Natalie Close & Darrell Wilkinson
Our presentation at the CERCLES conference was an interesting experience, not least because it was our first time giving an online presentation. Our presentation was actually very relevant to the virtual presentation mode that we chose, and our experiences with online teaching really helped when giving a presentation in an online format. There are several interesting points that we gathered from our experience.
The first point relates to the technology itself. We are both used to hosting and taking part in Zoom/Microsoft Teams meetings, so giving the presentation in this way did not pose any technical challenges. However, we are fully aware that this is also dependent on the technology working correctly, something which is not always the case. At CERCLES, our presentation was delayed by 20 minutes due to technical problems with the sound in the physical conference room. Therefore, it is an important lesson that when doing something important online it is best to check the technology in advance.
Secondly, the way the presentations were offered to the delegates was and interesting but somewhat problematic experience. The conference organizers had chosen to offer the attendees three ways of viewing the presentations: (a) face to face at the conference venue, (b) as a participant in a Zoom meeting, and (c) watching a live stream on YouTube. As we were presenting virtually, the face to face component was actually our online presentation displayed on a screen in the conference room. We felt that this was an excellent way of reaching as many participants as possible and offering physical delegates a full-conference experience. However, there was a disadvantage for us as presenters because the camera in the conference venue was pointed towards the screen on which our presentation was being projected. This meant that we could see ourselves presenting, but we could not see the audience in the room. Also, as most of the delegates were online, but were not given the Zoom link, the virtual audience watched our presentation via the YouTube live stream and were thus also invisible to us. This made for quite an unnerving experience because usually when presenting in front of a live audience we can gauge the audience understanding through facial expressions, but this was not possible in the online format so it was difficult to judge how the presentation was received.
Overall presenting in an online format was an interesting and rewarding experience. We were able to share our pedagogy and research findings with quite a wide audience, fielded some interesting questions, and received positive feedback. We felt that the conference did an excellent job at organizing the conference, especially given the huge changes they needed to make regarding how presenters and delegates could attend. All in all, the CERCLES team did a great job in making the conference accessible to all, and gave future conference organizers, presenters, and teachers, food for thought on how to maximize the opportunities for interactions in online/mixed-modality contexts.
At first, my colleague Almut Meyer, was supposed to go to the conference in person, only a few weeks before she cancelled her trip to the Czech Republic. This made it easier for us to prepare the presentation only virtually. It took us quite a while to make a good backup video in case, we would face technical problems – many online meetings and many attempts until we had a version we were satisfied with. In the end we did not need it, but it was good to have it.
The conference was well organized, and we used Zoom to present. The presentation itself was streamed via YouTube. On one hand, it was good that the audience was not in Zoom, so they could not use the Chat during the presentation which helped us focus, but they could use the chat in YouTube. However, the computer creates a loop when you have both Zoom and YouTube open, so we had to close YouTube and our chair was following the YouTube chat for us. That was nice, because he summarized the questions for us, and we could answer them at the end of the presentation, but it would have been nice to see the audience to get more feedback, nevertheless, all in all it went well.
There were so many presentations, especially on Friday that it was impossible to listen to all I wanted to listen to. Sometimes I could not decide which one to participate in, so I just went to two rooms at the same time – something I could not have done normally. Also, that was the good part of being in the online audience; I could quickly leave the less interesting presentation and still catch up with the more interesting one, something I would never do if I were there in person. Regardless, I still prefer going to conferences and meet people in person.
The screen time was so long and so exhausting that I did not go to a single virtual coffee break – so all the important talks after a presentation or unexpected nice conversations that normally happen at the dinner table were not possible to attend. And that is really why we go to conferences in person: to meet people, to do networking, and to start cooperation, but none of that happened this time. Nevertheless, after our presentation, we had long and interesting discussions with our Czech colleagues and many e-mails followed, so it looks like we hit a nerve with our approach of DaFnE (German after English).
I first participated in the CERCLES conference in 2018 in Poznan, Poland. Even though back then I did not present anything, the whole conference was a great discovery for myself in terms of people sharing similar aspirations as language teachers, and more. Being impressed by some of the presentations and fruitful discussions, I committed myself to two focus groups; Plurilingual and Content and Language Integrated Learning and Teaching-CLIL groups.
This time, autumn 2020, my participation in the CERCLES conference was online. Together with my colleague Milja Merta, we held a 20-minute presentation on academic writing in English in an online collaborative environment. The presentation went quite well as everything was carefully planned and scheduled by the conference organizational team. Some of our audience was in the conference room and some were watching our presentation via YouTube.
This was my first experience of presenting at a conference via Zoom; however, having been using Zoom and some other tools for online teaching, I did not find it strange or stressful. I was happy that at least we had been given the option to participate online, especially when we were not allowed to travel for work or conferences.
Perhaps the best thing about presenting online is when you see yourself on the screen. Then, you can control your facial expression, gestures, and such. On the other hand, focusing too much on your own movements and on the slides leaves too little opportunity to observe the audience. That is why, I realized that I very much preferred being in the same room with my audience so that I could grasp their understanding of my ideas, or I could use my body language to help get my message across. During this presentation we could not see the audience, but they could see us on the screen. This was the only thing that made me slightly uncomfortable as a presenter.
All in all, the CERCLES team did a great job organizing everything properly and doing their best to meet every participant’s needs. The conference opened new perspectives for future research and collaboration in teaching and pedagogy altogether.
After all that has been said so well by my colleagues, I feel there is not much to add. This was my first conference experience, so I was really looking forward to going there in person. On the other hand, the online setting made it possible to participate the conference during a busy work week. No time was ‘wasted’ on travelling, so more of it was left available for other things, such as rehearsing our own presentation.
The presentation given with my colleague Hasmik Minasyan, as described by her, went well and we both felt it was a very useful experience. I consider it beneficial to know better what my students face on their online courses. In addition, it was worthwhile to see other participants’ presentations, as I not only learned about their content but online presenting skills as well.
All in all, the whole conference was an interesting experience with some truly inspiring presentations. In the end, though, it felt so presentation-focused that it made me realize I lacked the human contact and networking. I hope I will have a chance to experience those in some future conferences.
Photo: CERCLES – http://cercles2020.cjv.muni.cz/