Experiences at the 47th Annual TESL Ontario Conference

Photo source: Jessica Freitag

The Marriott Downtown at CF Eaton Centre in Toronto was abuzz December 5 and 6 for the TESL Ontario Annual Conference 2019. Events included three keynote speakers, over 80 presentations, 28 interactive workshops, poster and publisher exhibits, and more.

Attendees viewing exhibits at the conference
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

Two members of our blog team, Lana and Jessica, attended Day 2 of the conference and each experienced a small sample of what was available. Following are some highlights from their day.

By Svjetlana (Lana) Vrbanic

Twitter: @lanavrb

My Conference Experience

Courtney Biberhofer, Marina Zaccheo, and Debbie Miller waiting for another conference presentation
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

As a first-time attendee, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I volunteered to cover the conference, so I spent most of the time taking pictures and listening to speakers. I got a sense of a friendly, collegial atmosphere. I even caught up with friends, which was surprising in such a crowded place, but also nice.

As far as I could tell, the presentations were well attended, with people waiting eagerly to get in. The exhibitions were interesting and offered a lot of material for attendees. The staff and volunteers were welcoming, helpful, and friendly. Throughout, the conference was alive with activity.

The (Dis)comfort Zone

Dorothy Zemach, Thursday’s keynote speaker
Photo source: Dorothy Zemach

As I only attended the Friday session, I missed Thursday’s keynote speaker Dorothy Zemach and her presentation called The (Dis)comfort Zone.

I caught up with her via email before the conference and she gave me a brief overview.

She wrote: “In the last few years, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I have to ‘step out of my comfort zone’.”

“I wanted to see what the research said about a model for professional development that is kind and helpful—as well as true.”

14th Annual Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion: “Shifting Perspectives”
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

Of course, I got to the conference bright and early to catch the 14th Annual Panel Discussion called “Shifting Perspectives”. There were three presenters who discussed current trends, gave updates, and shared recommendations. This was of particular interest to me coming from a LINC background. They opened the floor to questions and comments, which I appreciated, and many people stepped before the mic.

Food for Thought

Keynote speaker Christien Lee delivering his presentation “Food for Thought”
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

I attended Friday’s keynote presentation “Food for Thought” by Christien Lee. There were a lot of references to cooking which got my attention. However, it was his insights into innovation that seemed most refreshing.

I caught up with him after the presentation.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he said. “There’s perhaps a danger in always doing things in the same way.”

“If you’ve got an open mind, things will come to you that you can begin to start to use in the classroom.”

All in all, the conference was quite exhausting, but also rewarding. It was fun to see so many educators in one place. I look forward to attending next year.


By Jessica Freitag

Twitter: @ProfJessF

My Conference Experience

I enjoyed the positive vibe among a full house of attendees gathering from a wide range of places. Throughout the day I met individuals who came from Toronto, Peel, Niagara, and even Alberta!

Staff and volunteers made the conference a great success. Abraham Alexander, Chung Hee Ki, Nozila Moradidehno, and Ryan Grant.
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

Thanks to the friendly volunteers and the conference app I downloaded, navigating through the busy hotel was easy. It’s been years since I attended the conference, and for me the easy-to-use, environmentally friendly app was a welcome update from paper brochures of the past.

This year’s conference theme was “Cultivating Innovation and Inclusion,” and sessions I attended allowed me to view this theme through a technology-focused lens.

Technology in Language Teaching: What Works, What Doesn’t

Keynote Gavin Dudeney presenting remotely from the U.K.,
“Technology in Language Teaching: What Works, What Doesn’t”
Photo source: Jessica Freitag

I attended Gavin Dudeney’s keynote presentation, which looked at what he described as “the constant pressure on teachers and management to adopt technology as part of the solution to language education.” He critically analyzed three technologies that he said are “currently being touted as being relevant to our needs” – Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Bots.

Dudeney has been working in EdTech for over 20 years, and has come to recognize the trend of how “hyped technologies” come and go. I was relieved to hear his conclusion that we teachers are safe from bots and these other “disruptions” taking over our jobs or our classrooms. He determined none of the technologies mentioned above has or will become normalized, especially outside the classroom, the way the mobile phone has become normalized. Therefore, Dudeney claims the mobile phone is the one relevant technology that “can, indeed, have a valuable impact on all facets of what we do both in and out of the classroom.”

Phew! I can work with that!

Three Techy Writing Tasks

Online platforms suggested by presenter Thura Aljubury, for PBLA writing tasks
Image source: Thura Aljubury, via TESL ON website

As a writing teacher curious about technology to aid pedagogy, this presentation title spoke to me. Like Dudeneay, presenter Thura Aljubury is a proponent of mobile phone use in the classroom, as she keeps her intermediate to advanced students busy building various skills using different online platforms throughout the term.  Her interactive session was innovative and inclusive, as she had all of us attendees participating with various tools and tasks just as her students would. What a welcome learning experience.

Using Adobe Spark Video for Speaking Tasks

Overview of Adobe Spark Video shared by Kosta Dimeropoulous
Image source: Jessica Freitag

Along with other attendees at this presentation by instructor Kosta Dimeropoulos, I was intrigued to learn about the free, cloud-based Adobe Spark software. The program is a nice alternative to PowerPoint, as it allows teachers and students to easily create their own engaging presentations, and it is easily accessible via internet, on computer or phone. I came away with great ideas on how Adobe Spark could be used not only for speaking tasks but also for so much more. I’m excited to try this tool in my classes!


People on the move at the 47th Annual TESL Ontario Conference
Photo source: Svjetlana Vrbanic

Overall, my day at the conference was quite enjoyable. It came and went like whirlwind, and I only wish there were time to take in the many more wonderful presentations and events!

Thanks very much to TESL Ontario for organizing a fantastic conference!

Come join in the experience next year at the 48th Annual Conference in 2020.

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