TweetLast summer I received an invitation I was unable to refuse. Following on from my – successful – involvement in the British Council’s Blogathon event, I was given the opportunity to get involved with The BC’s first online storytelling conference. For those of you who didn’t know, this event took place last weekend:
‘The 1st British Council Turkey Story Sharing Web Conference will treat stories as they should be treated…That is to make students laugh, cry, get angry, be thrilled, be shocked, get inspired…Stories which enrich students’ experience of learning English both inside and outside the classroom.’
Starting way back in July of last year, I have been on a tumultuous ride which culminated in a great weekend of online conferencing involving literally hundreds of people from all around the world. I had a great experience being involved in this event and have several people to thank for that. But first things first…
How can there even be an online conference?
Good question! Webinars – web seminars – were the basis of the Story Sharing Web Conference, and for those who haven’t experienced one before is an online vehicle for making presentations to a group of people spread out over a large geographical area, namely the whole world! Webinars are great as they combine the interactive technologies of teleconferencing, the web and presentation software to produce an interactive multimedia seminar. The process basically involves presenters designing a presentation as they would for a regular meeting and uploading the data to an online medium, in our case this was Adobe Connect. The audience for the webinar then logs at the appropriate time and watch the presenters deliver their seminar.
So, it’s possible… is it any fun?
How is the experience compared to a regular conference?
Webinars enable participants to interact with the presenters and ask questions about their presentation in a way they would never do were they in the same room. What’s more, the webinar audience isn’t necessarily restricted to only viewing the presentation a single time. If those giving the seminar decide to record the session, the audience, or anyone else with access to the hosting site for that matter, can view it at any time after the presentation has finished (we recorded the entire event for you, and I’ll be sharing the links later on in this post).
So, from a purely mechanical perspective, it all seemed possible, and in some ways better than a real event, but logistically how would it shape up?
Why hold an online conference?
When I first decided to get involved, I must admit I was intrigued as to how successful an online conference could be. Naturally, there are some obvious benefits to having a virtual online event:
- Presenting information online reduces expenses and makes meeting and collaborating easier for presenters and attendees. Compared traditional events, which usually include travel, hotels, facility rentals and catering, Webinars are a low-cost alternative for the conference host and the attendees. Granted, hosts pay for the webinar software and sometimes for a presenter, but these expenses are relatively small… and participants join the event for free.
- The intuitive software allows presenters and participants to interact and collaborate through facilities such as live polls, question and answer areas, as well as enabling immediate document sharing, making it easy for attendees to participate in and learn from the event.
- Webinars also allow geographically detached colleagues to collaborate and work as a team. For instance, we had presentations made by multiple presenters who had no reason to be in the same physical location as one another.
These factors are all well and good, but there was still a nagging question in the back of my mind about this whole event…
Could it possibly work?
While I’d attended a fair few stand alone Webinars before the Story Sharing Web Conference, I still wasn’t sure how the feeling would compare with attending an event at a physical location. To be honest, I was lucky in that I got to work with and be trained by some of the best in the business (I’ll be doing some name checking later on, don’t worry!).
My trepidation left me as plans for the event progressed. Seeing the presenters and organizers treating the conference like any other event really helped. If you get the chance to attend a similar event in the future, think about it as a ‘real’ event… because it is. The presenters prepared for it as if they were going to be standing in a room in front of their audience and, importantly, creating content that would engage the attendees in a way that they would if they were physically present. Audience members – all 600+ of them – really considered the event as being as valuable a learning experience as attending a ‘real conference’: from now on I won’t be judging either as being particularly different!
Anyway, on to business: how did last weekend shape up?
The 1st British Council Turkey Story Sharing Web Conference
My role in the event was to act as a moderator, by which I mean I got to help presenters prepare, then introduce them and thank them for their contributions. If that sounds easy, it isn’t. Nevertheless, I was a very small cog in a large and extremely effective wheel. The most important people involved were the presenters and the people they so kindly shared their ideas with: the attendees.
We were treated to some fantastic presentations by some of the biggest names in the world of storytelling.
Alec Williams‘ opening plenary gave us ‘Reading for Pleasure: Why it matters, How it helps, and Ways to Encourage it.’ If students discover pleasure in reading, noted Alec, they’ll want to do more, which will improve their reading further, creating a ‘virtuous circle’. Alec’s session delivered a range of ways to use stories, and how spotlighting the fun of reading will help to create readers for life.
Then came some great concurrent sessions… Özge Karaoğlu’s ‘Once Upon a Web Tool’ helped us discover several web based tools that will provide writing prompts and story starters for our young learners that can motivate them to start creating their stories from scratch. Aydan Yavuz’s ‘Contemporary Ways of Writing a ‘Short’ Story’ let us find out how we can exploit social media to teach English while having fun. Halima Benzoukh’s ‘Reading Stories: Another Strategy for Building Reading Fluency in EFL’ showed us that by using stories, EFL teachers can help their learners to increase their reading fluency. Dave Dodgson’s ‘Student-generated Stories – What Happens Next?’ explained how encouraging young learners to create their own stories is a great way to tap into their imagination and creativity (read Dave’s blog post about his experiences with online conferences here). Çiğdem Güneş’ ‘Using Web 2.0 Technologies for Digital Storytelling Purposes’ highlighted the benefits of sharing of self-produced stories through the use of Storybird and YouTube. Müfit Senel’s and Deren Başak Akman’s ‘Retaining Vocabulary Knowledge through Digital Story Telling’ showed us how to help young learners increase and retain their vocabulary knowledge through digital stories. Janet Ipek’s ‘To be or not to be’…TPRS in the Classroom’ looked at using these games like Trivial Pursuits for an effective TPRS (Total Physical Response Storytelling) classroom. Raquel Fernandez’s ‘Make it Creative! Helping Students Find Their Way to Literature’ provided teachers with a variety of ideas and resources which have proved successful to smooth secondary students’ way into literature by overcoming their fears and activating their creative abilities.
David Heathfield’s plenary ‘Classroom Storytelling: Wonder, Wit & Wisdom in World Stories’ was a fun and highly practical webinar on simple, powerful, intercultural storytelling. He also gave us a detailed look at www.worldstories.org.uk which has been developed by charity Kids Out. Gail Ellis’ plenary ‘Using Story Picture books with Primary Children’ demonstrated how the rich and stimulating medium of children’s literature and the techniques of storytelling can develop children’s English language skills as well as encourage social and emotional development.
Monica Lau’s ‘Using Stories to Arouse Student Interest in Learning English’ presented practical ideas and suggestions on how to use stories to raise student interest and lower their anxiety level in learning English. Vera Savic’s ‘Using Stories for Creating Engaging Thematic Units’ looked at the ways of integrating stories into thematic units for teaching English to young learners. Merve Oflaz’s ‘Magic Calls Thee’ summoned the lovers of the ‘Educaland’ with the magic of stories. Joe Pereira’s ‘Read/Write/Play: Digital Game-based Storytelling with Interactive Fiction’ highlighted how digital games, with their engaging and motivating characteristics, are increasingly becoming accepted as viable tools for language learning. Irene Canca’s ‘ESL Written Production through Guided Comprehension’ outlined a step-by-step teaching framework of Guided Comprehension with numerous teacher resources presented. Amel Daghfous’ ‘Developing Students’ English through Stories’ explained how stories provide opportunities for developing continuity in children’s learning and help to build up the child’s confidence and encourage social and emotional development.
Sevim Ak’s plenary ‘Yaratici Okuma / Creative Reading’ discussed the importance of creativity in getting young learners to read meaningfully. Samantha Lewis’ plenary ‘Using Graphic Novels and Comics with Teens’ offered a range of fun, practical activities that can be used to exploit such stories with teenage students while developing both skills and language work. It also focused on some of the resources available to help students to be creative and produce their own comics and graphic novels.
Sandie Mourao’s ‘Picturebooks: The Whole Story’ presented practical ideas and suggestions on how to use stories to raise student interest and lower their anxiety level in learning English. Dinçer Demir’s ‘Enrich your Storytelling with Sound Effects’ showed how, with the advantages of providing learners with an authentic language learning environment, storytelling is a stunning way of activating and fostering students’ learning. Şebnem Oral’s ‘Bilingual Stories- Circles of Learning’ discussed whether bilingual stories could be a constant flow of target language and thus be seen as comprehensible input plus one. Thalia Chadzigiannoglu’s, Georgia Gyftoula’s and Androniki Nistikaki’s ‘Spark Creativity and Innovation in EFL Classroom with Digital Storytelling’ explored lesson ideas with digital storytelling tools to boost creativity and collaboration among teachers and students in the EFL classroom. Sue Leather’s ‘What’s in a Story?’ included practical ideas for using readers to really getting your students to benefit from reading for pleasure. Paul Sweeney’s and Alex Warren’s ‘Step up Mudslingers! Authoring Interactive Fiction’ highlighted how teachers can create digital interactive fiction with free software & no programming knowledge. Vicki Hollett’s ‘Storytelling- the Indispensible and Yet Forgotten Business English Skill’ explained how the ability to tell a story is invaluable if you need to lead, inspire, motivate, persuade, explain or simply get along well with your colleagues at work. Her talk explored how we can help our students to do just that. Elena Oncevska’s ‘Using Picture Stories for English Language Learning’ demonstrated a hands-on activity aimed at revising target vocabulary and stimulating students’ creativity via writing picture stories. Simon Shephard’s ‘Stories for Schools Taster’ enabled us to listen to one of Sevim Ak’s stories in English and see some of the great activities that you can do with your students.
Shelly Terrell’s closing plenary ‘Sharing Stories: Powerful Lessons in Language Learning’ allowed us to discover cool digital storytelling tools and lesson ideas. Shelly showed us examples of various digital storytelling projects from language learners of all various ages worldwide. We left with practical tips for managing, evaluating, and implementing collaborative digital storytelling projects.
I had an awesome time participating in this conference, for which I have to thank a number of fantastic people.
- Şirin Soyöz is part of the global team of IATEFL Online, which manages the interactive web coverage of the IATEFL Conference. It was her idea to have this event and she was brilliant throughout.
- The wonderful Heike Philp trained not only me but the other moderators and was the techno ‘muscle’ behind the whole event. It couldn’t have happened without her and her incredible knowledge of how to run such an event.
- My fellow moderators Aslı, Eva, Gülnur and Cansu, who went through the good and bad with me and without whom the event wouldn’t have been as much fun.
- Nigel Russell gave invaluable tech support at ungodly hours from his home in Australia and deserves great thanks, as do Simon Shepard, Pınar Kavşat and Seda Baykal.
Enjoy the fun!
All of the conference sessions were recorded, so you have the opportunity to catch up on anything you missed at the Teaching English website’s Turkey page.