For the last few years, Cambridge University Press has been holding the annual Better Learning Conference for teachers and administrators in the field of education from around the world. This year’s conference was held in late June at Churchill College, Cambridge. Attendance was by invite only, so it was an exciting opportunity for our English tutor, Nailya Abdullina, to be invited on behalf of ITMO’s Foreign Language Training Center.

Why did you decide to attend this conference?

It looked like a great opportunity! Cambridge University is at the very top of higher education institutions in the world, so it had to be something amazing.

Credit: www.facebook.com/CambridgeUPELT
Credit: www.facebook.com/CambridgeUPELT

How does the conference relate to your work at ITMO University?

Quite directly. The conference is all about how to make teaching English better, and that is completely in tune with the mission of our Foreign Language Training Center.

What are some of the main aspects of the conference that you found helpful?

There was a fantastic talk from Lucy Crehan that looked at whether going all student-centered in teaching is actually as beneficial for the students as it is popularly believed, and how reducing the amount of content in the course plan allows for more time for everyone to thoroughly grasp whatever subject is taught. Also, Joni Holmes presented brilliant research on working memory, which is somewhat the equivalent of RAM in humans, how the different capacities students have in that regard affect their learning, and whether anything can be done to improve those capacities.

Philip Kerr provided some valuable insights into how figures can be misleading when one uses research data to make decisions about the educational process. There were two absolutely amazing talks on the use of virtual reality in teaching. The last keynote speech by Silvana Richardson, called Impactful Leadership of Teacher's Professional Development, almost made me cry: at her college, they have managed to develop and implement a really effective continuing professional development scheme for English teachers. Also, I took part in a forum session on assessment, during which a number of colleagues from different countries shared their concerns and solutions in this area.

How will you use what you've learned at the conference in your work?

This is a tricky question. It was not the kind of conference that would provide one with ready-to-use techniques, but it has given me an opportunity to think about the various aspects of how we teach English at ITMO, and what improvements we could make.

Credit: Nailya Abdullina
Credit: Nailya Abdullina

What were some of the other highlights of the conference for you?

Talking to other conference participants, sharing information about all the various contexts they work in, difficulties they face (both shared and unique), their experiences. That was just precious. I also had a chance to take a look around the city of Cambridge. It was mind-boggling how everything closes at 5-6 pm there! The participants were accommodated on the premises of Churchill College, which has some unusual art here and there, and also people playing tennis on the local court at 7 am. On the last day they took us punting; the ride was surprisingly eventful as the river was quite crowded, and punts often collided! One chap even ended up in water…

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