On the Virtual Conference Path

By Thomas Sauer

Are you getting ready for a virtual conference? COVID has forced many if not all professional organizations to rethink their traditional conference format. There is much to like about virtual conferences, but similarly to what I shared in a blog post five (!) years ago, there are a few things to consider so that you can get the most out of your conference experience.

Set a target to support your strengths and needs

The everchanging realities of teaching in 2020 mean that your professional learning needs are constantly evolving. When you look at a virtual conference program you are likely to see many different opportunities that could be helpful to your growing list of needs. And with conference sessions or webinars often recorded and made available for later viewing, it would be easy to fall into the trap to try to watch as much as possible. A virtual conference means you no longer have to decide which sessions to attend at any time, you can SEE THEM ALL! Access to all the sessions means you will get to learn so much and meet all of your professional needs. My guess is you already know that that is not how it’s going to work and while it seems like a great advertisement it isn’t in your best interest and will not lead to any actual changes in your practice. 

Instead, use one of the many Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) self-assessments to provide you with a pretty good picture of who you are as a teacher. What are your strengths even in these challenging times and what are your needs? As you complete the self-assessments (now available via Catalyst), be sure to really think about your answers. Be honest with yourself and try to think about it this way: Where is the evidence in my work that I’m meeting these TELL criteria? Once you have completed a self-assessment use your strengths and your needs to set no more than two goals for yourself. Use those goals to identify key sessions and only watch those sessions. ok. You might want to watch one or two more to stretch your thinking but remember to be careful and not fall into the hours and hours of YouTube watching of sessions that may not actually be supporting your goals right now. Don’t worry, undoubtedly there will be another conference real soon.

You can now complete TELL self-assessments online using Catalyst. Catalyst allows world language educators to set professional goals, identify their strengths, and upload evidence and reflections that document their ongoing growth. Catalyst is based on the Teacher Effectiveness in Language Learning (TELL) framework and developed collaboratively by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies and Professionals in Education Advancing Research and Language Learning.

You can now complete TELL self-assessments online using Catalyst. Catalyst allows world language educators to set professional goals, identify their strengths, and upload evidence and reflections that document their ongoing growth. Catalyst is based on the Teacher Effectiveness in Language Learning (TELL) framework and developed collaboratively by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies and Professionals in Education Advancing Research and Language Learning.

Attend with friends to process learning collaboratively

While it may be counterintuitive to watch online sessions together with others, there is much to be said about the collaborative nature of effective online learning. Virtual conferences are no different. Sure, it’s tempting to think you can bake a cake, fold the laundry, or get some grading done all while watching a virtual session. In reality, you won’t truly be focused on the session. Instead, find an accountability partner (or two or three) with whom you can watch a few sessions “together” and have a professional watch party. You can react to something shared in the session processing new insights as well as your emotional reaction to the content of the presentation. Option two for those events that provide asynchronous access to sessions beyond the conference, set a date to watch certain sessions together with colleagues in your department. Find sessions that will help everyone in the department and then organize an in-person or virtual viewing to watch, discuss and process together. It will almost feel like you are actually attending a conference in person.

Be kind to presenters

Participating in an online conference requires some extra considerations for yourself and presenters. While it’s true that many teachers have been working in some online environment for several months, presenting a webinar or developing a pre-recorded session for an online conference is new for so many of us. When presenting at a conference, you have the opportunity to read the room in order to respond to facial expressions, body language, and live questions. Those responses can often shape the effectiveness of a session and make it feely highly interactive. When you watch those sessions now, be extra kind and thankful to those educators who took the time to share their ideas and develop those presentations. They likely recorded their session in-between classes, in their home office with many distractions nearby, late at night after putting the kids to bed, and based on my own social media interactions, many of them recorded their sessions over and over again to get it “just right”. Oh, and don’t forget 99% of those presenters were not teaching online or hybrid last year and are trying to figure it out just like you! 

I’m hoping that by using the recommendations above, you will try to personalize your conference experience by setting goals that are meaningful to you, find sessions that will help you reach your goals, and then reflect alone and perhaps with others on the new learning. Can’t wait to see you at an online conference!


Image by Armin Schreijäg from Pixabay



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