Did you follow the on-line coverage of the IATEFL conference? If you did, I wonder if you share my opinion that not one interview and not one recorded session said anything that might lead to real progress in the profession. The dismal quality of the whole sorry affair (with the exception of Nicola and Russ’s talk, but including Scott’s empty contribution to a very disappointing round table discussion on the use of L1), was highlighted for me by Jeremy Harmer’s truly crass talk on testing, of which more in Part 2. Here, a comment on the interviews.
The worst part of the IATEFL / British Council coverage was the series of poorly prepared, totally uncritical, uninformative, lack-lustre interviews. The interviewers fawned over the interviewees, oblivious to the opportunity to ask these powerful people to explain themselves. All three interviewers showed a shockingly smug lack of awareness about what can be achieved in an interview; their blissful disregard for all the skills required to get good content from an interviewee was gob-smacking, and a true reflection of the lack of professionalism in a bloated organisation where quality counts for little. How much planning went into the interviews? I get the impression that whoever was responsible for this shockingly amateur mess thought that it was enough to just get a list of “important people” lined up, set up the recording gear, sort out the IT stuff, put a few adverts for British Council around the set, and go at it. One thing is to deliberately set out to establish a relaxed, informal atmosphere where the audience can see the “human face” of all the big names (such a plan would actually require quite a lot of thought and sensitive decision making) and another is to completely ignore the complex components of a good programme of interviews. In this case, everybody concerned seemed totally unaware of anything beyond their noses: they seemed to think that it was enough to just talk to the big names about their most recent accomplishments for everybody to be enthralled. Such is the self-satisfied complacency of those who lead IATEFL and the British Council.
No attempt was made to probe any important current issue affecting the membership of IATEFL. No attempt was made to bring people with different views head to head. No attempt was made to follow a thread – testing, for example. No attempt was made to give coherence or cohesion to the interviews as a whole. And of course, there was a total lack of critical content. Just for example, why wasn’t the new president of IATEFL asked about NNESTs, or the pay and conditions of most teachers, or the CELTA and DELTA courses, or the refusal to allow the TaW Sig, or the lack of women among those who make the most money out of ELT?
Just to really put the seal on it, we had Carol Read’s final contribution to the interviews: a gushing “Well done Everybody!” affair, where her extraordinarily enthusiastic endorsement of the team’s efforts highlighted the extent of her ignorance of what good coverage of a conference entails.
In Part 2 I’ll comment on the plenaries and on the sessions devoted to testing.