For any readers who don’t know what IATEFL stands for, it’s the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The IATEFL Annual Conference took place last week in Harrogate. For any readers who don’t know where that is, it’s a spa town in Yorkshire 3ookm north of London.
I drove from London to Harrogate with two Turkish friends, Burcu Akyol and Şebnem Oral. Well, I actually hadn’t met Şebnem until I picked her up from Heathrow Airport the very same day. I now think of her a friend for life. Conferences can do that to you.
Burcu was still basking in the glow of having organised the ISTEK conference in Istanbul, which had taken place two weeks earlier. I wrote something about that conference, too, which you can read if you scroll down.
There are some obvious things that you want to do when you’ve just spent four hours cooped up in a car. You want to shower, change and get down the pub to meet people you’ve never met before but who you feel you know intimately.
Sorry? Did I mean to write that? People you’ve never met but feel you know intimately? How does THAT work?
The answer of course is that all the people involved follow each other on twitter. And they all knew that they were going to meet up – tweet-up, in fact – at the IATEFL conference. They also knew that they would be meeting some tweet-amigos and amigas for the first time.
We knew that the quickest way to organise a tweet-up get-together on that first evening was to tweet about it. Another friend and conference delegate, Jamie Keddie, had already found a pub where we could meet. He’s a resourceful lad, is Jamie. The pub had two things going for it. It was near the conference centre and they were going to show the Barcelona v Arsenal game on TV. I realise that this was more of a plus for me than it was for Burcu and Şebnem, but we went anyway.
The pub was called Christies. It still is.
Burcu, Şebnem and I headed down to Christies. It was almost empty and we sat at a big table, fully expecting it to be rammed with people by the end of the evening. We were not disappointed. After a few minutes, a woman called Vicky Saumell came in. I recognised her immediately, even though we had never met. I even knew that she was from Argentina. Because we follow each other on twitter.
The pub began to fill up. Some of the people were Harrogate folk who had come to watch the match. Others were conference-goers and, almost without exception, tweeters. In the next three hours, about thirty conference delegates came into the pub, in ones, twos and threes. Most of them had met at least one other person before – at a previous conference, usually.
We all met at least one person that we ‘knew’ for the first time. Apart from Vicky, I met Andy Hockley, Karenne Sylvester and Nik Peachey. Hugging people that you have never met before is a really enjoyable but bizarre experience. It’s like hugging a television newsreader. It also seems to me that tweeters are generally huggers too – no one seemed to mind being hugged by a complete stranger – but then that just may be that I’m a big guy and resistance to my hugs is useless. 🙂
Each new wave of tweeters were greeted with more and more extravagant embraces and screams of delight, punctuated with shouts from irate locals asking us to sit down so they could see the football.
Replying to Scott Thornbury’s comment stirred another memory, something that I had meant to write about first time. I won’t mention the person’s name so as not to embarrass her, but if you know that this story is about you, then please comment and tell me if I’ve got it right. The story is about Emma Herrod, and she’s written to say she’s OK about being named. 🙂
About six months ago, Emma, a freelance ELT teacher who lives near London, joined twitter. She lives in Windsor, not what you might call a hot-bed of ELT (if such things exist) and is therefore somewhat isolated professionally. She asked which conference someone who was new-ish to the profession should go to if they could only go to one.
I tweeted back and suggested IATEFL. She duly made plans for that, and then dipped her toes more into twitter, and – like everyone – ended up with a kind of support posse, the kind of thing we usually refer to as our PLN (although I’m growing less enamoured of that expression, but we will let that pass).
Within a few months, she had lots of twitter-friends whose online company she enjoyed but who she had never met. When it came time to go to Harrogate, I think she got a bit apprehensive. She even tweeted that she was on a bus into Harrogate, indicating a combination of nerves and excitement.
Her PLN, people she had never met, rallied round and told her where they would be and where she could find them. Literally within minutes of arriving, she was part of a gang.
I like this story because it suggests that future generations of teachers going to conferences alone will have a support group that could not have been dreamed of before.
So this was the first tweet phenomenon, the tweet-up. Tweet-ups aren’t new, but Harrogate raised them to a new level, I suppose by the sheer numbers of people who took part in them.
Meanwhile, plans had been made to film the conference and live stream it. Again, this is not new, but the novel aspect of it was that the people watching in different parts of the world tweeted about it to each other, and to people they knew at the conference. This had also happened at the Istanbul ISTEK conference, and in that case had caused some interesting confusion as to whether tweeters were actually in the conference hall or watching it on their computers.
In a moment which summed up the technical brilliance and supreme inconsequentiality of the tweet-happy live stream at ISTEK, Gavin Dudeney boldly tweeted that he was about to wave his arm above his head. He duly did, and this momentous moment was observed, and tweeted about, by people in Portugal, Hungary, Scotland and Vietnam.
It’s the combination of live streaming and tweeting which is sort of exciting and ground-breaking. The idea of sitting alone in front of your computer watching live proceedings of a conference in another country is a little bit sad. You’re the person without the invitation to the party. But when you’re tweeting to a posse of people who are also not at the conference, and who in addition are communicating with you from different countries and continents, then it becomes a very connecting and cool thing to do.
I was at both ISTEK Istanbul and IATEFL Harrogate, so what do I know about the remote experience? Well, what I know about it is what I read in the tweets of the remote posse – and they seemed to be having just as much fun as we were.
Here’s a pic of two people (who also happen to be great bloggers and tweeters) who gave an excellent presentation at the conference. They also coincidentally happen to be guest bloggers of mine. Shelly Terrell’s guest blog will appear on a computer screen near you soon. Don’t go away…
1 There was, as there always is these days, a Pecha Kucha night at IATEFL Harrogate, with a mixture of old and new PK-hands. Just wanted to mention Karenne Sylvester’s astonishingly beautiful poem about the development of English, and a brilliant first effort from Ana Parisi from Greece, who suggested that ELT schools should target third-age learners (mainly because they don’t have pushy parents). But most of all, I want to salute the wonderful compering of Lindsay Clandfield. He’s done this a few times now and practice clearly makes perfect.
2 Do everything you can to catch Petra Pointner’s brilliant talk at IATEFL about using twitter with her students. Just when you thought you’d exhausted all the possible uses of twitter, along comes Petra with a whole series of imaginative ideas.
Watch the first part here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zOCVqfg4FU&feature=player_embedded#