I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I spend my time because there just never seems to be enough of it. Although I enjoy writing on this little blog, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to put energy into other projects for a while.
Thank you so much for reading, and for your comments (especially MJ, my star commenter). There’s a good chance I’ll be back at some point.
It seemed unlikely to be valuable because I was feeling pessimistic about conferences in general, and also because volunteer management is kind of a “fluffy” profession, not backed up by much research or data or formal history.
I’m thrilled to report that I was pleasantly surprised. The sessions I went to did not perpetuate the fluff, but sought to give us concrete ideas and skills for taking our work to the next level.
I gained background in creating a volunteer-led ESL curriculum, setting up focus groups (of students and volunteers), addressing the 80/20 rule of life (that 80% of your effort will go to 20% of your tasks and problems), and creating well-designed flyers and brochures.
I think I actually found the last one to be the most useful. Making flyers is one of those random parts of my job that I’m expected to just do, and I have never had the slightest bit of training on how to do a good job. The presenter walked us through the four pieces of the puzzle that we need to consider, and three days later I still remember them: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.
Here’s what I think she did right:
limited her scope,
stayed focused on it, and
provided different levels of meaningful practice.
That presentation had no hand-outs. This was disconcerting at first, but it turned out to be a strength. Her goal wasn’t to give resources, but to convey four interrelated elements of design. She didn’t try to make us into designers that afternoon. The unified design she was teaching us was reflected in her presentation: she taught what she said she was going to teach, and she did it in a way that assured our attention was never split. She also followed the basic format of a good ESL lesson: I do it, we do it, you do it. By this I mean she gave us opportunities to practice what we were learning, and that over the course of the session she went from actively guiding our practice to letting us work through examples independently.
I think what made this conference stand out is that all the sessions I went to were taught in this way. I hope other conferences catch on soon.
MinneTESOL was last Friday and Saturday. Overall I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t quite blown away.
To my mind, the conference’s highlight was when Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer spoke on Friday evening. It was poetic and moving and beautiful.
The rest of the conference was a let-down except when I went to presentations by Hamline University faculty. And no, Hamline did not pay me to say that. The fact is that their presentations were exactly what they sounded like, were well-thought out and easily within their expertise, included hands-on practice of what we were learning, engaged and engaging presentation style, and successfully distributed useful materials that I’ll be able to use and/or alter at the learning center.
There was actually one other worthwhile presentation about a research project in neurolinguistics. It was just a talk with a PowerPoint but the speaker’s energy and focus on actually communicating with the audience made it work wonderfully. My colleague also pointed out that the scope was perfect for a short presentation.
The other presentations committed the following (what I consider to be) sins:
the keynote was plain lecture with a busy, dense PowerPoint for an hour straight. Also, they didn’t know that PowerPoint has several pointer features and that they didn’t have to point to parts of their graphs with their shadows.
one woman actually just read her paper to us without pause while her busy PowerPoint went on behind her. I’m sorry, but I didn’t get up at 6:45AM on a Saturday for your airport voice. Thank goodness she only wasted 20 minutes of my life.
the following 20-minute session was at least an attempt to communicate with the audience, but he had not only made too few hand-outs but misplaced some of them and didn’t freely pass his card around for us to contact him later.
the special interest brainstorm session on Adult Education had potential, but I ended up in a small group that was taken over by a group of three women griping about terrible cooperation between ESL/ABE and the MN State Colleges and Universities. I wish we could have moved past that phase of the discussion.
I went to another 20-minute presentation in which the speaker concluded that adopting technology in the classroom was easier than people think and they just need more time. Clearly he hadn’t seen the keynote in which they thought they knew PowerPoint.
I feel the conference as a whole could have done a better job with:
making sure there were on-site photocopying resources
facilitating electronic communication of presentation hand-outs in lieu of paper hand-outs (i.e. a Conference Resources page on their website, or an email directory of the presenters)
laying down some standards of presentation style
Several people I talked to agreed with me but remarked that these are perennial issues with conferences. Which begs the question… why? These are very fixable problems!