University auditorium

Five benefits of attending conferences

The latest issue of English Language Teaching Journal carried an interesting article, by Simon Borg, on the benefits of participating in conferences, as reported by ELT professionals. Unfortunately the article is behind a paywall, but if you or your institution have a subscription to  ELT J, you can follow the link below:

Borg, S. (2015). The benefits of attending ELT conferences. ELT Journal, 69(1), 35-46. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccu045

Alternatively, or in addition to reading the article, you may want to read Simon Borg’s blog about the research project which is reported there.

So, what are the benefits?

In addition to the perhaps obvious advantages such as networking, becoming better acquainted with teaching techniques and broadening one’s theoretical knowledge, the participants in Borg’s study reported that their professional confidence increased in five ways:

  1. They felt a sense of achievement, especially if they had delivered a successful presentation.
  2. The opportunity to compare their professional experience with that of other ELT professionals working elsewhere (particularly when these comparisons were favourable) seemed to enhance the teachers’ sense of self-worth.
  3. Teachers became more aware of their own potential.
  4. New knowledge and skills helped to bolster their credibility in the eyes of their colleagues back at their workplace.
  5. Conference participation helped to combat feelings of professional isolation.

These empirical findings seem to confirm considerable anecdotal evidence regarding the value of professional conferences for ELT professionals, and hint at the need for increased support by employers  to make conference participation easier.

And a request…

That said, I can’t help pointing out that there are a large number of teachers, in Greece at least, and I imagine elsewhere too, who don’t always seem keen to participate in such events. What might be some reasons contributing to such reluctance? Is Borg overstating the benefits? Borg’s research focused on large conferences such as IATEFL; is it possible that the quality of other conferences is uneven? Are there institutional obstacles at work? I’d love to hear your views, so feel free to add a comment below, send me a message, or tweet your thoughts to @AchilleasK!


Featured image by Dungodung (Own work) [CC BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

10 thoughts on “Five benefits of attending conferences”

  1. Hi Achilleas, very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m willing to venture a few thoughts on some of the questions you raised:

    1. Just based on my own experience, I don’t think Simon Borg is overstating the benefits of attending conferences. I think number 5 is a really big one. Number 3 depends on how easily a teacher feels he/she can actually put into practice something demonstrated in a presentation – some presenters are also great at teaching their audiences, but some (very occasionally, I stress) seem to prefer to show off their own skills and audience members might not always feel they’re capable of replicating such outstanding techniques/results.

    2. Some reasons for teachers’ reluctance to get involved… this is a really good question, and I’ve definitely noticed the problem in other countries than Greece! I think number 4 on the list above is dubious. The cachet of attending developmental events such as conferences really depends on the colleagues ‘back at school’, as well as whether a teacher who attended a conference is actually encouraged to share his/her learnings. But by far and away I think the single biggest barrier to teachers attending conferences is the lack of financial or documented incentive to do so. Many schools ‘encourage’ CPD but won’t pay anything towards it (literally, nothing); some schools will make a contribution but which isn’t financially worthwhile to an already-underpaid teacher when the expense of travelling to the conference, accommodation, etc. is considered; and regardless of any of this, virtually no such events (whether the teacher is attending, organising or presenting) are translatable into a qualification or certification which the teacher can put on a CV and carry throughout his/her career or even to other fields of work in any officially recognised way. Certificates of attendance don’t count. Sometimes this helps in some small way (e.g. to teachers in the state education system towards a CPD credits programme), but in the private language school system, at least in the UK, proof of attendance or participation is worth nothing in real terms. Cynical, perhaps, but not surprising that many teachers ultimately can’t be bothered to give up their free time and own money simply for a sense of personal achievement (and some aren’t into ELT as a long-term career, so may feel even less incentive to spend their own time and money on such career development).

    3. As for the quality of other conferences, I’m happy to report that I’ve been to plenty – small scale local and large-scale international, run by schools and publishers and larger organisations like IATEFL – and they’ve all been pretty good, some excellent. Conference organisers have to go to great lengths to provide a great experience and it usually shows. So that’s good news.

    Phew! Sorry for that essay… just my two (or twenty!) cents. :) It’s a very interesting topic!

    Laura

    1. Thanks for this wonderful comment, Laura! I echo what you are talking about in the second point. Since employers benefit from what well-trained, confident, knowledgeable staff bring to the classroom, it seems frustrating that they do not contribute towards staff development…

  2. Hi Achilleas, thanks for sharing.
    I don’t think Borg is overstating the benefits at all. As Laura pointed out, I think many schools simply don’t encourage teachers to pursue CPD. They may invest in training and their own programs, but rarely pay for their staff to attend conferences.
    Some conferences are just way too expensive, specially the big international ones (and where you’re from plays an important role here). Some teachers may thing those conferences are out of their league and don’t look for cheaper, local events that may be just as good.
    There’s also the misconception that conferences tend to deal only with things that are too theoretical and that it’s difficult to put the theory into practice.

    1. Excellent points, thanks! It is unfortunate that we have this divide between theory and practice in ELT, and I can see how much work that is presented in some conferences could appear irrelevant to the teachers’ practical needs. What this seems to suggest, to me at least, is that there is a need for more teachers showcasing their work in such events, and more presentations that are practice-driven and practically oriented. In other words, the profession cannot afford to drive teachers away from such events.

  3. Thanks Achilleas for highlighting this work. ‘Overstating’ implies conclusions that are not supported by evidence and there is certainly no danger of that in this report – all the conclusions are based on what teachers said. Another form of overstatement in research is generalising in a manner that is not warranted. Again, the article guards against this by acknowledging its limitations. So I am confident that, within the parameters that governed the study, the conclusions are valid. Further studies of teachers in different contexts attending different conferences may of course highlight alternative findings – it would clearly be wrong to conclude that every conference has a positive impact on every delegate that attends.

    1. Thanks, Simon, for adding your thoughts! Let me just say that I didn’t want to put you on the defensive here. The ‘is Borg overstating his case’ statement was more of a rhetorical move for triggering responses, rather than a challenge to the validity of what you wrote. Quite clearly, the readers of the blog do not think you have overstated the benefits, and let me go on record saying that neither do I.

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