Hooked on IATEFL (Belén Albarracín)

Belen Albarracin

Juggling motherhood and professional career: why IATEFL means so much to me

It’s funny the way things turn out. If you had asked me a year ago where I was going to be in April this year, the image that would have come to my mind was something close to this: a Sarasvati-like goddess juggling family, professional career and friends.

But the truth is I don’t get to be that Goddess with perfect balance. And I don’t have that peaceful face all the time. Far from it. One of the things I have learnt through experience, a.k.a. aging, and motherhood is that you have to use time wisely. Winning the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship is in fact a combination of those two factors plus a passion for teaching using tech.

When the head at my school, Pat Sala, sent an email and challenged all teachers to apply for the IATEFL scholarships I felt it as a dare. “Have you got what it takes?” Those were the words she used. I’m always up for a good challenge. I told myself I had to go back to that email and read it in detail. I didn’t even open the link because I thought I would have time later.

So life went by and two days before the deadline I went back to the email and opened the link. My eyes opened wide and there I told myself in a sort of epiphany: “I should have read this a long time before now!” But the challenge was burning inside and I felt I had something to share.

I had had this idea of “Technology in Service” in mind for several months by then, and I thought that if I sat down and shaped it with solid content, it definitely had some potential. Besides, I love considering new ways of integrating technology in the classroom setting. There’s so much to be done in this field. I think it’s more about connecting with others and making the world smaller, it’s about bonding in meaningful ways, creating significant experiences for students and empowering them, and shifting the leading role to them. It’s also about teaching and sharing values. The scholarship required the presentation of an action plan to benefit my community with reference to the involvement of technology. I felt “Technology in Service” and the ELC Brighton – Robert O’Neill Scholarship were a match made in heaven. They just clicked. I told myself “It’s now or never!”

So I used all my energies and focused deeply for the next 2 hours. My two kids, Nacho and Santi, were running wild around me while I was typing passionately. I re-read the bullet points trying to make sure I covered every single aspect required. I made sure the action plan conveyed was clear and to the point. And then I pressed enter. That was it. I took that long deep breath one usually takes before clicking something important. I told my husband when he came home that I had applied for a scholarship and my question was suspended in the air “Can you imagine if I won that scholarship? Can you just imagine that?”

This scholarship means so much to me on so many levels. It’s a professional opportunity that will enhance my career prospects. It represents a validation of my beliefs as a teacher in the field of technology and its use. As a first timer, I´m eager to know the latest trends as regards ICT and network with teachers who have the same passion and drive. I want to get to know the IATEFL community and ideas. I have no doubts I will use my time wisely.

Hooked on IATEFL: nobody warns you about this

Belen Albarracin with the IATEFL 2018 map

The IATEFL conference has left in me a deeply nostalgic effect that is difficult to rub off. Even now, weeks after the conference, where is one going to get such academic adrenaline and such a global degree of exposure about worldwide trends in education? The diversity that permeates this conference is unique and as a first timer, I guess it is quite a cliché by now to call the whole event a mind-blowing experience.

In my personal experience, I really found what I was looking for. I had the fantastic opportunity of attending the Pre-Conference Event on Learning Technologies. With Sarah Rogerson opening the event with an introduction to VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) and their use in education, I immediately realised that was where I was supposed to be. It’s a challenge to integrate this technology in education in Argentina in a meaningful way, not just for the sake of having a fun experience with no real pedagogical benefit. Sarah also shared the research her team carries out at Cambridge English Language Assessment and the use of immersive 360º interactive videos to, for example, order food at a restaurant. Paul Driver’s presentation was incredibly enlightening as regards the use of VR in teacher training, both to monitor remotely or to reflect on performance. Teachers are given the chance to develop reflective skills and re-watch their groups of students or themselves. The agency to re-explore the classroom using this technology is a real breakthrough in education. As regards content, Paul’s design of an interactive crime scene for students to solve a murder mystery was next level. It really inspires you to create your own material. Thomas Strasser’s presentation gave full meaning to integration of tech by being very critical about its use. His motto “Don’t believe the hype!” plus the pencil metaphor were challenging as to where we stand regarding technology and its use.

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Belen with Thomas Strasser

Last but not least, Nick Robinson gave a very interesting talk about future trends in education. In a nutshell, he stated that whatever a teacher does that is repetitive can be automated, and thus it is likely to be replaced. This leads us to evaluate our own performance: what activities are we doing that can be replaced by software? A characteristic that is not replaceable in teachers is that of being creative, having a creative and adaptive mindset.

Belen with Nick Robinson

Belen with Nick Robinson

Thinking about my own project, “Technology in Service”, it basically consists of connecting schools in Argentina and empowering students through peer teaching with minimal teacher supervision. Remote teaching will allow students to connect with both public and private schools with different social realities in my country. The British Council Signature Event at the main IATEFL conference, “Remote Teaching – Bridging the Gap”, was really inspiring and aligned with my project. I had the opportunity of sharing my idea for “Technology in Service” with Graham Stanley, the Country Director of the British Council and Plan Ceibal. He found it very interesting and traded cards to keep in touch about who to contact to carry the project through. That is probably the best place to start to pave the way for “Technology in Service” to become a reality.

My next step in the short run is to define the web conferencing software my school can use to create custom learning experiences and engage students through interactivity and collaboration. Secondly, I need to contact schools that are willing to participate in this project. Simultaneously, the idea is to train a group of students in the upper forms in the use of remote teaching tech and how to go about a 30-minute lesson. For this project, students will be engaged in volunteer work. We are going to focus on how to share projects we  have worked on and to design and adapt a specific lesson for students in 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th forms from other schools. We could start with one pilot lesson per month and then increase its regularity as more lessons are designed and more students recruited. I believe that in Montessori’s words, the greatest sign of success for the Project “Technology in Service” will be when I get to say: “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” 

I had a fantastic experience in Brighton. The truth is that one is left wanting more. A week is not enough. Weeks after the conference, you find yourself going over your notes and photos, and checking out links, emails, blogs and websites, to keep that feeling going. You keep in touch with those professionals who were also scholarship winners, with whom you bonded instantly during the Scholarship Gathering and shared an unforgettable night because chemistry was in the air. They are the same professionals with whom you spent the rest of the conference week meeting up, hanging out, describing and sharing the reality in your countries as regards education and who understand this feeling. You even have a WhatsApp group that reminds you every now and then how cool the whole experience was and keeps you on your toes about proposal deadlines and current events.

Where are you from? Where did you start your journey?

IATEFL sets the bar high in professional training and you end up with the feeling you don’t want to miss out from now on. So it’s no surprise that by the end of this reflection, I will find myself checking out flights from Buenos Aires to Heathrow in 2019 to make sure I’m there in Liverpool too.

IATEFL Liverpool 2019


Belen trying out a VR headset

Belén Albarracín is a teacher and sworn translator. At present, she teaches the subject Global Perspectives at Bayard School in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She won the Robert O’Neill scholarship for the Project “Technology in Service”. She’s into integrating technology at primary and secondary level.

IATEFL 2019 Scholarships

If you’re inspired by Belén’s story, why not apply for a scholarship for IATEFL Liverpool 2019 yourself? Applications for our 2019 scholarships will open on Friday 1st June 2018. The closing date for applications is 16.00 (UK Time) Thursday 12th July 2018. Any applications received after this time will not be accepted.

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If you’re a member of IATEFL and would like to contribute to the blog, we’d love to hear from you at blog (at) iatefl (dot) org. We’re looking for stories from our members, news about projects you’ve been involved in, and anything else you think those connected to English language teaching would be interested in reading. Find out more information and ideas for what you could write about here. We look forward to hearing from you! If you’re not a member, why not join us?

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