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Dream or reality? – reflections on the Oxford Teachers’ Academy course

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Having attended the Oxford Teachers’ Academy summer course on Teaching English to Teenagers, Erika Osváth shares her reflections of the three day course, what she learned, and the people she connected with.

Oxford Teachers' Academy Summer 2011 Group

Oxford Teachers’ Academy Summer 2011 Group, courtesy of Alice Abrahamova

Have you ever experienced this?  Getting home from a teacher training course or a conference abroad, where you’d had the opportunity to meet colleagues from a lot of countries from around the world, you feel so inspired by the whole experience that you seem to be living in two worlds at the same time for several days after the event? I’m sure that a lot of you have and know exactly what such an experience is like.

A few days after participating in the Oxford Teachers’ Academy three-day-course on Teaching English to Teenagers I have this pleasantly odd feeling: half of me is still wandering the streets of Oxford, staring at the façades, quads, libraries and churches of the unbelievable number of colleges, some dating back to the mid-thirteenth century. All of them so gorgeous that I’m left speechless. Though, I must admit, I didn’t have any problems chatting in the evenings in the pubs, which were just as old as the colleges.

This same half of me is also taking part in vibrant discussions on what the teens we teach are like in the countries we come from, having lots of fun trying out some useful activities, discussing how they’d work within our own teaching contexts and getting interesting insights into the different cultures.

My physical self, meanwhile, is back in Hungary, surrounded by buildings and objects I can’t really focus on as I find myself constantly thinking about how to take ideas from the OTA sessions further in my own teaching, material development and training.

And the only way I can cope with this schizophrenic state of mind is by making use of the photos I took around Oxford in my teaching. My excitement seems to be contagious as the photos and tasks generate lively discussions in my lessons and the same “Wow” atmosphere.

To get a better picture of this professionally and culturally enriching experience, let me give you a few more details about the OTA course that 36 of us – 35 non-natives – from all over Europe participated in at the end of July. We had three 90-minute workshops per day over three days in two multi-national groups.  On two of the days, we had optional presentations on various topics like ‘How Solutions was made’, ‘Interactive Whiteboards’ and ‘Readers’.

3 teachers on the OTA course

Teachers on the OTA course, courtesy of Nicoleta Andronachi

Special thanks must go to two most wonderful trainers, Olha Madylus and Julietta Schoenmann, who put all their energy and professionalism into the workshops and kept us constantly on our toes, providing plenty of opportunities to share our ideas. Meeting fellow non-native teachers from so many different countries and finding out about their teaching was one of the most fascinating things for me. For some teachers this was their first time ever in an English-speaking country, so you can imagine what this course meant to them!

Just to add to the invaluable professional experience, we were also spoilt by having our accommodation arranged at Keble College. To give you an idea of what this was like, I took a photo of the beautiful dining hall of the college where we had breakfast every morning – and to our surprise we were called ‘Madame’  or ‘Sir’ – and whoever I showed it to back home had to guess what it was. Their first question was always: “Is it one of the most famous churches in Oxford?”

Erika and Viktor in Keble College Hall

Erika and Viktor in Keble College Hall, courtesy of Bożena Moraczewska – Bielak

So where is this taking me? Well, for more than a year as a participant I have only been to online conferences and webinars, and I’m truly grateful for them. I’ve learnt an immeasurable amount, shared ideas, found out about teaching tech-tools, and had access to the latest articles on research in different fields of TEFL and education. All were inspirational.

However, experiencing a teacher training course in the flesh, especially in an English-speaking country, has something quite unique to offer; something that online courses are simply not suited for. These differences really got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of online and face-to-face teacher development courses.

Is there an ideal balance for an EFL teacher? I’d be very interested to find out your experiences and thoughts.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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8 thoughts on “Dream or reality? – reflections on the Oxford Teachers’ Academy course

  1. Erika,
    I attended the OTA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April and experienced the same. I finished the course filled with lots of inspiration and new ideas. Thanks a ton, OUP!

  2. Hi Isabel,

    I am glad your experience of such f2f OTA course left you with the similar inspiration. It has certainly filled me with energy and enthusiasm that will keep me going for a while. And of course, I can¨t wait till the next course to meet fellow colleagues from all over the world!
    Meanwhile, I¨ll try to make the most of online courses, webinars and conferences – just to keep the balance right :-).

    Erika

  3. The course is really worth it. How can I get some information?

  4. Hi Erika

    It sounds as if you had a fabulous time in Oxford and the course you describe was excellent! By coincidence, I was also in Oxford at the same time as you, teaching a teacher refresher course for Primary school teachers from around the world on behalf of the Lake School of English.

    Like you describe, the buzz you get from such face to face courses is really incredibly inspiring and exciting and leaves you on a high for quite a while. The daily interaction and exchange of ideas with like-minded educators is indeed wonderful. I gained so much from all the teachers I taught!

    I can honestly say, however, that teaching on similar professional online teacher training courses can be just as stimulating if not as exciting as face to face. Over a period of time the bonding can be pretty intense with daily emails from participants and live meetings with webinars adding to the experience.

    To get to know each other better, we had shared facts and information about our lives using fabulous slideshows, which were embedded in the VLE. This actually was the same as participants showing each other photos in a f2f situation. Of course, meeting someone in the flesh will always have the extra edge over meeting someone only virtually, but you can get to know participants well via blended online means.

    After I had finished teaching on a recent intensive 3 month online course, I really missed the daily exchange of information and discussions we had. It was both a professionally and culturally enriching experience, which lived on in my mind for a long time afterwards.

    To sum up, which is better: online or face to face teaching? Well, I personally feel that if you put your heart and soul into either way of teaching or learning, then the outcome will always be a positive and amazing experience!

    I really do hope to meet you face to face or online again very soon 🙂

    Best wishes

    janet

  5. Hi Rosana,
    What kind of information would you like to get about the course?
    Erika

  6. Hi Janet,

    What a shame I didn’t know you were in Oxford at the same time, especially that we had been in touch via twitter for quite some time. It would have been lovely to meet you in person too.

    Ever since I became a freelancer most of my professional development has happened through my online PLN, which gradually has grown on social media sites, such as twitter, facebook and Linkedin. The doors that have opened through online conferences and webinars have truly been amazing and I have learnt amazing amount of ideas. Through my wonderful online PLN I have been able to find like-minded people and have had immediate access to information on education, teaching ideas and methods instantly from North America to Japan, you name it. This is something that would be difficult or rather impossible to do face2face over such a short period of time. I also totally agree with you, Janet that the professional bonding does happen online using a variety of different kinds of online tools. I do feel that I have made some very good friends whom I have never met in person over twitter, for example, and then we moved onto chatting via skype or G+, which was wonderful.

    However, this buzz of the OTA face2face course coupled with the cultural experiences you cannot have enough of, especially if you are a non-native teacher, made me realise what the right balance really for me is. And I need both, that is at least one face2face course or conference a year and lots and lots of online conferences and webinars, which I thoroughly enjoy.

    Having said that, this “right balance” may very well be different for other teachers, and I believe the key is for everyone to find their own preferred ways of professional development and be able to make the most of it.

    The way you summed it all up, Janet, says it all, and I absolutely agree :-)!

    Hope to meet you in person too and I am sure we’ll meet online soon!

    Best wishes,

    Erika

    • Dear Erika

      Thank you so much for your wonderful reply. You have expressed how you feel so elequently and I agree with everything you mention!! I also need face to face conferences / courses whenever possible not only for the huge buzz they generate, but also for the actual interaction and social aspect.

      That’s why attending IATEFL Brighton Conference in person this year was such an incredible experience, because I met so many members of my online PLN for the first time. Meeting them was a dream come true and it felt as if we knew each other quite well already. The transition from online interaction to face to face socialising was seamless, and it was one of the highlights of the event for me.

      I agree totally that a blended approach strikes the right balance. A mixture of online webinars / events/ e-teaching / e-earning together with F2F courses / conferences during the year is the perfect combination for me, too.

      I look forward to connecting with you again soon! Hopefully if you return to Oxford in the future, we will have to have a drink in one of the local pubs such as the Turf Tavern 🙂

      Best wishes

      Janet

  7. I missed this summer training, would like to attend the next one.Someone should keep me posted. Thanks

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