Dr Simon Borg Discusses the ELTons
The judging facilitator for the British Council’s ELTons shares thoughts about innovation in ELT.
Tara: Your TESOL career spans over twenty years and has taken you around the world. Can you describe your current position at the University of Leeds?
Simon: I work in the School of Education where I teach on our MA TESOL programmes and supervise PhD students. A good proportion of my time is also spent doing research, mainly in the area of language teacher education.
Tara: You are also the judging facilitator for the upcoming 2010 ELTons. How did you get chosen for this important role with the British Council?
Simon: This is my fifth year as judging facilitator for the ELTons. Presumably I was asked to take on this post because I had the organizational skills required to manage the judging process and to ensure that it was conducted with integrity and completed on time.
Tara: In your own words, how would you describe the ELTons?
Simon: The awards promote and reward innovation in ELT. This year there are three categories of award: The UK Award for Innovation, The Cambridge ESOL International Award for Innovation and The Macmillan Education Award for Innovative Writing. The latter is a new category for 2010 and gives previously unpublished writers the opportunity to win a £1,000 prize and have their work published. It also gives the winner a chance to develop their career in publishing through a mentoring programme supported by Macmillan Education.
Tara: It’s great to see the awards getting so much support. How have the ELTons changed since their launch in 2003?
Simon: The number of categories has increased from two to three with the addition this year of the New Writing Award, and further new categories are being considered. More detailed descriptions of the assessment criteria have also been developed with reference to different types of entries (e.g. research). There have also been refinements to the judging process itself.
Tara: As the judging facilitator, what are your specific duties from now until the awards day in March?
Simon: Now that the shortlists have been confirmed, judges will look more closely at the remaining entries and go through further rounds of judging in order to select the winners in each category. It is my responsibility to see that winners are identified well in advance of the ceremony in March, though the judges themselves will not know who the winners are until they are officially announced on the night.
Tara: Some of the judges for this year’s competition are previous award winners. Can you explain the process of judge selection?
Simon: We aim to have judges with a mix of ELT backgrounds. We always have at least one former winner (in recent years there have been at least two); the British Council is also always represented on the panel, while the judges can also come from various practitioner and academic areas of ELT. Judges normally stay on the panel for three years, but we ensure that every year there is a mixture of experience and new judges.
Tara: The Twitter world was buzzing about the ELTons after the 2010 shortlist was announced. How important is social media in determining which resources and research efforts are the most innovative?
Simon: As soon as the shortlisted organisations were told they had been nominated for an ELTon, Twitter proved the quickest digital means of enabling the product developers to share the good news about their products with their ELT community. Applications in all categories are assessed according to the extent to which they are innovative, practical and effective. Judges are not influenced by comments about products made on social media such as Twitter.
Tara: Technology in the field of teaching has progressed tremendously in the past few years. How has technology changed the way ELT professionals do research?
Simon: Yes; for example, Skype allows research interviews to be conducted on-line, greatly increasing the extent to which a researcher can easily speak to respondents in different parts of the world. Web-based survey packages such as SurveyMonkey have also had a powerful impact on the way research is done. Of course, the impact of technology on language teaching and learning has been even more pronounced, and each year increasing numbers of ELTons applications are for technology-based ELT applications (e.g. learning English via mobile phone).
Tara: In the UK, the ELTons have been described as ELT’s version of the Oscars. How important are the awards and the ELTons alumni in the international ELT community?
Simon: The importance attached to the ELTons is evident in the increasing numbers of applications that are submitted each year, in both the UK and International categories. This year’s new category, the New Writing Award, also attracted a number of quality entries. The major ELT publishers also take the awards seriously and submit applications each year. The awards are important as it enables nominees and winners to gain recognition within the ELT industry and to raise the profile of their products and services. For example, David Warr won an ELTon in 2007 for his product ‘Language Garden’. Since his success at the ELTons, he has been in talks with publishers and, more recently, faced cross examination by the multimillionaire investors on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den.
Tara: That’s fantastic! Well, I know there is a lot of excitement in the ELT blogosphere about the upcoming awards in March. In fact some are calling this year’s shortlist the most exciting to date. ELT professionals are so supportive of one another and social media has made it possible for teachers and writers to voice their own votes. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and time with our readers, Simon. I hope the winners of the 2010 ELTons will accept our invitation to be TEFL guests next year.
December 2009 | Filed under Interviews
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials for the ELT industry.