Personal Reflections on the First International ELT Conference in Laayoune: Implications for Teaching and Learning

Laayoune, Morocco
Not long ago, Laayoune City witnessed the convening of the first international ELT conference which was organized by Laayoune MATE Local Branch. The conference was attended by four international speakers (Marisa COSTANTINIDIS, Grainne CONOLE, Pete SHARMA, and Paul HARVEY), five prominent Moroccan speakers (Noureddine BENDOUQI, Reddad ERGUIG, Karim BENSOUKAS, Abderrahim AGNAOU, and Hassan BELHIAH), three EFL inspectors (Lahcen TIGHOULA, Idris BEN LMKADEM, and Sidi Mohamed OUBIT) and many EFL teachers from all over the country. The conference served as a platform to address several educational and pedagogical issues in Moroccan context. I was very privileged to be a member of the organizing committee and extremely delighted to attend, listen, and benefit from others.  
The conference basically disclosed the major trends of ELT and outlined the coveted prospects. Several issues were brought in and discussed in depth, inter alia; the need to shift from the traditional ELT approaches to a more exhaustive and adaptive approach that bridges both theoretical and practical dimensions and considers the advanced use of technology in EFL classrooms. Some of the overarching topics that pertain to this trend are the following: flipped learning, augmented reality, adaptive learning, learning design, virtual reality, and the use of e-learning apps were fully discussed during this conference.

As a participant in this initiative and from a critical perspective, I decided to write this article. The choice to write it was informed by several reasons. Among them are my personal desire to share my understanding and experience, document and expose some of the down-to-earth ideas that I believe are worth-sharing. It should not escape your notice that these ideas are the results of my understanding of the presentations, workshops, round tables and also my participations in different discussions during this conference.

Firstly, English language has become an international language par excellence. Today, English is very much tied to globalization. It is considered the lingua franca of the world because it is profoundly essential to the deepening integration of global service-based economies; it is also used for international communication, a language of scientific research, and a language of political discourse…etc. Ergo, there is an insistent need to assure students’ learning of English. The international status quo of English vis-à-vis other languages such as French, Amazigh and Arabic necessitates Moroccan policy makers to reconsider and rethink the perspective from which they see English in language programs and curricula.

Secondly, there is a need to develop teachers’ digital literacy and knowledge. Now more than ever, there is a prima facie evidence that the topical knowledge and subject-matter competence are highly critical but inadequate. The world has dramatically changed. Everyone witnesses a remarkable technological breakthrough whose effect has massively extended to our daily lives. While many people believe that this change is promising and auspicious, few others, teachers in particular, perceive it to be difficult to accommodate and take over.

It is generally assumed that the following inventions have actually revolutionized education and pretty much changed learners’ perceptions of learning. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Whatssap), Youtube, Google rendered the access to a large amount of information very easy and possible. CALL (Computer-Assisting Language Learning), Math Media Educational software programs have presented new alternatives of learning. With this in mind, a critical question is worth-asking: Does traditional teaching (that involves a typical teacher and students in a classroom) effectively contribute to learning in this digital era?

Thirdly, this overwhelming change requires teachers to be digital literate. To put it differently, roles. such as web designers, video creators, online researchers, technicians, technical writers, learning designers, and critical evaluators of information need to be considered. Thus, training should be offered to help EFL teachers develop their digital literacy and technological competence. For pre-service training, it is highly recommended to integrate modules that introduce pre-service novice teachers to the basic theoretical constructs underpinning the design and use of technology in classrooms. This should offer teachers opportunities to learn how to design and develop websites, create videos, evaluate and integrate learning applications, developing online platforms for remedial work, assessment and sharing constructive feedback, etc. For in-service training, and although there are financial inadequacies, it is possible to provide short-term training sessions and workshops that outline the basics of integrating and using classroom technology. 

Fourthly, since in-service teachers’ training is sometimes hindered by the lack of budgets, continuous teacher professional development (TPD) remains an effective option to uphold teachers’ learning.  By TPD, I simply refer to the continuous quest for knowledge and taking more informal initiatives to learn, discuss and share knowledge. TPD can take several forms. One of them, which I strongly advocate, is professional learning communities (PLCs). This refers to the intentional and constructive gathering of teachers, formal or informal; to continuously discuss new issues, share experience, and model new strategies for the sake of learning and professional growth.

Finally, it is pivotal for teachers to be au fait that changing their conceptions and adjusting their pedagogical practices is an obligation that the reality requires. Teaching and learning in the 21st century has radically changed and learners need to display the following: 1) learning and innovation skills such as: critical and creative thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and innovation. 2) Digital literacy skills such as: information literacymedia literacyInformation and communication technologies (ICT) literacy. 3) Career and life skills, such as flexibility, adaptability, autonomy, responsibility, self-regulated learning, initiative, self-directionsocial and cross-cultural interactionproductivity and accountability.
All things considered, in this digital age, we are surrounded by and immersed in technology. Moreover, the rate of technological change displays no sign of slowing down. Technology is leading to massive changes in the economy, in the way we communicate and relate to each other, and increasingly in the way we learn. Yet, our educational institutions still exhibit symptoms of pedagogical inertia and teachers/instructors are still facing an overwhelming challenge of change. Thus, HOW CAN WE ENSURE THAT WE ARE TEACHING “STUFFS” THAT WILL MAKE LEARNERS FIT FOR AN INCREASINGLY COMPLEX AND AMBIGUOUS FUTURE?

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