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APACALL Co-sponsors Webheads in Action Online Convergence
November 18-20, 2005

Vance Stevens
Petroleum Institute
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

This article has been published in Innovative Language Learning #8(2005, APACALL Newsletter) http://www.apacall.org/news/Newsletter8.pdf
this version 18 December 2005

APACALL was recently a co-sponsor of the first ever (soon to be first annual) Webheads in Action Online Convergence, November 18-20, 2005 http://wiaoc.org. The idea of the word 'convergence' as a variation on 'conference' was meant to highlight the fact that this conference focused the efforts of several free and open source online communities of practice. The conference was intended as a refereed event taking place completely without fees or funding, and the contributing partners had in common their open-source outlook and free distribution of educational resources and facilities.

1. Sponsoring partners

The conference was organized by Webheads in Action http://webheads.info, an online community of practice of educators interested in exploring uses of CMC (computer-mediated communication) with students and peers. It was coordinated by the present author, Webheads co-founder and current Vice-President II on the Executive Committee of APACALL.

Other sponsoring partners (alphabetically, and apart from APACALL) were:

2. Keynotes

The keynote speakers were themselves strong contributors to WiAOC 2005. Many command considerable fees for presentating at commercially-run international conferences, yet all agreed to support WiAOC by appearing free of charge in a spirit of sharing and collaboration. David Nunan is well known in the world of language learning as a prolific author and fixture at numerous international conference venues who has lately directed considerable interest and expertise to online endeavors, and he took valuable time out to not only present but to gamely master the Alado presentation tool. Curt Bonk is similarly prolific, moves in a parallel universe of conference and workshop travel, and makes much of his work freely available through http://www.courseshare.com. Curt generously agreed to do two presentations at our conference, the first delivered before his bedtime in Indiana to open our conference, and a second not long after he woke up the next morning.

Joy Egbert combined her presentation with a working visit to Turkey. Her presentation was especially interesting because through no fault of her own she was prevented by her hosts from being on time for it, but our on-the-scene contacts in Turkey kept us posted on her whereabouts and progress in joining us online, and her virtual audience used the paper she had set for us to read beforehand as a springboard for discussion so that her presentation was well under way by the time she arrived for it (and the event was a grand success. In a face to face situation such a delay could have been awkward and might have compromised the event, but the online audience was graciously understanding and Joy's presentation started spontaneously, on time, and with productive interaction well in progress by the time she was able to appear).

Dave Sperling and Randall Davis are both widely known in the ESL world as sources for online materials and professional interaction. Dave revealed interesting insights on what goes on behind the scenes at Dave's ESL Cafe http://www.eslcafe.com/, and how he would like to see it evolve. Randall made the most use of all of our keynote speakers of the Moodle forums we set up for each presenter beforehand, experimentally approaching the Moodle and Elluminate tools to systematically enhance his presentation on aspects of creating the audio at Randall's ESL-Lab http://www.esl-lab.com/randall.htm.

Links to all the keynote speakers' Web sites and presentations can be found at http://keynotes.wiaoc.org.

3. APACALL Sponsorship and Prize Recipients

APACALL's sponsorship connection with this conference was two-fold. First, APACALL executive members Jeong-Bae Son, Andrew Lian, Thang Siew Ming, and Vance Stevens teamed together to hold a panel discussion on ICT and Design, Implementation and Evaluation of E-Learning. The presentation was recorded and can be accessed at http://schedule.wiaoc.org. Secondly, APACALL offered to donate two copies of its book Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Concepts, Contexts and Practices, edited by Jeong-Bae Son, to two individuals who both made outstanding personal contributions to WiAOC 2005. One recipient was Fernanda Rodrigues, who once upon a time was present at an online discussion where the conference was being planned. In the discussion I suggested that the ideal way to take submissions would be to have an online form for people to fill out and not only that but feed the data into a database off which would run a set of dynamic pages that could help us with our vetting process, and not only that, but would then generate a dynamic schedule for the conference. I was speaking in idealized terms, from my experiences working with though not creating systems where dynamic web pages work off a shared database, and Fernanda emailed us back a few days later and said she'd built it and would we like to have a look. We were so impressed with the professional quality of the work that we agreed to adopt her system, but in offering this she had given herself the responsibility of continually tweaking and maintaining this system, usually in dire need and on very short notice, and she met all demands even as stress levels, and her own daytime workload, mounted immediately before the conference.

Fernanda was perhaps an obvious choice for personal sustained contribution and there were so many more whose personal contributions were also significant to varying degrees. There were people who worked together to conceptualize the conference, organize the keynote presentations, hammer out the call for proposals, create a rubric to vet the submissions and use it to validate successful proposals, schedule the presentations, set up Web pages and Moodles and create forums, organize coaching for access to what would for most be unfamiliar interfaces, create online help and how-to and FAQ documents, maintain and synchronize schedules through myriad changes and ensure that they pointed to presentation venues, liaise with sponsoring partners to set up and record the presentations, handle last-minute logistics nightmares, provide online help during the conference, thank all those involved, create a survey and solicit and display feedback, and now organize a proceeds. I've tried to document some of these contributions at http://credits.wiaoc.org.

All of the people involved provided services of the highest professional quality, but among these was at least one other person who took that professionalism to a point of maintenance, where when something went wrong he had to be on call to figure out what the problem was and fix it immediately, as he did at various junctures during the run-up to our conference. There were many of our sponsors and liaisons who performed at that level as well but I chose to honor Venny Su with the presentation of this second prize, as someone who works alone, unselfishly placing himself on call to contribute his time and expertise on demand as needed for the benefit of the group, someone who was always 'there' working to ensure that our Moodle portal server was functioning properly, but who might not be noticed otherwise.

4. Survey and Feedback

One of the most interesting aspects of this conference is the feedback from the participants. The survey instrument was created by consensus and then mounted at http://www.surveymonkey.com by Dafne Gonzalez, who eventually closed the survey and compiled the results at: http://daf4.free.fr/wiaoc/surveyresults.html. Response to the survey was respectable, considering there were 340 participants registered at the conference Moodle, and there were 84 respondents to the survey, or about a quarter of the number of people registered for the conference (though respondees were not necessarily all registered participants). Of particular interest are the 'comments regarding connecting to or using any of the technology' and 'other comments' people have made giving their reactions to this sort of event. In case such data were needed, there is strong evidence here that - from a cohort who self-selected to attend an event such as this - the response was decidedly favorable from almost any standpoint.

A key element in these data is that of self-selection. The people who benefit most from interaction such as this are probably those who are predisposed to it in the first place, and for such people, the potentials inherent in the online environment seemingly enlarge with use, as can be seen from the many WOW comments evident in the survey data. The convergence clearly would not have attracted participants who are not predisposed to online interaction with peers. Perhaps the features of such an environment that most excite those predisposed are what those not predisposed find personally frustrating. Inevitably some attendees at our conference expressed confusion with some elements, or felt themselves disadvantaged, and these concerns can be addressed in the next rendition, as our goal is to become more inclusive, not cater to just the tech-savvy.

What the Webheads in Action Online Convergence seeks to achieve is to bring professionals together in a happy medium where those with the requisite skills can assist those who would like to learn more to achieve greater familiarity with computer-based communications and social networking media, in order that our community of practice can utilize available technologies to work most efficiently and productively (and in order to be worthwhile, more effectively than if such tools were not used). We plan to do it again, possibly in convergence with the annual TESOL Convention in March 2007.


Su, Venny. 2005. An Open Source Portal for Educators http://tesl-ej.org/ej33/int.html

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