On a drizzly Saturday 20th February, I hopped on a rather painfully early train to London to attend the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) conference entitled ‘New ways of working for new ways of learning’. Some friends and colleagues teased me for undertaking work-related activities voluntarily on a Saturday, but I had booked and paid for the conference back when I was still a teacher in Berlin hoping to land a job back in publishing. Now I (somehow!) have said job in publishing, it’s even more relevant so I was really looking forward to a day of interesting talks about English Language Teaching (ELT) and publishing, as well as to meeting some of the many lovely people I have met online over the past year.
After a few wrong turnings en route from Kings Cross, I found ‘The Stables,’ which was to be our location for the day. As the name suggests, the conference centre was a former stables, and is now part of a very modern new set of offices for the ELT arm of Macmillan. I feared I might get a little touch of office envy, and that I certainly did! (Although the walk from Kings Cross had nothing on my walk from Oxford station to the OUP offices 😉 )
I was amazed and embarrassingly almost a little starstruck at the beginning of the conference, as I saw so many faces I recognised from friendly Twitter accounts and blogs from participating in #ELTchat and tweeting for the teacher’s association in Berlin (ELTABB) last year. I won’t be so uncool as to name names, but it really did amaze me how open and friendly everyone was to saying hello to people who they otherwise have only met in Twitter form! I started chatting to a few people over coffee who work for Macmillan and got myself all excited about the wonderful industry that is publishing all over again.
The conference kicked off at 10 sharp, and the room was practically full, which was great to see. Everyone was fresh-faced and eager-eyed (largely thanks to the coffee!), and the event was kicked off by the lovely Rachael Roberts, whose work on a new adult course for OUP I have been helping turn into eBooks for the past four weeks! (Cue another geeky starstruck moment…) She quoted someone whose name I failed to note, and I probably won’t be repeating the quote quite correctly, but I thought it was very fitting for my new job and everything I’m currently having to learn about digital and English language teaching:
‘digital can provide a good sense of what the American gold rush must have been like: lots of people busting in, with lots of excitement and little idea of what they were going to do…’
…and I think this is quite a good way of summing up lots of publishing interactions surrounding digital, even in huge publishing houses like OUP. It was this kind of disconnect between what publishers/authors want to achieve and what the technology allows them to achieve that some of the sessions were going to unpick.
Then followed five fantastic sessions, which I won’t even attempt to summarise because I couldn’t possibly do them justice. They were all very different, but the blogging machine that is Lizzie Pinard has written them all up on her fantastic blog, and I’ve linked to them below in each title in case you’d like to catch up. I just wanted to write a personal post on the conference, to try and pick out some key action points that I would actually like to try and adapt or follow. I almost always come out of conferences full of the joys of life and all fired up to do everything the presenters suggested, which I did on Saturday, but I thought the day contained so much great information that I’d like to hold myself accountable to at least following through on a few of the ideas to be realistic.
The session in a sentence: a buzzword-tastic presentation on how to be more productive, efficient and to just make your life easier
- I need to protect what Graham claims is my ‘most important resource at work’: my attention. I resolve to leave my phone in my bag during the day, and focus more on one project at a time rather than trying to be superwoman and sort four at once!
- I also sometimes shy away from tasks Graham termed as ‘deep-thinking tasks’, telling myself I can’t concentrate so there’s no point. If this happens in the future, I’m going to sneak off into one of our study rooms, to our library, or into a ‘meeting for one’ as Graham suggested, to make sure I have the space and the quiet to do that focused thinking I occasionally avoid.
- I am going to start keeping a list of things I have done, rather than things I have yet to do, so I can look back at the end of my six-month probation and see what I’ve achieved, and then over the next few years of my career. I think/hope this will also be super useful for future job applications and interviews, because it’s so easy to forget the little things you do!
The session in a sentence: a great review of all the tips, tricks and tools at our disposal as digital writers, editors and general publishing people
- I’m going to try Trello, which was mentioned a few times during the day as ‘being good for project management.’ That is my job now so it sounds like a good one to test out!
- I also plan to go and speak to the lovely Editors I work with to ask them more about how they require authors to submit content: do they use templates, do they let authors do what they want… ? I’d like to understand that whole process better now I’m no longer in the wonderful archaic world of academic publishing where some authors would send A3 photocopies of their books with Post-It notes attached to indicate where we should add new material!
Session 3 – Looking after number one with Bev Alderson, founder of ‘Practically Balanced’
The session in a sentence: a reminder on the importance of ergonomics and well-being in a sedentary job *sits up straighter*
- I’m taking a plastic cup to work tomorrow to replace the giant bottle of water I have on my desk, to force me to take desk breaks more often to fill up my glass – it all tops up my FitBit steps!
- I am also going to finally do my official OUP Workstation Assessment to make sure my chair and everything is where it should be – I’m still getting used to using 2 widescreen screens, so I think it’d be a good idea to check I have positioned them optimally!
The session in a sentence: a fascinating review of some of the key trends, problems, and promising developments in the vast land of ELT publishing
- I am going to ask some of our Editorial staff how they trial material, and how we test all our iPad and tablet-compatible materials for all these ‘paperless classrooms’ that none of us have ever taught in but which we talk about a lot! A lot of the projects I’m working on are aimed at very tech-savvy markets, but I taught in a very technophobic country last year, so I have no idea how it would work being a teacher faced with a class full of students and their devices!
The session in a sentence: the possibilities of digital are endless – if we learn how to use them
- I definitely need to interact more with the materials I’m working on on a range of different devices to test out all these possible issues with scrolling and screen size, which were cited as some of the issues of digital content. It’s a different team to mine that does the official product testing, but I think it’s important I understand the projects I’m managing better than I currently do.
And that techno talk brought the great day to a close. There was a half-hour discussion session, where I had some great conversations with Kerry Maxwell and Claire Hart among others, and then a raffle…and then it was time for my over-tired brain to have a rest, so I (sadly!) skipped the wine and toddled to my friend’s house for dinner. I’m so glad I paid the money to come, because I’m hoping that some of my resulting ideas may prove helpful to other people at OUP – and I’ve definitely picked up some tips to do my new job better….Bring on Monday!
And, in the spirit of sharing, here are some of my own recommendations, related to a few of the things that came up during the day:
- It was mentioned by a few people on the day, but I find the To-Do list app Wunderlist absolutely wonderful (excuse the pun.) You can have lists for all sorts of things – some of mine, for example include ‘Food to eat in London’ for undiscovered restaurants; ‘Bits and bobs’ for life’s odds and ends; ‘Books to read’ and ‘House’ for good ideas for the house I don’t yet own! Upon Graham Alcott’s advice, I now also have a ‘Thinking list’ for when I don’t want to do anything except think, and then I can use that time to really let my mind run wild on ideas! The app is also accessible via web browser, which is handy whilst you’re working, so you don’t run the risk of getting distracted by Facebook & friends on your phone.
- If you use Outlook and have a project-based job, then I highly recommend adding a second calendar to your main calendar and using that to block out when you’ll work on which project. You can colour-coordinate blocks of time for each project and then overlay your second calendar on your normal one for an overview of the week.
- Attach reminder flags to emails you want to chase up, and keep important ones which require a reply in an ‘Awaiting Reply’ folder, so you don’t forget you’re owed a response.
I’d love to hear any other tips, or other attendees’ thoughts after the conference 🙂 Now I’m looking forward to going to (at least a part of!) IATEFL in April!