Modeling and demonstrating professional development via PLN in the UAE


This presentation was recorded.?? It is now publicly available (no password required)
(it’s 1.5 hours, including conversation at the end)


On April 10, 2010, I’m set to put into motion a long held dream. I’ve long wanted to get the TESOL Arabia chapter events traditionally held annually in the seven emirates throughout the UAE talking together online. Up to now, if there was an event in Fujairah, someone in Abu Dhabi would have to drive 4 hours to go there to present, or if there was an event in Ras Al Khaima, someone in Al Ain would not be able to attend without leaving at 6 a.m. to drive up for a 9 o’clock start.?? As a result, TESOL Arabia chapter events are not well attended in the smaller emirates, and in the larger ones, they don’t reach as many across the UAE as they might if there was some system of allowing participation via the Internet.

Over the past several years I’ve been broadcasting many of my presentations not only at TESOL Arabia conferences and chapter events, but from other major conferences as well, over the Elluminate service graciously provided on a grant to Webheads by LearningTimes (; Many of these recordings are archived at my presentations portfolio

As distance presentations from conferences have become more and more commonplace, and presentations that are recorded and stay online are starting to get noticed now even in the UAE, I sensed at the last TESOL Arabia conference in Dubai that the time is quite ripe for getting colleagues here doing more of this themselves. Many teaching colleagues in the UAE are coming around to the potential of social networking and seem ready to incorporate it into their professional development and classroom practice.?? Having been doing this for years, I am well placed to help drive this development through my experience in what many here now see as the way forward.

One small problem with using Elluminate from Learning Times on Saturday mornings in the UAE is that events held at just this time fall during the weekly maintenance window for the Elluminate service, and sometimes I’ve been set to use it but found the site down (this is Friday midnight in the USA; an unlikely time for educators there to want to use the service).?? So the Learning Times Elluminate is not the most reliable choice for webcasting Saturday professional development events in the UAE.?? WiZiQ or uStream or Skype are all possible, but meanwhile, the Petroleum Institute where I work has purchased Adobe Connect and the IT department at the PI were happy to grant me the right to create chat rooms and conduct sessions so I could use it to establish proof of concept on Saturday, April 10.

Accordingly Jim Buckingham and I proposed a session for the Abu Dhabi Chapter event Abu Dhabi ELT Conference to be held at Zayed University on April 10. Entitled “Thinking SMALL: Realizing Ongoing Professional Development through Grassroots Social Networking in the UAE” our session??took place from 11:30 to 12:30 (or 07:30 to 08:30 a.m. GMT April 10 ).

Here’s the abstract: The presenters discuss how to realize an online community for EFL instructors in the UAE and its integration with professional or personal learning networks (PLN). They propose a social network structure that will address the need for ongoing PD in the UAE that is driven bottom up, not top down, according to the perceived interests of practitioners involved in language education and other a of learning in the UAE. The session will suggest means by which practitioners can share knowledge and skills and contribute to each others??? PDs by practicing within a PD network dedicated to the needs of knowledge workers in the UAE as well as connecting with similarly motivated networks and communities worldwide. NB: SMALL stands for Social Media assisted Language Learning.

Now, there was held a concurrent event at the Ras Al Khaima Chapter conference on the same day. I happened to notice that one of my colleagues Phil Cozens was driving up (3 hours!) to give a talk at that conference that ended at about the time our session starts, and the room he was presenting in happened to be free when he would finish (though the conference would still be in session with concurrent presentations in two other rooms).?? The room would likely have an Internet connection, so I put more wheels in motion.?? I asked Phil if he would hook up with us after his presentation via Connect, and I got the conference organizers there to place us in the program through a mass email announcement of the extra session and an addendum to the program they had already printed.??

Consequently our session “Thinking SMALL: Realizing ongoing professional development through grassroots social networking” was streamed in to RAK from Abu Dhabi under the following abstract: Two presenters webcasting live from the TESOL Arabia Chapter event at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi interact online with participants and their on-site presenter in RAK to discuss how to further professional development across the Emirates by nurturing online community-based interaction within distributed professional or personal learning networks (PLNs).

Having spent so much of my time putting all these last-minute wheels in motion it dawned on me that I might want to think up something to actually say at my presentation.?? I was??envisaging a sort of free-wheel conversation talking about how cool it is that?? “Hey, we actually got all these balls up in the air, and now see how we juggle,” but I realize that conference-goers sometimes prefer more substance.?? Fortunately the substance of my talk flooded in this morning over my own PLN as I activated it as I usually do each morning.

I headed instinctively to Twitter and found that Darren Kuropatwa had posted “src endlesspossibilites: pruffing has added a photo to the pool:“.?? The photo is of balloons decorating a blue sky and is captioned “When we are dreaming alone, it is only a dream.?? When we dream with others it is the beginning of reality. – Dom Helder Camara”.?? I checked the CC license and found it was posted by a Flickr user named pruffing and I could use the picture under this cc license:

I often tell people that Twitter is like fishing.?? You go to the lake or ocean, cast your line, and if a fish happens by you eat well.?? You enjoy that fish until hungry again and you don’t concern yourself with all the fish that passed that spot earlier, or that might be there now.?? When you want more fish, you cast your line again.

Twitter is like that.?? This morning, looking for a topic, I saw that Miguel Guilin had posted just 5 minutes before I started my computer: “anyone know of a wifi portable book reader, like the Kindle but WiFi rather than 3G enabled? Works off free books and web content, nt Amazon”.?? Now this was indeed the proverbial fish that passed just beneath my hook as I cast about for something to say. Had Miguel posted that an hour earlier, it would have been on page 5 of my Twitter stream and I’d never have seen it.?? But I’m interested in this topic because I recently acquired an iPhone and I am aware from my PLN (listening to podcasts) that the iPhone will serve as an eBook reader, and (interacting with Claire Siskin at Tapped In) that I could use Stanza, a free app for my iPhone, to do what Miguel was trying to do.?? So I tweeted right back, getting Miguel’s attention with “@mguhlin would the iPhone using Stanza serve as a wifi ebook reader and work off free books and web content?“?? Miguel posted back with @vances that this was a good idea, and within minutes of that he posted

, which says Electronic Books on Handheld Devices @VanceS @timholt2007

Check that last link.?? It shows a PLN at work from Miguel’s perspective, and how our two PLN’s interact.

A lot of my PLN is at IATEFL in Harrogate right now, where they are streaming videos and tweeting under the hashtag #iatefl.?? Yesterday I saw such a tweet and re-tweeted it in order to have it available to me at this moment:

. It says “#iatefl PLN can use lots of sites (ning, blogs, SL, etc.) bt ‘twitter is the glue that holds it all together’ “. GrahamSK seems to have “tweeted” a lot of presentations, and I think the one he was attending when he tweeted that was Graham Stanley’s.?? He mentioned in another tweet that Graham had pointed out that through Twitter, anyone can have direct access to experts in their field.?? I created a blog post explaining how this works here:

So now I’m going to email this to my Posterous account (that’s how you post to Posterous, and attach any photos you want posted).?? Then I will post a link to this post to Twitter.?? This and links to other posts I’ve made today such as this one

are serving to generate interest in inviting my PLN to the presentation tomorrow.?? I’m hoping by tweeting just prior to the event we might be able to bring voices from outside the UAE into Abu Dhabi and RAK to show to participants in those places that there professional development need not at all be limited to what they can access locally or even only within the UAE.?? The world is available to them.

Now to invite webheads to read this post and join the presentation tomorrow:

Before the event created a slide show:

I blogged the TESOL Arabia (Dubai) event here:

In that posting, I say:

As I ran out of time, I was leading to the question of what TESOL Arabia, or any viable configuration of practitioners interested in futhering their professional development, is or should be.?? To arrive at what I was leading up to I had presented a distinction between groups, communities, and networks, and was showing how knowledge resides in networks and is passed around the network through modeling and demonstrating practical applications of knowledge applied to practice. In this model of how knowledge is disseminated in the 21st century, I suggest that it is never appropriate to cut anyone, at any time, students in class, participants at a conference, or knowledge workers attending meetings, off from their networks.

As a result of this trend, professional development less and less happens mainly at conferences. For many professionals, development happens every day in the course of using Skype, Twitter, or Facebook, reading blogs and wikis, or viewing and sharing tutorials and presentations on YouTube, TeacherTube,, uStream, TED Talks, etc. etc.?? This means that for many professionals, face-to-face conferences are of decreasing importance.

As most of us agree that learning is mainly social, such conferences seem most appreciated for their networking potentials rather than for the papers presented there, which more and more often can be read or their recordings viewed online, as archives of such materials become more and more widely distributed. Travel to distant cities to participate on site in conferences has become inefficient and less necessary than before, and is less crucial for gaining knowledge than opportunities available in cyberspaces dedicated to education …

In other words, to face-to-face gatherings, add a networked dimension.?? Hold the meeting, or conference, or class in a brick and mortar edifice as usual, but configure the space so that it lets in the network. Now you have the best of all worlds that blended learning has to offer.?? Participants in the physical spaces are able to look each other in the eye and benefit from each other’s company, but they can share what they are doing with the wider world, or draw in people and resources from their PLNs or personal learning networks. In this way consumers of content at a face-to-face gathering can generate content online, and as this content is reflected on, remixed, and recycled, and filtered back to participants either physically at or virtually enjoying the live event, everyone involved would be learning more than they possibly could if the event were cut off from the networks of those who participated …

I had meant to suggest in my presentation (as I did in the slides) that in future, successful conferences and professional organizations will have to combine opportunities for face-to-face interpersonal connection with the connectivity to allow seamless interaction with distributed personal learning networks. Those that do not will become decreasingly relevant I am aware that not all agree that this should be the case. As the article indicates, not everyone sees networks intrusion as a positive force in the dynamics of face-to-face interaction.?? So I was hoping to raise the question, if conferences are networked, who benefits? who loses?


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4 Responses to Modeling and demonstrating professional development via PLN in the UAE

  1. Anonymous says:

    Vance.. this provided me with great insight into how you were thinking about today’s "prez". A lot happening for today. Fingers crossed that the tech doesn’t let us down. I’m still thinking of using / adapting the original "prez" that I made to RAK in February..

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great stuff. A key concept that I’d hope to also explore in today’s presentation? "context" .. and how context can be increasingly refined by online networking prior to, during and after a f2f conference. See my note on this via can also see tomorrow’s conference inviting more ???inclusion???, and ???continuity??? and thus promote broader ownership and involvement from membership. Gone will be the "one to many" broadcast with a short Q & A session afterwards. This won’t cut it any longer.

  3. hmbaba says:

    Hi Vance & Jim, Hope this works out. It’s definitely the way to go. Guess Phil/Jim told u we did the MZC-Ruwais remote hook up. P & I asked in our prez at TACON if Confs were dead, and if u remember a couple of yrs ago, u and I demoed IATEFL Online at a LISIG event at ADMC. Y’day was suggesting to Anna and Phil screening Ema’s plenary live from Harrogate (12 UAE time) at the event – dunno if convinced them! I attended the LT SIG PCE via SL on Wed – amazing!Tried to access ur link from Twitter but it didn’t work.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Jim asked me to put in this link to Googlios, eportfolio assessment:

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