The first-ever IH Teachers’ online conference: “a very proud moment in IH history!” by Alastair Grant

What is the sound of one finger clapping?

If you’d been at the world’s first IHWO Teachers’ Online Conference (TOC) on Friday 25th November last year, you’d know… well, ok, technically the online platform Blackboard Collaborate (very kindly provided by Oxford University Press) remains silent when an audience member presses the “applause” button, but if there had been any sound, it would have been deafening.

With an estimated 150 teachers attending, representing each of the 50 IH countries, over 70 people online at any one time, over 16 sessions and plenaries, a selection of top presenters from across the four corners of IHWO, AND a crack team of organizers and moderators, the TOC was a runaway success.

Little wonder Lucy Horsefield made the statement which I’ve used as a title!
And again, if you weren’t there (there’s another coming soon...), I imagine you’ll be brimming with “wh” questions now, which I shall try to satisfy for you. Drumroll please.


The TOC is an online conference using a web platform. It allows teachers from anywhere in the world to join an online classroom where they are able to see, hear and participate in teacher development sessions, ranging in content from in-class activities to theory and methodology.


Everywhere! The online classrooms (example below) display the whiteboard on which the presenters deliver their talks. On the left of the screen you can see a chatbox where all participants can add their views, respond to questions, raise their hands (just like our students), and even come on the mic to give their ideas about a topic when asked by the presenter. They can even commit the cardinal sin of writing on the whiteboard themselves! (my FCE kids would NEVER be so bold).


This was the real jewel in the day’s crown. The conference programme was a roll-call of teacher development talent (excluding myself – goodness knows why I was allowed to present).

Some of the highlights included Kylie Malinowska giving us an in-depth look at teaching Younger Learners, Jeremy Harmer’s proposals for collaborative teacher development, Simon Greenall reminding us to take our learners’ cultural contexts into the classroom (none of that ELT imperialism, thank you very much) and Ben Naismith on the ever-fruitful world of “The D Word” (Dogme…shh), to name but a few stars in a bright galaxy of online Teacher Development.

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that English Language Teaching wasn’t the only dish of the day: Neil McMahon, IHWO’s Academic Coordinator Resources & DoS Support found himself moderating in English, Spanish and Russian!

Right, and what exactly is a moderator? Well, when you come to the next TOC (I’m getting to that part, please try to be patient), you’ll see that the moderator of a session is like an assistant teacher – he or she is on hand to give a brief tour of the platform to the participants, introduce the speaker, help with any technical difficulties, and just generally be around during the session to ensure that everyone behaves themselves and that no one chucks paper balls at the teacher!


Well, now you’re just being difficult. If the above isn’t enough to convince you of the value of such an event, then you’ll just have to come to the next one. But I guess this is where I can add a personal note to this review of the day’s proceedings.
I am proud to say that IH San Isidro, where I work, had three teachers present for a large part of the conference, from the comfort of their own homes. And this, for me, is exactly the point.

Everyone loves a “real world”, face-to-face conference. Why? Well, mainly because of the coffee breaks where you get the chance to actually talk to people from your field who you’ve never met before. But this is, of course, dependent on everyone physically getting to the same geographical location. However, at the IH TOC, we didn’t have to.
From wherever people were, they could come for one, two, three sessions, completely gratis, and interact with peers and presenters alike: something which would be unheard of at a face-to-face event.

And wouldn’t we all feel just a teensy bit shy asking a luminary such as Mr Harmer a question in front of all those expectant faces at a normal conference? Not the case at the TOC, teachers from all walks of IHWO life were asking the great man all sorts of questions from the safety of their living rooms.

Speaking of living rooms – some unexpected conference highlights came from the webcams of the presenters themselves; including Shaun Wilden’s techno-den, Simon Greenhall’s enviable bookshelves, Zoe Taylor’s kitchen cupboards and Neil McMahon’s cats!

Oh and one more thing, the TOC platform itself was not the only online forum buzzing with creativity on the day. Many of the participants took to Twitter to disseminate the wise words of the presenters to an eagerly-waiting ELT world, making it, arguably, one of the biggest conferences IHWO have ever done.

When & How:

This is where you guys come in. Because if you missed it, fear not good people, for there shall be another, on Friday 25th May!

So for all you DoSes and Teacher Development Managers out there, please let your schools know that there is the opportunity for FREE professional development, accessible from anywhere in the IH world.

As you can see from the above eulogising, this is a golden opportunity for an across-culture, across-timezones teacher development for you and all your staff. And all you’ll need is an internet connection.

As Lucy Horsefield said at the time, it is a “truly global event” – and the best bit is that you can stay at home and still be part of it.

See you all there on 25th May!