The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, March 30, 2012

Webinar reflections

Well, I survived my first two webinars yesterday without any major mishaps - phew! - so I thought I'd better report back as promised. I think they went okay - I've certainly had some positive feedback - and what's more, I quite enjoyed them once I got into the swing of it. It was a little bit nerve-wracking getting set up; double checking I'd unplugged the phone and the front door bell, then shutting all the windows because it was bin day and I didn't want bin men crashing around in the background! I settled myself in place in front of my laptop in my office, feeling rather like a news presenter - smart on the top half, jeans and slippers under the desk! Just for comparison with my last post, here's a webcam shot from when I got set up.

"This call may be recorded for training purposes."

Once the actual webinar got started, it felt a bit odd talking into silence. I had to keep suppressing the urge to ask "Can anyone hear me?". It was a big relief when I asked my first question and I got a flurry of responses popping up - from Ukraine, Siberia, Turkey, Portugal, Kenya ... it was a bit weird to think there were teachers all over the world sat tuning in, but quite fun too. As it was my first time, I kept things really simple and it was quite a straightforward presentation with just a few opportunities for people to participate. If and when I do one again, I'll definitely build in a bit more interaction, but I didn't want to try and run before I could walk.

At the end of the session, esp. in the morning, I got a nice selection of questions - as I've said before, always my favourite bit of any presentation. They all popped up in the chat box quite quickly and even with the help of my moderator reposting some I'd missed, I was quite aware that I didn't manage to answer all of them. I felt a bit bad that people had sat through an hour of me going on, then when they made the effort to participate, they got ignored. But then, I suppose at a face-to-face presentation, there are often people in the audience who put up their hands but who you don't have time to get round to.

When I logged off, I was exhausted and realised how tense and concentrated I'd been - it's quite an intense experience. It was also a bit odd being left alone so suddenly to deal with the adrenaline high you always get after a presentation in a quiet empty house. When you do a presentation in the flesh, there are always people around afterwards to chat to and things to be cleared up in that period when you're 'coming down'. The strange hiatus between the morning and the afternoon session was a bit odd too. I didn't quite have the concentration to get on with any other work, so I just sort of floated around, checking my email and wandering aimlessly about the house. Thankfully, it was a gloriously sunny day again, so I was able to spend a bit of time sat back out on the balcony just reflecting on a really interesting new experience - one to be repeated I hope.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

First steps in the world of webinars

This week I'm taking my first steps into the world of webinars - on Thursday I'm giving my first webinar for OUP Global about Approaches to teaching EAP - connected with my latest project as part of the team working on the new Oxford EAP series. It's been in the pipeline for some time, but what with IATEFL last week, I've only just had the time, and the head space, to sit down and get myself prepared in earnest. In most ways so far, it feels like preparing for any other presentation - I made a load of notes, then converted them into PowerPoint slides, talking my way through them as I went. By lunchtime today, I'd got a good idea where I was going and was ready for a post-lunch run-through to check the timing. As the weather's so gloriously sunny, I just couldn't face more time at my desk, so I took my laptop out onto the roof terrace instead - here's the view from my webcam:

Okay, probably not the best location for the actual webinar - not least because passers-by would think I was completely mad sitting up on the roof apparently talking away to myself - but you've got to make the most of the sunshine when you can, haven't you?! Note to self - don't frown at the screen!

I think it's going to be a bit odd sitting down and talking to a screen, but I'm hoping I'll get at least a little bit of feedback from my audience to reassure me they're there. I'm not going for anything too fancy for my first attempt, so fingers crossed the technology will all be fine - and I'll have a friendly moderator on hand to deal with any problems that do crop up.

If you'd like to tune in, it's completely free and open to anyone, you've just got to sign up here. I'll be doing the whole thing twice; once from 10.00-11.00 BST and again 16.00-17.00. As I said, the title of the talk is Approaches to EAP and it's really going to be a general overview of some of the key differences in approach between general ELT and EAP - there's an intro on the OUP Global blog.

I'll report back later in the week on how it goes ...

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Glasgow 2012

I'm just settling back at my desk, and ploughing through my inbox, after an absolutely exhausting, but incredibly useful time at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow last week. There's so much I could say about what was a very intense week, but I have a big backlog of work to get on with, so here's just a summary.

Getting out there:
As a freelancer working away at my desk, my days generally follow a fairly low-key sort of routine, so to suddenly find myself out all day (Tues started at 9am and finished around midnight!), surrounded by people; chatting, having meetings, going to sessions and socialising in the evenings was a radical change of pace and absolutely shattering! It also made a really nice change though and it was lovely to be so sociable. I caught up with lots of people I know, collected over 20 years in ELT. A surprisingly large number of old teaching colleagues from my early days in Athens and Prague now seem to work for ELT publishers, then there were folks from my time in Cambridge (working in-house at CUP) and a myriad of other people who I've worked with and for in 12+ years of freelancing. It's lovely to catch up with old friends, but it's also incredibly good for business too; renewing old contacts, chatting about what I'm doing and what they're doing and crucially, about what what we might be able to work together on in the future.

Stirring the grey matter:
In amongst all the schmoozing, I did also get to a few sessions. After many years of IATEFL conferences, I tend to be quite selective, but I managed 3 or 4 sessions a day. I'm not going to run through a review of each thing I went to, but I think each one succeeded in sparking at least one new idea to take away with me. And oddly, it was some of the sessions that had the least impact at the time that have lingered and been pondered on the most since.

The talk:
I think my talk on Thursday morning went okay - after I'd worked out what to do with a radio mic when you're wearing a dress with no waistband!! It was a fairly straightforward, academic sort of presentation, describing how we went about selecting and grading vocabulary for the COBUILD Key Words For IELTS series. I talked through my slides without missing out anything major, I waved my hands about as usual, but remembered not to wander around too much for the cameraman filming the session.

I noticed a few members of the audience smiling and nodding in recognition at various points, but when I got to the end, I wasn't altogether sure how it'd gone down. I finished in good time, so I rather nervously invited questions. I say 'nervously' because at several of the sessions I'd been to, especially the larger ones, invitations for questions had just been met by a general shuffling and people starting to leave. So I was relieved when a good sprinkling of hands went up and we had a good 10 minutes of really interesting questions. Afterwards, a couple of people commented that I dealt well with some tricky questions, but actually, I think it was the part I enjoyed most. It's quite difficult to prepare a talk at something like IATEFL where your audience is likely to be a mix of fellow (and rival!) publishers and writers, along with some 'real' teachers from a huge range of backgrounds. So it's really nice to get a bit of proper interaction and a chance to talk about the things that are really of interest to the people there.

Thank you to everyone who came along and to the lovely folks from Collins ELT who helped it all run smoothly. If you're interested, my PowerPoint slides and the handout to go with my talk are now available on the Glasgow online website. I understand the video of the talk will be edited over the next couple of weeks and may well end up on a website - I'll post the link if and when.

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Monday, March 19, 2012


I'm just getting myself packed to head up to Glasgow this afternoon for the annual IATEFL conference. It's at least my 10th time at the conference and over the years, I've developed a few strategies to make what can be a bit of a hectic week run more smoothly. As a bit of a tea addict, my top tip is to take a small flask so you can have a decent cup of tea to slurp on through the morning rather than relying on dodgy conference centre coffee!

Once again this year, I've booked an apartment for the week rather than a hotel. It's meant to have a 'kitchenette' which I'm hoping at least means a kettle for morning tea-making. And although it's a bright sunny morning here in Bristol, I'm packing plenty of warm layers, scarf, hat and gloves ... it is Glasgow after all!

I'm really looking forward to catching up with lots of people through the week, hopefully going to some interesting talks and of course, speaking myself on Thursday morning - Breaking down the AWL: selecting and grading academic vocabulary - 10.25am, room Alsh 2. See you there?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Critical thinking with the Three Little Pigs

This week, I've been writing about teaching critical thinking in EAP and, perhaps because it was on my mind, was struck by how good the latest Guardian "Three Little Pigs" advert would be to use in class.

It would be lots of fun, especially using the original fairy tale as a lead-in, and it would bring up lots of good discussion questions about stance and perspective.

One of the frustrating things about not having regular teaching is that you don't get the chance to try out lesson ideas like this when they crop up. I generally get a teaching stint through the summer at Bristol Uni on their EAP pre-sessional course. It's a fairly intensive course with a very focused syllabus, so I don't get to try lots of things out, but I usually manage to slip in a few new ideas. Sadly, this year, it looks like I'm going to have to take a summer 'off' because my other work commitments will see me too busy to commit to teaching as well. It would be really nice to have a 'guinea pig class' who I could just dip into when I felt like it to try out a new idea - of course, I'd have to be able to call on them at any time and they'd have to morph to whatever level I needed and be happy to go along with whatever random topic I came up with ...

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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Men at the top of ELT?

Okay, so I'm going to jump on the International Women's Day bandwagon like everyone else seems to be today ... And my question is, why do so many of the movers and shakers in the world of ELT seem to be men? Now, before you jump down my throat with examples of influential, talented women - of which I know there are many - I'm talking relatively here. Considering language teaching is such a hugely female-dominated profession at grass roots level, it seems to me that there are a disproportionate number of men in positions of power and influence - whether they be managers or just 'names'; men who write books, speak at events and are just generally known and respected within the ELT community. Try and come up with 5 names in ELT (without consciously trying to think of women!) and I bet more of them will be men than women. Just taking this year's IATEFL plenary speakers as a random, unrepresentative example - four out of five are men.

It's something I often think about in relation to my own career. Generally, I tick along fairly quietly, trying my best be competent at what I do, but without really creating any waves. I'm known amongst my, mostly female, colleagues as being fairly proactive; I do a bit of networking, I go to the odd conference and event, I give the odd talk. In short, I put myself out there and I'm quite happy to talk enthusiastically about what I do and what I'd like to do. But when I occasionally cross paths with those male movers and shakers, I suddenly feel terribly unambitious. Instead of waiting for work to come to them, for others to recognise their talents, for opportunities to come along, they go out and actively make stuff happen. They start up their own projects, they promote their ideas, they take risks. Some do it from the comfort of an established base (with a publisher, a university or other organization), others are more entrepreneurial, going out on a limb.

So why don't I do that? I don't think it's about discrimination and I don't think it's as simple as confidence. I think it's more subtle than that. I guess that largely it's about motivation. I love my job, I have lots of ideas and opinions, and I'm not shy about sharing them, but somehow I just don't take that next step - it's not my whole life. As in any area of life, I think the people at the top, the big names, are those people who've thrown themselves into it completely. Those guys work hard, they put in the hours, they give it their all. Does that make me lazy? Maybe, but I prefer to think of it in terms of balance. My health has already made me think about how many hours I work - I just can't afford to throw myself into a project that sees me working 18 hours a day. But also, I value the rest of my life - at the end of the working day (usually around 6), I like to switch off, to do other things, to forget about work. You won't find me on #ELTchat at ten o'clock in the evening discussing the latest apps for use in the classroom!

Do I feel guilty or frustrated? Occasionally. Do I want to be a 'big name'? No, not really ... especially if it means giving up my cup of tea and afternoon cake sitting on my roof terrace in the sun. Is that to do with being a woman or is it just me?

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Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Preparing to present

In a couple of weeks' time, I'm due to give a presentation at the Annual IATEFL Conference in Glasgow. I'm going to be talking about how we put together the wordlists for the Collins COBUILD Key Words for IELTS series that I worked on as senior editor (Breaking down the AWL; Thurs morning, 10.25). I generally really enjoy presenting and I've given talks at IATEFL several times before, so I know more-or-less what to expect. I had to put in my proposal back in September, so I thought about my topic and a general outline back then. It's sort of been in the back of my mind since and occasionally something crops up that I mentally file under "possible talk material", but generally, I haven't thought too much about it. It always seems to me that there's no point preparing miles ahead then forgetting it all.

With the conference just a couple of weeks away though, I'd set aside some time this week to sit down and prepare in earnest, especially as the folks at Collins want me to send them a copy of my presentation by next week. I started off yesterday by pulling out my proposal and various notes about the project and jotting down some rough ideas on paper. Then I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the house talking to myself! Anyone walking past and glancing through the window would've thought I was mad, especially as I can't talk without using my hands. I tried out different sections, wording and rewording, then checking out stats or examples, so that each chunk of the talk gradually came together. I then went off and did other stuff for the rest of the afternoon and let everything bubble away in the back of my mind.

This morning, I sat down and started to translate everything into a set of PowerPoint slides, putting all my chunks into a sequence and filling in any gaps and links. Then it was time for a trial run to check out the timing. I put my slides on my laptop on the ironing board (just because it's a good height!) and set the kitchen timer. I also took the opportunity to test out the new boots I've bought to wear - I haven't worn them yet and I wanted to check they were comfy and didn't rub anywhere! And off I went ...

My first full run-through came out at about 35 minutes, which is great as I've got a 45-minute slot and that gives me a few minutes late starting and a good 5 minutes for questions/overrun time. So I think I'm more-or-less set. I'll have another look through my PowerPoint slides tomorrow before I send them off. I'll save everything onto a memory stick as well as my laptop. I've got my outfit sorted, including the boots which were still fairly comfy after a full afternoon's wear including a walk round to the supermarket! Now I'll wait until the day before my presentation to have one last look through. I'm really pleased to have a morning slot - I don't get very nervous before presentations, but there's still nothing worse than hanging around all day waiting to speak. Apparently, the talk's going to be filmed, so if you're not in Glasgow, I'll try and put up a link to it later.

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