Posted by: Alastair Grant | November 17, 2012

I’m ready for my close-up.


(Or – “the best thing about an ELT conference is the coffee break”).

Friday 2 November was a little while ago now. Two weeks ago… well, 13 days ago. Nevertheless, it still seems as though the event that took place on that day needs more said about it in terms of its significance for ELT teachers the world over.

International House World Organisation, spearheaded by the ever creative and dedicated Shaun Wilden and Neil McMahon, set up the third Teachers’ Online Conference: a gathering of ELT luminaries (Jeremy Harmer) and hangers-on (Alastair Grant), to deliver two days’ worth of free teacher training to an expectant world.

And boy, did they deliver. But a little peek at the IHWO TOC3 blog demonstrates the breadth of CPD on offer; from lesson shapes to tech in the classroom, from literature to classroom games, this conference had it all.

But was it really a conference? Where were the name tags? Where was the stewed coffee? Where was the hangover? Nowhere to be seen here, but I’d argue that the online conference beats a face-to-face any day.

Before you write me off as being an anti-social loser who probably spends most of his Saturday afternoons watching zombie movies in his mom’s basement when he could be out tango dancing in his adopted city of Buenos Aires, let me justify my existence:

1. The IHWO TOC3 allowed teachers worldwide to see some of the best CELTA, Delta, MA TESOL qualified ELT minds from arguably the most prestigious ELT organisations, for free, from the comfort of their sofas.

  • Score: Online 1 – 0 Face-to-Face.

2. The IHWO TOC3 used an online learning platform that allows all participants in the room to interact with the speaker directly.

Score: Online 2 – 0 Face-to-Face.

3. The IHWO TOC3 allowed people to personally participate with each other during the session without getting shushed.

  • Score: Online 3 – 0 Face-to-Face.

4. The IHWO TOC3’s sessions were always interactive, so people didn’t start daydreaming about lunch, football or sex. Not too much, anyway.

  • Score: Online 4 – 0 Face-to-Face.

5. The IHWO TOC3 had no pub to go to afterwards.

  • Score: Online 4 – 4 Face-to-Face.

Ok, so until someone invents a virtual bar, there are improvables…

Despite this gaping hole in the conference programme, it’s undeniable that this event was one of the best ways of teachers from all four corners of the earth to receive free, professional teacher development.

All too often, conferences seem like a platform for egos to try and sell very little (or coursebooks) to a disappointed public who have shelled out a lot of cash and time to attend. Really, how many of us who have been to conferences have walked away from a session thinking, “interesting stuff, but nothing I can really use in the classroom there…”?

Admit it, it happens.

Here, you never have to worry about that – or if you get bored with a session, you can always jump rooms, or switch to Facebook.

So, for the IHTOC4, just… be there – it’s worth its bandwidth in gold and will ensure that you, as a teacher, are receiving some of the best professional development available. Did I mention it was free?

And getting back the latest one for a second, Shaun and Neil ensured that the sessions were recorded: you can see them all right here.

Personally, I hate seeing myself on camera. Given that we are all the stars of our own mental movie, I’d hoped that I’d be seen to have Woody Allen’s way with words and Jude Law’s way with close-ups. Sadly, I’d equally be the first to admit that’s a bit of a schlep from the truth, but vanity aside, here’s my session – the slides and the video recording:

I’ll provide an address for fan mail later.


  1. Agree with most of the above Al – especially the convenience of being able to catch the sessions later. Watched yours and Neil’s yesterday – both stuffed full of great ideas and it was fantastic being able to pause the stream while I scribbled in my notebook. Thanks!

    • Thank you Tim! And you can even disagree with things if you must… I’m happy to be disagreed with…!

      • Well, I do like the chance to meet people face to face too – would be sorry not to get the chance to do that – long may the IH DOS conference continue! But I’ve felt for years that while DOSes and Directors get their jollies the poor old teachers get very little, so this TOC initiative is a great idea.

  2. Like Tim I also agree with most of what you put… though you did miss out what I still maintain is one of the best parts of an online conf, and that is not having to worry about what to wear… unless you’re presenting (maybe it’s a girl thing!)
    And the fact that we can access the recordings at a later date opens up a world of opportunities, not only for personal development but also in school.

    Now if only someone can invent that virtual bar before the IHTOC4…

  3. Good point, Emma – I watched the first session on Friday in my jim-jams which I’ve never had the nerve to do in Greenwich 🙂

    • I don’t know… if we got enough people involved we could all turn up to some of the sessions in Greenwich in our jammies… I wouldn’t be offended of people showed up to my talk in their jammies 🙂

  4. Great Post Al, but you failed to mention the two highlights of the conferecne (aside from your session which was obviously THE highlight, second to when you made a guest appearance in mine). Your penguin joke and Andy singing/chanting to Jeremy. Gold 😀

    Just between you and me, I gave my session in jim jams. I quickly put a top on over the top of them 5 minutes before I turned the camera on 😀 and let’s not forget I had twin sausages at my feet attending their first ever conference. IHTOC rocks! I’m with Emma though. A virtual bar is needed 😉


  5. All you need is sausages and a bar for the perfect conference… this is our conclusion.

    I’ll tell the board at IATEFL.

    And the penguin joke, Neil has… suggested… may even get it’s very own session next time around. Although that could just be wishful thinking on my part.

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