This article was prepared for an upcoming issue of the Learner Independence SIG Newsletter, of which this is an example: http://www.ilearn.internet-english.net/enl4.htm
The latest rendition of the Electronic Village Online (EVO 2009) was held this year in the six weeks between January 12 to February 22, 2009 <http://evosessions.pbwiki.com/>. This is the ninth consecutive year that these sessions have been held. Originally conceived as a kind of run-up to the annual TESOL convention, they are offered under the TESOL umbrella but are in fact a grass roots movement where educators volunteer their time to help others learn about each other's expertise. Participants don't have to be TESOL members, the courses are completely free, and they are an embodiment of the kind of program I had in mind for autonomous language teachers as put forward in Stevens (2007).
This year, session offerings included libraries for ESL students, teaching English through drama, using images, video, and Web 2.0 in materials development and lesson preparation, collaborative writing, digital storytelling, Internet for beginners, blogging, e-portfolios and digifolios, multiliteracies, and virtual worlds and language learning. This is a healthy menu for teachers wishing to upgrade skills in areas vital to their craft. Improvement is likely to be the outcome, as the sessions are mounted in a framework of comprehensive training of moderators and quality control throughout. Proposals for sessions are collected early, in time for aspiring moderators to go through a program of systematic introduction to EVO culture. The training ensures that all moderators actually develop materials for their sessions and get them online by the end of the year. Candidates having trouble meeting the benchmarks either shape up or wisely decide to defer their session until they truly have the time to meet the serious demands about to be made on them. When at the end of January the courses open to participants, they have been through a crucible and are therefore among the best and most accessible opportunities for professional development available at no cost to educators on this planet.
Although participant numbers tend to overwhelm moderators, I'm most surprised that relatively few avail themselves of this opportunity to upgrade their skills. It's possible that many are either unaware of them, or hesitant or too busy to try and adjust to an online environment. In fact, the session moderators and participants go out of their way to help each newcomer adapt to the new surroundings. Accordingly, the most interesting aspect to these courses is not to be found in the descriptions of the courses themselves. Earl Stevick said in one of his books that the quality of the learning that takes place when we focus our attention only on the items to be learned is different from (and probably inferior to) the quality of learning that is incidental to something else that we are trying to do (1982). I applaud David Warlick's concept of teachers being “master learners” (which he mentions in recent podcasts) and Stephen Downes's characterization of teaching being to model and to demonstrate, and learning being to practice and reflect (cited in Stevens 2007). In this respect, if teachers want to improve their craft, the way to do it is to engage in a cycle of teaching and learning with practitioners who model and demonstrate AND practice and reflect, because in reality, we are all at once teachers and learners. And THIS is what these sessions actually inculcate, how to interact socially online with people you've never actually met and in the process learn like you've never learned before. But in order to do this for the first time, you have to have an open mind and be willing to ACT on your potential as an autonomous learner.
Suzanne and Ron Scollon suggested that interactions mediated by computers tend to be patterned not as a conduit but more like a berry bush (1982). When that was written, the dominant metaphor in education and training was the conduit, and many trainers still operate under that premise. EVO models a berry bush approach to learning through technology, where users are presented with choices and encouraged to select the most appetizing ones, rather than expect to be taught stepwise, and feel they are behind if they missed the first few lessons. Teachers seeking to both be and coach autonomous learners would do well to become involved with these sessions next year. Participants emerging from them often credit EVO with having brought about true change in their approach to personal and learner autonomy.
Scollon, Suzanne & Ron Scollon. 1982. RUN TRILOGY: Can Tommy Read? Paper presented at the symposium Children's response to a literate environment: literacy before schooling, University of Victoria, October 9, 1982.
Stevens, Vance. (2007). The Multiliterate Autonomous Learner: Teacher Attitudes and the Inculcation of Strategies for Lifelong Learning Independence, Winter 2007 (Issue 42) . Available: http://www.learnerautonomy.org/VanceStevens.pdf
Stevick, E. 1982. Teaching and learning languages. New York: Cambridge University Press.