BESIG Stuttgart – Shift Yourself!

Just back from Stuttgart. Another year, another BESIG behind us. Next year’s venue is a closely guarded secret, but for 2012 Stuttgart treated us to two days of unseasonably sunny weather, and the conference was the biggest ever – around 500 delegates crowded into the atrium of the SpOrt building in Neckar Park, in sight of the vast Mercedes-Benz arena and the striking architecture of the carmaker’s museum.

Paradise for petrol heads- the Mercedes museum opposite the BESIG venue.

The conference programme kicked off with a hugely entertaining plenary on defining digital literacies from Gavin Dudenay. I’m not going to spend ages blogging about this or the other presentations, but there were two initiatives really worth drawing some attention to, and Gavin’s plenary highlighted two particular paradigm-shifting issues.

The first of these is the growing importance of gaming approaches in digital learning. Gavin referenced the use of “non-ELT” games like foursquare to motivate learners, as well as overtly games-based learning tools of which our fave vocab app Word Carrot is one. The other is the dramatic shift in the use and availability of technology in the past five years, none more so (I think) than the introduction of the wifi tablet. Suddenly learning on the move – the anytime, anywhere potential of m-learning – is a reality that all publishers and writers will be paying close attention to.

Overall there was less overt focus on technology at BESIG this year, both in the exhibitors stands ( a notable exception being that of gold sponsor english360) and in the talks themselves. This isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of technology about. Just that in many talks the digital angle was presented less as the core, but  part of the integrated whole: a certain level of knowledge and practice was assumed, which certainly would not have been the case even three years ago. As Gavin said, shift happens. He rightly pointed out that this means all of us involved in this profession – as writers, teachers, or publishers – have to add a veneer of technical awareness to everything we do. Technology impacts on our research, our professional development (check out sites like TeacherTube and the Utubersity),  workflow management, lesson planning and specific content creation. And of course on our professional image. You don’t have to be a so-called digital native (how I hate that term!) to be in this business, but you do have to be digitally literate. Who would employ you as an educator if you couldn’t read and write?

Finally, two initiatives from Nick Robinson and Sue Kay / Karen Spiller of eltteacher2writer brought a shift in perspective to the conference’s usual focus. Though the growing importance of digital delivery of content can mean the re-use of assets, overall publishers will need more content rather than less. Tired old course books cannot simply be recycled in a digitised format and win eager new customers. Along with a growing hunger among publishers for fresh, up to date materials – particularly for ESP and business training – professional writers like Paul Emmerson have found they can bypass the traditional publisher altogether, and publish their own ebooks or print-on-demand titles. But it isn’t an easy call.

Nick Robinson and eltteacher2writer help teachers to become professional, published authors via – in Nick’s case – an agency representation (one of the most difficult aspects, particularly for newcomers to writing, is marketing yourself to a publisher) and – in the case of eltteacher2writer – via a searchable, free database and a range modular self-help training course texts.

Both Pete and I will be contributing to eltteacher2writer training modules, so watch this space for more details. And if you have any writing aspirations whatsoever – and I don’t know ANY teacher who isn’t a practising materials writer! – check out http://www.eltteacher2writer.co.uk/ and http://nickrobinsonelt.com

Byron