'Feedback on the IATEFL 2018 Conference in Brighton' by Sarah Mount

19th December 2018

2018 was IATEFL’s biggest annual conference so far, with 3079 attendees from 96 different countries.

92% of delegates reported the conference as being Good or Very Good overall, and a massive 92% said they would attend a future conference.

The feedback we receive from delegates is vitally important to the shaping of future conferences and helps us to ensure that we are meeting member needs, so a big ‘Thank-you’ to all who took the time to complete and return the survey – 38% on this occasion, the biggest return so far.

I would like to take this opportunity to elaborate on some key issues and share some of the ways in which IATEFL is responding to the feedback received from our members.

Venue/Session times:

The sheer size of the Conference continues to be popular – there is something for everyone, including those working in the field but not directly involved in teaching and training. The length of 30 min sessions has been criticised by some and the Conference Committee has looked into lengthening them, but a large number of sessions would be lost if this were to be changed. Although the quality of some of the sessions is an issue for some, the Conference remains an important platform for both early-career education professionals as well as more experienced presenters. This remains one of IATEFL’s main focuses – to provide the opportunity to take part in the conference – on all levels, for as many as possible.

This also impacts on the choice of venues available.

Brighton as a destination scored high amongst all the delegates. However, the overwhelming response to the venue was one of disappointment, with a high percentage of respondents reacting negatively to having two different venues. The main issues were as follows:

  • Two sites: Travelling between the two venues was problematic and the time taken affected delegate’s choices of which sessions to attend
  • Wi-Fi: The limited Wi-Fi availability in the Hilton hotel was problematic for many; for accessing social media, using the conference app and generally being able to be ‘connected’
  • The temperature inside the Hilton hotel
  • Health & safety concerns: The Hilton hotel was described as ‘MC Escher’s drawings come to life’ with ‘Gormenghast stairs’. The refurbishment taking place at the time of the Conference was unacceptable, unknown to IATEFL, and has been taken up with the venue directly.

There are, no doubt, lessons to be learned. However, there are few venues in the UK able to provide both the space and facilities that the IATEFL Conference now requires, hence the ‘venue circuit’ with which many are so familiar. With so many international delegates, location and price is also important – one of the main reasons that London remains out of our reach. BUT, new conference venues and facilities continue to be developed across the UK and we are already exploring a number of options which we hope will lead to being able to offer new venues and experiences in the future.

Plenary Sessions:

These were very well attended, although venue-related problems contributed to a less-than-perfect experience for some so we have tried to ensure we will not face similar issues in Liverpool. There are many comments responding positively to having speakers from outside the field of ELT and many look forward to listening to a poet on the final day. However, it is a fact that the last day of the Conference has seen a trend of falling numbers over the last few years. In an attempt to change this, the Conference Committee has taken an innovative approach to restructuring the final day with a theme – the future of ELT. As a longer term plan the idea is to establish the final day as a focus for looking at new ideas, edtech offerings, and identifying future pathways and challenges for our profession, hopefully leaving delegates to return home inspired and excited. To get the ball rolling for Liverpool 2019 there will be a strong future-facing slant to many of the presentations on Day 4, as well as a panel-style final plenary. The speakers we have lined up for this are all innovators in their field, but there will also be a heavy focus on hearing delegates’ thoughts, ideas and questions, which we aim to collect throughout the 4 days of the conference as well as interactively during the plenary.

Sponsors and exhibition:

On the whole, delegates are very appreciative of the support, both financial and otherwise, given to the IATEFL Conference by sponsors and exhibitors alike. Two common themes which did emerge from the feedback were a desire for more teaching materials available for delegates as well as environmental concerns about printed materials handed out by Exhibitors.

Such concerns were passed on to exhibitors as part of the feedback opportunity we have with them each September. This has proven a great step forward in collaboration and joined up thinking.

Jobs Fair:

The Jobs Fair was poorly attended last year, with the following issues being cited:

  • A limited range of jobs available in terms of geographical location

  • A limited range of job types available – most jobs were for recently qualified teachers, with little appealing to those looking for more senior positions or people wanting to explore new areas.

As a result of this, 2019 will see a revamped programme and the launch the Careers Fair, which will occupy a slightly larger and more prominent space within the Exhibition. The ‘How To…’ sessions that address career development issues have been moved to this space from their previous early-morning slot, and will run throughout the Conference during lunchtime and breaks, which we hope will make them more accessible.

There will be a more varied range of job opportunities available and a new ‘Careers Advice’ initiative – The CV clinic was one of the aspects of last year’s Jobs Fair which was well-received and so this will continue to be made available.


International Languages Fair (ILF)

Many comments were received regarding the ILF and its similarity to Poster Presentations. We have addressed this and there will be a different format to last year’s ILF that we hope will make the concept clearer to presenters and provide a better experience for attendees.

‘How To…’ Sessions

Although these remain popular, there were a number of comments relating to the timing of the sessions – such an early start makes for a very long day. We have addressed this by moving some of the sessions to the Careers Fair, which we hope will enable a greater number of people to attend more of the sessions.

Environment/Green issues:

This remains a huge concern amongst delegates and the Conference Committee alike. There was some criticism of the lack of re-usable cups available in Brighton, amongst other issues such as the pre-dominance of single-use plastic in catering outlets, and this is something we are working closely with the team at the venue in Liverpool, the ACC, about. Their environmental policies are excellent – right down to the re-use of carpet in the exhibition area. More information about this is available on the Conference website.

Registration queues:

These continue to be challenging, just because of the sheer number of people involved. We work hard every year to try and improve the process, and this year made improvements to our systems for badging and certification. For Liverpool we are streamlining the registration of groups of delegates which can cause a backlog for others. One of the key things which helps with registration is if delegates have their registration confirmation at hand, and turn up as early as possible to avoid the last minute rush!

The issues addressed here are by no means exhaustive, but are some of the key issues for many of our delegates. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, comments, or indeed ideas for future improvement.

Sarah Mount, Conference Committee, IATEFL

Nov 2018

[email protected]

IATEFL’s Conference Committee is made up of representatives from Head Office and elected volunteers. They are responsible for the planning and implementation of the IATEFL International Conference each year.