Scott Thornbury

What I learned in 2012 – Scott

A Fairly Tech-y Year  

Scott Thornbury
Academic Director

What have I learned this year? What am I still learning?

It’s significant perhaps that most of my learning experiences this year have related to the uses of educational technology, not in the language classroom, but more as an aid to my day-job as teacher educator.  For example,

I learned how to write and design a complete MA TESOL module, and how to upload it onto a learning management system, without having to prevail upon our IT team back in New York. Previous courses I have written I simply handed over to them to put up. But, having learnt how to edit existing courses, I figured that it was not a major step to design and mount a whole course from scratch. I managed fine, and am proud of the fact that the course is multimodal, including text, videos, links to external material, and so on. The only thing I couldn’t master was pop-up answer windows. A learning objective for 2013?

I learned how to improve my webinar technique – I did three or four this year, including one with 700 online viewers and a Global Webinar for iTDi.  I’m still not happy with the way I handle interactivity in this medium, easier obviously, with smaller groups, but they lack of eyeball-to-eyeball contact, and the continuous chat stream, is a challenge I’m not yet comfortable with. I’m still learning that one.

I learned about the power of blogging, and that even when you stop blogging, the blog has a life of its own. My blog continues to get a fair few hits on a regular basis, even though I haven’t posted for six months. I also learned that it’s very useful to have an index on your blog, and the number of hits this gets is testimony to its usefulness for people looking for specific posts.

I also learned that adapting blog posts for e-book publication is more challenging than I had expected: trying to condense and summarize the comment threads and to incorporate these into the body of the text was an interesting exercise, while the more frozen form of an e-book – more like a book than a blog – requires a degree of concision and precision that blogging normally doesn’t. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

I already knew how useful YouTube is as a medium for broadcasting short video clips about matters relating to methodology and language, but this year I’ve learned how to incorporate text and graphics into video clips, such that they have become a substitute for blogging, perhaps.

I learned – through doing a Pecha Kucha on second language acquisition at an iTDi event following the JALT conference in Japan  – how much content can be packed into less than seven minutes:  it’s salutary to know that even big ideas can be delivered in small packages, especially when accompanied by some kind of mnemonic scaffolding – and I don’t mean a lot text! The value of concision, logical sequencing and simplicity was also something that I’ve been learning as I write and edit the lessons for the iTDi Teacher Development course.

I’ve learned the value of occasional Skype calls with my online students, both as an opportunity to touch base but also as a way of personalizing the somewhat faceless online learning environment.

Finally I’ve learned how to use Twitter for mainly public and professional purposes (announcing talks, forwarding interesting links, etc) and to use Facebook for the private and personal. But I’m not sure I haven’t got it the wrong way round!

So, all in all, it’s been a fairly tech-y year.  Maybe, as counterbalance, next year I need to get back in to real classrooms, low tech, and blackboards with a small b?

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Scott Thornbury

Scott is a teacher and teacher educator, with over 30 years' experience in English language teaching. He is currently Associate Professor of English Language Studies at the New School in New York, teaching on an on-line MATESOL program. His previous experience includes teaching and teacher training in Egypt, UK, Spain, and his native New Zealand. Scott’s writing credits include several award-winning books for teachers on language and methodology including The A-Z of ELT, How to Teach Grammar and Teaching Unplugged. He is series editor for the Cambridge Handbooks for Teachers (CUP) and was also the co-founder of the dogme ELT group, whose archived website, called Teaching Unplugged, can be found below. Scott currently leads a fascinating community at the popular and thought-provoking blog, A-Z of ELT blog. Scott is lead author in the iTDi Teacher Development program as well as being iTDi's Academic Director.

3 thoughts on “What I learned in 2012 – Scott”

  1. Hello Scott,

    About a year ago, I was reading some of my favorite economic blogs. The economic world was (and still is) in a kind of crisis and graduate students and Nobel Prize winners and anyone with an interest in economic theory and policy were having a knock down brawl on the internet. I wondered if there wasn’t something similar going on in the ELT world. Were there passionate teachers and learners engaged in blogging wars about methodology? Classroom management? Applied linguistics? Thanks to luck and Google, I found an A-Z of ELT. More importantly, I found that yes, indeed, teachers were engaged in heated dialogues about methodology (the Dogme debate was raging in blog land at the time) and everything else as well. But instead of a battle, it was a conversation with lots of listening being done on all sides. When I left a comment for the first time, and you replied and the rest of the community took the time to consider and remark on what I had to say, I suddenly found myself connected up to a larger world. And that has ended up informing and enriching what I do in my classroom. So thank you for your blog and helping to make 2012 the year I learned about the rich chorus of voices that make up the ELT profession.


  2. Thanks, Kevin. The capacity that the internet now provides to become connected to a wider community of fellow practitioners is mind-boggling. When i first started teaching the only other teachers I ever met or talked to in my first five years or so were those in the same school as me. They were great… but….there comes s time when you need to move beyond your immediate ‘gene pool’. This sense of global connectedness has been a driving force behind the establishment of iTDi. I’m glad you’re taking advantage of it! Scott

  3. Hi Scott. I learned some of the same things this year about educational technology. I started a blog and a YouTube channel. Taking advantage of these (free) tools has been a lot of fun, helped me meet a larger community of dedicated teachers, forced me to be more reflective, helped me improved as a teacher and has gotten me some recognition for my hard work. However, it has wecked my fitness schedule.

    Looking forward to your new book.
    Mark in Gifu

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