TESOL 2021 International Convention and English Language Expo was held virtually between March 24-27, 2021. The online TESOL 2021 platform removed all the geographical and cultural boundaries to host over 8000 English language professionals from all over the world. I was overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the convention. It offered more than 600 sessions including keynotes; synchronous and asynchronous sessions which included academic, exhibitor, and panel sessions, presentations, workshops; pre-recorded Q&A section; on-demand sessions; pre-recorded poster sessions; electronic village; round tables; expo hall, and many more options. It is definitely impossible to attend all or most of them during the convention. The great news is that all the sessions, except for the keynotes will be available for 90 days and there are still round tables which attendees can join, make connections, and share ideas and experiences with professionals from all over the world.
I have taught the English language for over 18 years and I have been to many conferences and ELT events. However, I have never experienced anything like this before. Everything was very well-thought, detailed, and meticulously prepared. WOW! I have to congratulate the organizing committee for enhancing this kind of event and send my sincerest thanks to the US Embassy for providing me with this invaluable opportunity to become a part of the TESOL team. My first TESOL experience has been the greatest ELT experience I have ever had.
I would definitely prefer to attend the conference physically, go in and out of session halls, meet new people in person and make new connections, watch all of the inspiring keynote sessions among the crowds of my colleagues and feel the warmth of that conference atmosphere. I had not had the chance to do that until this April. I am sure it is demanding for many people to attend an international conference because of many factors including an intercontinental journey and financial burdens. However, due to the current situation affecting us globally, most events had to be canceled or held virtually, just like TESOL 2021 International Convention and English Language Expo. Besides all the downsides, of course, having virtual events has some undeniable benefits for most professionals worldwide as they are lower in cost and you can join them in the comfort of your own home.
Before the conference started, I was really excited to explore the conference website as I had to learn a lot to navigate it throughout the conference. I was even more excited and surprised to discover that the conference website was designed with gamification. Through gamification, attendees were encouraged to take part in all sorts of activities and interact with one another. For this reason, the system allowed attendees to rack up points the minute they started upgrading their profiles and there were prizes for the ones with the greatest number of points. The first thing I did was to edit my profile and upload a photo in order to collect points. Then I chose the live sessions I was going to attend and created my conference schedule and added some colleagues to my attendee connections list to gain even more points.
The keynotes were very professional and inspirational. Each of them was full of inspiring ideas. All five keynote speakers made many points during their speeches, but what struck me most was that they all underlined the importance of how language learners across the world have been influenced by political, economic, and geographical factors over several generations. These factors were worth pondering over and over as language teachers and I believe learning more about the learners and understanding and valuing their feelings is definitely more important than trying to teach them any lesson. These keynote sessions made me think about my own teaching experience. As an instructor at a university, I encounter learners with varied backgrounds and cultures. It is of great importance to find out as much about each and every learner as possible in terms of their cultural and linguistic heritage. Some of them are more disadvantageous than others as they were impacted more by political, economic, and geographical circumstances that provide a greater reason for why they want to learn a language.
As for the academic sessions, presentations, workshops, poster, and other types of sessions, I mostly preferred the ones that offer practical ideas especially on online teaching, materials development, use of technology in the classroom, gamification, and attended some academic sessions related to teacher education, presenting in conferences and making academic publications. I attended a few sessions that introduce games. The practical sessions I enjoyed most were the ones with some innovative ideas on how to teach with word clouds, tools for gamification, and the homework correction cycle. I left all of these sessions with a pocketful of applicable ideas and I felt excited to use them in my lessons. I also attended some academic sessions that encouraged me to do more research, make publications, and present in conferences in the field.
Choosing my one “TESOL moment” is challenging because there were so many of them. However, my TESOL2021 highlight was doubtlessly the networking area which included three main parts; attendee connections, question and answer, and round tables. In the attendee connections section, you can add colleagues into your attendee connections list, message, email or even talk to them on the phone, question and answer section in which you can ask your questions to colleagues in a forum and other attendees can answer back. This way you can find business partners to run projects, and make researches and publications together. Finally, in the roundtables section, you can create roundtables and invite colleagues to discuss topics related to language teaching and learning, and exchange ideas, or you can join roundtables created by others. It is a great opportunity to meet enthusiastic language teachers and teacher educators spending their time and energy engaged in teaching a language and/or professional development. To me, it was really inspiring and insightful to hear about their teaching experiences. The roundtables are still available on the conference website.
The entire convention was amazing despite some technical problems. It enhanced every opportunity one can get from a virtual conference under pandemic conditions. I collected a lot of meaningful and memorable moments and become a part of TESOL. There are still over 500 recorded sessions that have been awaiting to be watched and hopefully, I will spend many sleepless nights watching most of them in the following weeks. 😊