For the first time, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages held its annual convention virtually in November of 2020. As with most professional conferences this year, the convention was held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Convention took place between November 19th and 22ndincluded both Live and Simulive events. Despite having fewer events this year, there was still a lot to be experienced and learned.
As an attendee, I tried to collect several observations on some aspects in which ACTFL succeeded in adapting its First Virtual Convention. Moreover, I wanted to consider ways I might be able to adopt these successful adaptations as I design my own Spring 2021 classes.
- Multi-purpose Events.
Upon navigating the convention site, it becomes clear that it is structured with the attendees’ purpose in mind. Thus, the site is organized with the labels “Learning”, “Networking”, “Exhibitors”, “ACTFL Playground”, in addition to the expected “About” label. Each heading includes items and events focusing specifically on that label where under the “Learning” for example, one can find links to the “General Sessions”, the “Simulive Sessions”, etc.
Putting the purpose behind which educators attend the ACTFL convention is key in my opinion. Different educators attend for a variety of reasons and an educator may have more than a single objective in mind. Having these labels organizing the convention events and items, made the site easy to navigate and saved time when locating desired events.
- Keeping the General Sessions Live.
The Opening Session, the Keynote Speaker Session and the Closing Session were delivered in a live format. We got to enjoy John Quinones’ inspiring talk about the life-changing power of education as the Convention events were starting. Erin Jones reminded us that the focus should always be on “Humility, Humanity and History”. And Nyle DiMarco’s closing talk gave us confirmation that we do this for each and every one of our students equally and lovingly. This organization created the needed effect of maintaining the general structure of the Convention as these general sessions marked milestone events. Additionally, a recording of these three events was made available for those of us who are on a different time zone, making it quite challenging to attend sessions live.
- On-Demand Presentations.
One of the items available in the drop-down menu of the “Learning” tab is “On-Demand Presentations” where attendees have access to a list of video recordings of all of the presentations that were part of the convention in addition to a general description of the event, information about the presenters and digital copies of any related handouts. I must mention here that attendees can access these “On-Demand Presentations” until the end of December. Despite the fact that the total number of presentations in the Virtual Convention is lower than the number of presentations that took place in previous live conventions, there is still a lot to attend and learn. Having these sessions available for over a month is a great opportunity to vast resources and numerous learning opportunities.
- Multi-Search Entries.
Once on the ACTFL Virtual Convention site, whether attendees are browsing the “On Demand Sessions,” the “Simulive Sessions,” or the “Exhibitor’s Workshops,” they have multi-search entries to help them easily and quickly locate events that may be of particular interest to them. Such entries included labels such as “Applicable Language,” “Audience Level,” “Language of Presentation” and “Keywords”. This was another time-saving facility that helped navigate a wealth of information. Moreover, the category “keynote” helped bring attendees’ attention to available resources and presentations that focus on a specific topic that they may not have been initially aware of.
- Facilitating Connections.
Keeping the General Sessions live was not the only measure that the ACTFL Convention took to maintain the authentic feel of the live convention. Facilitating connections between attendees was another way that the Convention managed excellently to the benefit of all those who attended. There were events that were dedicated only to networking and connecting. Live chat and online messaging were perhaps the most important techniques used to spark these connections. A “chat schedule” enabled attendees to participate in organized chat sessions that focused on topics such as “Virtual/ Hybrid Learning”, “Leadership”, “Assessment”, “Special Interest Groups” and more.
ACTFL “chat” channel was made available during Convention days and was maintained throughout the additional month in which the presentations were made available.
Simulive sessions included a chat sidebar that made it possible for attendees to chat with one another as they attended the presentations, as well as leave messages and comments for the presenters (This was the key feature that separated these presentations from the rest of the “On Demand” ones). And lastly, presenters of the “On Demand” sessions provided several contact information varying from email address to twitter handles to website links with the intention of keeping the connections going well after the convention has come to an end.
By providing so many venues to connect, the ACTFL Convention succeeded in maintaining the connections that many attendees seek and value not only as a goal but also as a reward of attending the Convection events.
As I look at these five success points, I would like my students to experience the same level of satisfaction I did while attending the Convention. Hence as I complete putting my classes together for the Spring Semester of 2021, I shall spend more effort this time around as I do the following:
- Create multi-faceted tasks and activities.
- Dedicate extra attention to the Synchronous (live) sessions.
- Keep on-demand videos for resources in a well-organized easy-to-find format.
- Create multi-search entries on the classroom management system.
- Facilitate out-of-class connections between students on the one hand, and between the students and the instructor on the other.
Participating, preparing, planning for the ACTFL Convention is an annual highlight event for many language educators. Global health conditions forced the Convention to be held remotely this year, but this format did not take away from its benefit as it provided attendees with the prospect to contemplate, connect, and grow. Furthermore, the convention’s overall organization provided us with applicable structuring strategies that we can incorporate in our classes.