott’s plenaries were all on a very similar topic – the stages in the career of an English teacher, the pressures that lead to their disillusionment, and the strategies they can employ to revive their morale. Steve’s plenary was on the topic of ambiguity tolerance – a crucial quality in any language learner, and one which we should try to help them develop. Michael spoke about new technologies and their potential benefits not only in the classroom but also beyond, in places where access to classrooms and teachers is limited. Ken presented reflections and insights on the art of teaching by means of ten inspiring and amusing quotes. There was no closing plenary at the end of the conference. Instead, there was a ‘meet the plenary’ session in which teachers had the opportunity to interact with them in focus groups distributed around the plenary hall. This was a great idea, and not one we’ve seen elsewhere.
The programme was generally much lighter on new technologies than is customary in conferences these days. Perhaps this reflects the rather low-tech, “retro” conference theme. Indeed, there was a flavour in a couple of the plenaries that ran counter to Michael Carrier’s strong endorsement of technology. Ken Wilson, for example, pointed out that the teacher is more important than the tool, and Margit Szesztay said that the “inner workbench” – a teacher’s inner resources – is the more important thing to focus on.
There were talks and workshops for all sectors of the ELT community, with a large number of sessions focussing on intercultural competence and culture and literature. Other popular topics areas on the programme were ICT, motivation, skills, ESP, ELF and life-long learning.
One 90 minute slot was given over exclusively to the Special Interest Groups: Culture and Literature, Information and Communication Technologies, Young Learners and Special Needs Education.
IATEFL HUNGARY ONLINE
This conference was (and still is as of writing) supported by an online page, including reviews, interviews, photos and videos. This was a great way to boost the legacy of the event, ensuring that those who were not able to go had a clear impression of everything that happened, and helping those that did go to remember, digest and reflect upon the experience. We haven’t attended another conference with an online component other than IATEFL in the UK, so IATEFL Hungary was very progressive in this regard. The theme may have been “retro”, but the event wasn’t!
Thank you to all the organizing committee and helpers for a hugely motivating and well-organised event.
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