Wednesday, November 19, 2008

KOTESOL Conference 2008: Amateur vs. Professional/International

I came across this article by Jyu Young Lee, (originally from here).

KOTESOL Conference 2008: Theme vs. Expectation

Although the Korean TESOL International Conference (KOTESOL) was held during late October, the ESL Community is still responding in review. Many of the participants felt disappointed - due to high expectations with this year's conference theme: Responding to a Changing World.

One of the many reasons I was disappointed with this year's conference is perhaps because of its self-appointed title as an "International Conference." I don't think that I, as a card carrying member of the 'shark-elite' party (see below in the article, and see here--apparently someone saw my blog and the shark pics, lol) have unrealistic expectations.

Something that is not addressed in Jyu Young's article is the fact that many foreign teachers and professors are STARVING for professional development in Korea. The government, and public education system, has generally not provided regular professional development days with experienced and qualified presenters. Instead, we have to pay out of our own pockets for travel, food, and hotels to come to the ONCE A YEAR KOTESOL International Conference--is it any wonder that many of us show up ravenous with hunger to learn and improve our teaching skills? And why is this desire represented as a bad thing here? Oh, and we also buy TICKETS to go to the conference . . . is it wrong to expect something in return for the fee?

If the conference organizers actually wanted to know what the attendees think, including the '
shark-elite,' then why is there not a simple survey done each year to find out what we liked, didn't like, and what suggestions we have for the future?

The point in handle comes from two composing thoughts between the chair committee and veteran participants. The president of KOTESOL, Philip Owen, wrote in a message:
"Why couldn't KOTESOL do XXX" or "Why doesn't KOTESOL have a YYY?" Usually these are good suggestions or questions. Usually the answer is simply, "There is no one to 'make it so."
Is this really the case? One suggestion I made in my 2008 KOTESOL posting was that the KOTESOL organizers have coffee, tea, and snacks at a table in the main corridor area with all of the publishers' displays and booths. KOTESOL would make some money, the attendees would be happier, and it would just raise the general mood of the conference. The "human X factor" is something most educators, regardless of whether or not they are 'shark-elite,' can sense. When learners--or attendees--are hungry and thirsty and have to leave the conference (which by the by means less sales potential for the publishers) to find food and drink . . . you'd think that it would be an easy fix. Assign 5-10 student volunteers to go to a grocery store. Give them a grocery list. Buy coffee, snacks, and any other popular food and drink items you think attendees might like to buy. Give the items a small mark-up so that KOTESOL can make some money . . . wow, clearly this is a job for Tom,

Jyu Young refers to one of a couple of comments/complaints/suggestions that I made in my 2008 KOTESOL Weekend post , "I really don't understand why KOTESOL organizers can't organize a time where 50 to 100 taxis pull up in front of the university for teachers and professors who are leaving . . . one phone call, one time period . . . is that too much to ask?" I don't think it is . . . improve the hospitality of the conference and watch the complaints dwindle . . .

The article continues with,

The idea was to be dynamic, as Owen explained he'll ideally lead a regime of staff assailant as the crew from the Star Trek Enterprise-D.

Which paints a rather interesting picture of KOTESOL people as the crew of the Enterprise and us 'shark-elite' as the Borg . . .

If the idea is to do things that are realistic I think that ONE person could be assigned to call a taxi company and say, "Hi. Would you like to make a lot of money today? Come to the KOTESOL Conference. Please tell your drivers that there will be a lot of business for them if they come at around 5pm on Saturday, and 4pm on Sunday." Wow . . . I guess we really do need ALIENS to get something like that done. Is it just me or is there some kind of subtle allusion here that only E.T.'s (English teachers from other countries--ahem, or should I say alien teachers from other 'worlds'?) could get this kind of thing done? And what does that imply about the student volunteers? Not very nice . . .

One thing I've learned about leadership, and teams, is that the leader-is-the-team-is-the-leader . . . NOT the other way around. I feel like someone is implying that the KOTESOL team is at fault for not getting things done, and organized, at the conference this year instead of owning up to the fact that there seem to be major planning, communication, and command issues that need to be improved in a manner that can overlap from year to year instead of new people constantly coming onto the scene and making amateur/beginner mistakes . . .

Most of the conference participants felt frustrated with the general arrangements of the conference itself. Many speakers found themselves without proper equipment. On one account, a speaker claimed to bring his own sound equipment, in order to present.

Is it just me or does saying "claimed" here make an indirect accusation of exaggeration and even possibly an accusation of lying?

But with a closer look at many of KOTESOL 08' reviews, blogged by expats - they were circulated amongst a tight knit group of experienced teachers - who've been participating with KOTESOL for years. Any word from new-timers has been rather drowned out or unheard.

I'm sorry but how am I, or any of the 'tight knit group of experienced teachers,' drowning out "new-timers" voices? How is this possible when I'm only writing on my blog?

Rob Dickey, chairman of KOTESOL Conference, replied to some of the unenthusiasts, claiming most of the resources were unavailable due to high costs:

Does 'unenthusiast' mean something like 'traitor' to the KOTESOL rank and file? Am I under charges for 'blaspheming' against the 'holy order' of KOTESOL? Wow . . . maybe I'll be put in the stocks again . . . lol.

tailoring of presentations with rooms. This one is really really tough for a large conference outside of a convention setting. We don't control, don't even know for sure til late, which rooms we'll get. Basically, impossible to fix without a professional setting (which costs lots of money — latest quote, 20 million versus the 5 million we pay at Sookmyung)
So who controls what rooms presenters are assigned? Is it really impossible to create even a semi-"professional setting"? And if this is indeed the general situation of the KOTESOL International Conference why are presenters not warned explicitly about the possible challenges they might face (maybe they are--I'm going to ask a few presenters I know personally if they were given any kind of letter or email with this kind of information).

NOTE: Oops! See the end of this posting for excerpts from the KOTESOL Presenter's Guide.

It's not so much as the costs as the fact that the conference's theme may have misled English teachers to a bigger change; catering to the speakers rather then the content given to the audience. Although it is difficult to see through good intentions - some of the content was undoubtedly misleading - especially when one of the speakers presented a topic different from the itinerary. Perhaps, the results of KOTESOL should instead be measured by the maintenance of an ESL Community; for all levels of instructors, not just the shark-elite.

Actually the real problem seems to be a lack of professional vetting of the presentees (something other people who attended have also mentioned). IF survey questionnaires were passed out each year the organizers might have a clearer idea of what attendees--and the 'shark-elite'--are hungry for in terms of professional development in the ESL/EFL field within the specific location of South Korea.

Oh yeah . . . it might also be worth mentioning that it wasn't ONLY the 'shark-elite' that made complaints about this year's conference. I talked to people who were there for the first time, and the general reaction was one of disappointment . . . hmmmm . . .

I think I need to add a qualifying statement to temper the critical tone of this post. There were attendees who went to the conference who had a good time. They went to good quality presentations, and their overall general experience was a positive one. THAT BEING SAID many of those I talked to did say that LAST YEAR WAS BETTER--myself included.

Also, in spite of all the complaining K-bloggers do it's highly likely that you'll see all of out next year at the 2009 KOTESOL Conference. It ain't all bad--but that's just part of the problem I have when I'm censored for blogging in a critical manner.

Why is it a NEGATIVE thing that veteran attendees are asking the KOTESOL International Conference to make efforts to IMPROVE each year? I think that's a question I'd like to hear Jyu Young answer.

I also wish writers would avoid introducing their OPINIONS in the CONCLUSION: "Perhaps, the results of KOTESOL should instead be measured by the maintenance of an ESL Community."

Perhaps if the conference organizers understood the meaning of "this year's conference theme: Responding to a Changing World" they might have listened to the suggestions and comments from the veteran conference attendees. One wonders why the KOTESOL organizers, who are really the people leaving "new-comers" "unheard," never bothered to create a survey questionnaire to facilitate these voices being heard . . .

And Jyu Young . . . perhaps next time when you write about what others have said you might email us and ask us questions about our opinions, and get clarification about our positions on the issues you raise here.

We also don't like to be left "unheard."

By: Jyu Young Lee


KOTESOL Reviews:

Kimchi Ice-Cream

Brian Deutsch

Joe Seoul Man

We've Got Seoul

Rob Dickey response (under comments):


Philip Owen message:

Presenter's guide to KOTESOL:

KOTESOL Presenters Guide

AHHH! They do give presenters some info . . .

How to make a great presentation at the KOTESOL 2008 international conference.

LATE UPDATE (not in download file) --

  • Don't save a Powerpoint or MSWord file in the .docx or .pptx (2007-8 generation) versions. The computers may only have the 2003 version of Microsoft Office. The selection "97-2003 version" is safe.
  • No video or audio recording is allowed in conference rooms without the consent of both the individual presenter(s) and conference management, even for "personal" purposes. If you aren't comfortable with recording, say "No."

Some guidelines (not requirements)

We at KOTESOL want to do all we can to help you make a great presentation, whether you are a first-time presenter or a launched professional. Here are some suggestions and helpful hints on speaking before your peers, making PowerPoint presentations that actually help your topic, using handouts, and interacting with your audience. We are committed to helping you do your best and nurturing new speakers. With that in mind, please remember these are suggestions, not requirements.

Standing before a group of students, who may or may not want to learn English, and standing before a group of peers who expect to hear something new are two different things. If you're afraid your topic won't be interesting to other professionals, don't worry. We wouldn't have chosen your presentation if we hadn't thought it would be useful to some portion of KOTESOL members or conference attendees.

It seems like other people are also aware of the fact that teachers and professors have high expectations.

Know your material well.

Standing there reading a paper sends a message that you don't know the material well, and you can't teach your audience something you don't know well yourself.

. . . .

Common mistakes with PowerPoint presentations . . .

This section is rather large and has absolutely NOTHING in it that warns presenters that they may or may not have problems getting a room with a projector and computer in it.

Miscellaneous points

Student volunteers will be assigned to your room. They will help you with the equipment and also they will let you know, by holding up a sign, when you have ten minutes left and again when you have five.

Don't be deterred if someone walks out of your room halfway through. People commonly do this because there is another presentation at the same time as yours and they 're trying to get both in. It's a compliment to you that they chose to attend yours even when there was something else they wanted to see. Likewise, be prepared that people may walk in halfway through for the same reasons.

Wow . . . this is annoying and causes problems for the presenter as well as attendees. I didn't think I'd actually read something like this about a conference attended by educators, teachers, and professors. Most of us dislike our students coming to class late--why is it different at the conference?


Finally, remember that nothing would make KOTESOL happier than for you to give a killer presentation. We want to say, 'Wow. Let's make sure this person presents again next year!' Your success contributes to our own, so if there are any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at The advice given here is just that: advice. These are not conference requirements you must adhere to (except time limits, of course). The best speakers capitalise on what makes them unique.

It would be nice if an online survey was set up about the conference instead of expecting attendees to write emails that in all likelyhood are read, given a polite response, and then . . . well, you get the 2008 KOTESOL Conference.

1 comment:

Brian said...

I don't think I could stay sane as a "real teacher" over here. It's frustrating enough trying to get by in hagwon or public schools; I don't know if I could deal with these kinds of attitudes as a university professor. That article was pretty rude and dismissive, and from what you posted here it doesn't look like they're making any attempts to fix the complaints.

In spite of a few qualifying statements on the blogs, I don't think I've read any positive reviews of the conference. While I, too, would love opportunities for professional development, from what I've read these presentations aren't focused enough on the practical concerns of NS teachers here to make it worth my while.

Something I've read a few times on blogs and forums was the excuse "it's run by volunteers." True, but I guess my response to that would be . . . um, don't use volunteers. It's an organization of professionals in its 16th year. Time to get better.