TESOL Summit , Athens, 9th February 2017

Posted by Joan on February 28, 2017

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Futurology

Futurology was our first topic of the agenda and our first speaker was Sue Garton of Aston University, Birmingham, Great Britain. She spoke of Futurology through the lens of Inquiry and mentioned those affected by TESOL inquiry: researchers, ministry officials, head-teachers, schoolteachers and students. She observed how research can sometimes include policy-makers – perhaps advisers – but that teachers are rarely involved and are generally too busy to become familiar with what research is being conducted. She stated that it was unlikely that head-teachers would implement policies stemming from research and that English was not likely to be their subject, anyway.

Despite publishers, materials’ writers, test designers and parents all being stakeholders, among them there were no functioning lines of communication whereby skills could be shared. She went on to consider current megatrends – political instability, economic uncertainty, social change, rapid technological development – and how these would impact on our field or profession. Though we cannot predict what that impact might be, we need to anticipate it and to do that we need to rethink the meaning of inquiry in TESOL.

She cited GB as a sound example whereby all research projects have to show they will have impact, what the nature of that impact will be and who will benefit from it. Her question was how we can get findings from university research across to professionals and practitioners. Ideally this should be a 2-way street with interaction between practitioners and researchers but she said there is a theory/practice divide. She called for more action-research and classroom-based research.

There is a need for a broader view of inquiry in TESOL and for everyone to be involved. She suggested capturing more systematically the questions and knowledge that teachers and practitioners bring to the table and that some research issues should be cross-context related and that some be specific to contexts – both at the local and global levels. She asked that all stakeholders be identified and form committees to draw up an agenda. She identified the need for practitioners to be exploratory and reflective, focusing on how to value alternative approaches and how to disseminate findings from  inquiry. For our profession to be an agent of change, we have to operate within an interlinking model.

 

Greg   Kessler, of Ohio University, continued our Futurology focus from the professional perspective and, in particular, on the role of the social media. With continuing global increase in the use of the social media and the internet, he sees these as powerful tools which not only enable us to communicate with each other, but also give us both the ability and the responsibility to be advocates for ourselves, our colleagues and our students.                                                                                                                                  Citing the role of the internet in, for example, the Arab Spring, he exhorted us as individuals, institutions, professional organisations and students to be active participants in that culture. He talked of the need to become familiar with using the technology of the future and with the social practices involved. We have to become responsible citizens in this respect or else someone else will make decisions on our behalf. He informed us that Facebook attracts around 75% of the internet traffic. However, mentioning the other platforms e.g. Twitter and LinkedIn, he explained that they all serve different functions and that we needed to think critically before selecting which one to use and how to use it. If we value diversity, then we need to step out of our ‘echo chambers’ and accept others (as ‘friends’ on Facebook and ‘connections’ on LinkedIn ) as   a means of broadening our perspective.

According to Greg, the challenges before us are:

  • to establish practices for ourselves and our students
  • to become more engaged and better informed
  • to learn to use IT tools to remove what is blatantly false  and in this way
  • to improve the quality of the content we have access to.

 

Our final speaker on the subject was Asmaa Abu Mezied, of Internet2, who considered Futurology in terms of Equity. Making reference to current trends, she spoke of demographic change, economic change and protracted conflict. Her map showing areas of organized violence brought home how serious the situation is. From that, she raised questions about the people whose lives are involved: what do education, access and equity mean for them?                                                                                                             She claimed that initial responses focus on donating humanitarian assistance of food, water and shelter. However, for her the big picture was one of basic rights and her belief is that when humanitarian organizations consider human rights and needs, they tend to forget about education. Yet,  families living in these conflict zones, even when bombardment is going on, will send their children to school as education is the key to breaking that cycle of poverty. She defined access to education as not being the number of schools but for children having safe access to schools with safe environments. In dealing with such major issues, she described UNICEF as being under-resourced and oversubscribed. She claimed that the English language both helped and hindered, in that access to TESOL meant access to scholarships to study in the United States, while not being able to afford to go to English classes, meant not even knowing what opportunities were available.

(I should like to add here that we really are talking about the knowledge of the language rather than the language itself. It is not English that is a hindrance but having no knowledge of it that is the drawback.)

She regretted the absence of long-term planning and that entire generations were being lost especially at the level of Higher Education where young people’s education was interrupted thereby denying them the skills and knowledge which they could have brought into their communities to instigate change. She outlined a project where young displaced persons could continue their education online  and another which had brought blended learning – onsite and online- to young people in refugee camps

In response to the question as to how challenges could be overcome she proposed that:

  • International organizations should look for local stakeholders as partners.
  • Students should be encouraged to go online, to create and use a digital identity to develop their  knowledge

She did acknowledge, however, that there was no one-size-fits-all solution and that some refugee camps were devoid of the infrastructure that was a necessary prerequisite for such development.

Although there were only a few support programs mentioned in Asmaa’s talk, these could be the beacons within the current turmoil, showing us what the future road ahead could be.