How ESL and other Language Schools Can Use Webinar Technology

April 30, 2011

The word webinar is being used today to refer to all kinds of online training and virtual presentations.

More and more literacy and language schools are adding a component of e-learning to their programs. It’s the 21st century way to learn!

Webinars are relatively easy to put on. Some of the language is a bit different from face-to-face environments, so it’s helpful to know that instructors, facilitators and teachers are mostly referred to as “presenters” in the webinar environment. Students, learners and clients are generally called “participants”.

Both presenters and participants need to have basic technology and computer literacy in order to take part in a webinar. This may mean that your current teachers and facilitators require some training before moving into an e-learning environment. Your participants may benefit from an orientation prior to the content to familiarize them with how webinars work.

Assuming that both parties have the technology literacy to move forward, here are some ideas on how you can make the most of webinar technology in your organization.

For Participants

Online group classes

Bring participants together in an e-learning class not only to teach them new content and skills, but also to learn how to work together in an online environment.

Online tutoring

Do you have learners in rural and remote areas? Or single parents who find it hard to get a sitter? Online tutoring provides a way for otherwise isolated learners to connect with tutors from the comfort and convenience of their own home. This is a super way to reach out to people who might otherwise not engage with learning.

Information sessions

If you offer information sessions about your programs in a live setting (your office space, a public library or elsewhere), you can adapt your content and host virtual information sessions. Information sessions are for prospective students and have a slight marketing component. A word of caution though… don’t try to “sell” in a webinar. Instead, demonstrate your expertise and what makes you unique.

Orientation sessions

When you bring new students into your organization, do you give them an orientation on  what to expect and how things work there? Photos, maps, and other materials can also be used in an online environment to give a virtual orientation. Though I’m a big fan of doing live webinars, this is one that you could record and use over again.

Pre-arrival workshops

If you offer classes for international students coming to learn English as a Second Language, an online pre-arrival workshop can be very helpful. Using photos, you can demonstrate what kind of clothes to bring (e.g. warm sweaters and winter boots), photos of the airport and what it will look like when they arrive, photos of what a typical airport arrival day looks like, and whatever other information you’d like them to know before they get to the program.

Follow-up workshops

Webinars are a great way to keep relationships going once the opportunity for face-to-face interaction has passed. A value-added webinar one month after the course ends is a super way to stay connected. Use the next upcoming holiday as a theme for your class and have everyone learn about it in the virtual classroom. In cases where participants already know one another, the online interaction is usually fun and very dynamic.

For staff and volunteers

Volunteer information sessions

Do you like the idea of having virtual teachers or tutors? Then set the stage by offering online information sessions for prospective teachers and volunteers about your organization. Review the programs that you offer, the opportunities you and the benefits of working with your organization. This is a great time to have current staff members and volunteer tutors chime in with what they love about working with you!

Volunteer training

Do you train your staff in intensive sessions that jam in loads of information? You can break it up into a series of online training workshops. The material is easier to absorb if you divide it into “chunks”. If you have ongoing workshops, your volunteers get ongoing training, which keeps building their skills. As an organization, ongoing training for them means you give offering them something back for their time and expertise.

Staff development workshops

Do your staff currently get all their professional development at an annual conference? I love conferences because of the chance to connect with old friends. But wouldn’t it be great to offer ongoing training and development for your staff throughout the year? The cool thing about this is that you don’t have to organize all the sessions yourself. Check out the Centre for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). They specialize in  offering online PD for educators. They have literally hundreds of programs to choose from, ranging from free to expensive.

For the community

A Virtual Open House

Share what you do with the community, your stakeholders and donors through a virtual open house. Include photos of your facilities and your staff. A video that uses digital storytelling to celebrate the success of your learners makes it even more dynamic.

These are just a few ideas for literacy and language programs to use webinars in their organizations. I’m a big fan of using this technology in the non-profit and educational sectors. It offers a lot of value for everyone – staff, volunteers, learners and students, as well as community stake holders. How many non-profits still lag behind when it comes to their own technology literacy? Implementing the use of webinars positions your organization as a leader in terms of technology. You lead by example, showing others how virtual and online learning is an important part of 21st century of education and professional capacity building.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to Get a Spectacular Speaker for Your Next Literacy or Language PD Event

April 26, 2011

Sarah Elaine Eaton - Ontario Literacy Conference speaker 2010I’ve had some conversations recently with colleagues looking for speakers for conferences, professional development (PD) events or workshops. They’ve said that they don’t really know where to start looking and find themselves in that classic quandary… “We need someone good… Really, really good… And we have a limited budget!” Where to start?

In 2010 I was inducted into the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and I realized that there’s a big gap, a chasm almost, between the world of corporate meeting planners and the non-profit volunteer conference organizing committees. I talk to dozens of professional speakers who are aching to speak at more non-profit and educational events… and volunteer organizers who just don’t know where to find great speakers. There must be a way to get both groups connected!

Here are some tips that may help…

Decide on your budget

Whether you’re working with an entire committee or you’re one person charged with the responsibility of finding an amazing speaker, you’ll want to figure out how much you have to spend. Your budget will generally include two parts:

  • Speaking fee
  • Travel and accommodation

Some speakers have an “all in” fee that includes travel, meals and accommodation. Keynote speeches for non-profit events start at about $500 and go up to $10,000. The fee is often a combination of what the organization can afford and the speaker’s rates. $5000 for a keynote speaking fee is about average, but there is a great deal of variance.

Prospective clients sometimes ask me if I will speak for free. The answer is yes, but there are some rules.

Have a clear idea of what kind of speaker you want

Every event wants someone “good”, but what does that mean to you? Do you want your speaker to entertain, educate or both? Usually, it’s a good idea to get someone who is knowledgeable or an advocate of your subject area. Don’t get in a mechanics expert for a group of literacy practitioners. Make sure your speaker has either worked in the field or is a champion of it.

Beware of the “I need to work” types who will claim to be a supporter of your cause just because they need a gig. A quick Google search can help you figure out who’s really in your corner.

Use your networks to find good speakers

Ask your colleagues, teachers and others for recommendations. Keynoters often get work due to referrals and word of mouth. Don’t be afraid to ask people around you who comes to mind when they think of an engaging presenter. Use professional listservs, Twitter and other social media to get recommendations, too.Auditorum seats

Put out a call for keynotes or plenary speakers

Conferences put out calls for presenters, but don’t often do the same for keynotes or plenaries because they fear that the quality of those who might apply would be lower than if they conducted the search themselves. That’s kind of like saying that a university only accepts students they seek out and they don’t accept applications. Putting out a call for keynotes is a great way to find high quality speakers who are building a reputation – particularly if your budget is very limited. Do an RFP (Request for Proposals) and be clear in your call what fee range you’re looking for, then speakers who are working in that range are likely to apply.

Check out your local professional speaking organization

Really, professional speakers are not as expensive as you may think! There is a stereotype about professional speakers that they have a certain approach (a la Tony Robbins, for example). While it’s true that there are many motivational or inspirational professional speakers, there are also hundreds who specialize in speaking to non-profit and educational audiences.

Professional speaking organizations are usually national organizations. Members must meet a strict set of professional criteria (such as a minimum number of paid speaking engagements per year, letters of reference, etc.) before being inducted into a major national organization. These big organizations are often divided further into state or provincial chapters.

Look for evidence of past success

Good speakers have a track record of success.

In the United States, it is pretty much de rigueur that speakers will have a demo video in the form of a CD, a DVD or a YouTube video. In Canada this may be true for corporate speakers, but has yet to fully catch on for non-profit and philanthropic speakers.

At the very least, a speaker should have testimonials and a list of past clients. Ask for recommendations. Check for a calendar of past or upcoming events. With or without a video, a good indicator of success is a full speaking schedule.

Travel and Accommodation

If there’s one thing that is non-negotiable, it’s travel and accommodation. Your speaker may have traveled all day to get to your event. A hot shower, a clean room and a good meal are a relief after a long day of travel.

Having a greeter at the airport is a nice touch that many non-profit conference organizers overlook.

If you’re trying to save on costs, here’s a tip: Hotel food is often high in calories and not very interesting. Many speakers will appreciate a home cooked meal at the home of a conference organizer. This gives your speaker a chance to get to know you and enjoy some social time.

Allow speaker product sales

I’m baffled by conferences that require speakers to rent a booth in order to sell their products. I suspect that thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars a year are lost at non-profit events because the conference has a policy against product sales. Unless the speaker travels with an assistant, they likely won’t have the time to set up a booth and sell product.

An experienced speaker will likely be busy reviewing their notes or doing other preparations before the presentation – as they should. Once a speaker factors in the cost of a booth, plus the cost of an assistant to set up that booth and sell the product, most, if not all of the revenue they would have made is gone. So, speakers abide by conference policies and leave their books, workbooks, CDs and DVDs at home.

A better option: Set up a table at the back of the room where the speaker is giving his or her presentation. Have a conference volunteer work at that table in exchange for a percentage of the gross sales (20% to 30% of total sales is common). If a speaker sells $500 in books and splits the revenue 70/30 with the conference, then the conference makes $150. The speaker takes away $350, from which he or she will need to pay the costs of production (book printing), packaging and shipping. In the end, it works out to a pretty fair split.

Develop a relationship with your speaker

Don’t think of this as one-time gig. This is your opportunity to develop an on-going relationship with someone. Your speaker may help to promote your event by posting about it on Twitter, Facebook or other social media. They may mention you on their blog or find other ways to drive traffic to your website and positive attention to your organization. Non-profit speakers usually have a deep emotional attachment to their field. They want to get to know you and those you serve. If you develop a relationship, that same person may join you again for future events. Figure out how you can help each other succeed and I guarantee you that you’ll get quality speakers that your audiences will love.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


“Using Skype in ESL and Literacy Programs” Free webinar

May 7, 2010

As a follow up to my post “Using Skype in Language and Literacy Programs” I decided that it would be beneficial to show you rather than just write about it. So, I’ve organized this free webinar:

“Using Skype in ESL and Literacy Programs: a webinar”
Presenter: Sarah Elaine Eaton, Ph.D.
May 18, 2010 – 09:45 – 10:30 (with optional Q & A after) – Mountain Time

Login-time: 09:45 Mountain Time (Calgary, Canada) (Please adjust accordingly for your time zone)
Start time: 10:00
End time: 10:30
Questions and Answers: 10:00 – 11:00

This webinar will go over what Skype is, how it can be used to:
1) connect you with other professionals – and save on long distance charges – even internationally
2) empower teachers and tutors
3) give presentations and workshops

How do you join the webinar?
1) Mark the date and time of the event in your calendar
2) at 09:45 Mountain Time (adjust for your time zone!) on May 18, click on this URL:
https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/launch/dropin.jnlp?sid=lcevents&password=Webinar_Guest
3) Have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.

With thanks to the folks at Elluminate (www.elluminate.com) who are generously providing the webinar platform at no charge for this event.

This is a free professional development seminar. Everyone is welcome to attend, so pass this along and invite a colleague.

Note: Following the webinar, I did another post with the recording, slides and a hand out. Check it out: Using Skype in ESL and Literacy Programs: Webinar follow up http://wp.me/pNAh3-5T

Check out my research article on this topic:

Eaton, S. E. (2010). How to Use Skype in the ESL/EFL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, XVI(11). Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Eaton-UsingSkype.html

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Want to change the world? Learn a language (Part 1 of 2)

April 29, 2010

In the movie Dead Poet’s Society (1989), the fictional English teacher, Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, tells his class of adolescent boys, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” It’s a notion that I’ve shared with my second language students on many occasions. I tell them that by learning a second language (or a third or a fourth or a fifth), they learn new ways of understanding not only themselves, but the world around us.

The challenges of learning another language are immense. There’s vocabulary to be acquired, grammar to master and verb conjugations to memorize. All of this information and more must be internalized, synthesized and then reproduced spontaneously as interactive speech. It’s an enormous feat. And it’s an enormous feat that millions have undertaken.

But to what end? We like to tell our students that their job prospects are better if they learn other languages. But are they really? I live in an affluent area of Canada, where young men (and women, though far fewer of them), can leave high school early and go north to work on oil rigs or in the towns that support the oil business. They can make cash, and lots of it, quickly. It’s hard work, under intense conditions. Yet thousands of them do it. Try telling them that if they learn a second language their job prospects are going to be better. They’ll scoff, turn around and drive away in a shiny new truck, that’s been fully paid for in cash.

So, the job prospect line doesn’t really fly very well where I live.

Travelling to other countries? There are plenty of tourist areas in the world where the locals have thrown themselves into learning the language of the tourists precisely to make them feel more welcome. People can travel to resorts all over the world and be served by locals who speak their language. In fact, I’ve heard people say, “Why should I learn their language when they’ll learn mine?”

So, the travelling argument seems a bit hollow, too.

What’s the real reason we believe so strongly that learning another language is important? It’s what that fictional character, Keating said, “because words and ideas can change the world.” When we commit ourselves to learning another language, we challenge ourselves to dig deep into ourselves to tap into our own power to communicate with others, to reach out, to connect.

When we take the plunge and test our communicative skills in another language, we reach inside and overcome our fears of making mistakes, fear of being rejected by others, fear of not being good enough, fear of not fitting in. We try anyway. We connect, however imperfectly, and that leads to wanting to understand more, learn more and discover more.

As we learn other languages we also learn about other cultures, other people, other faiths, other ways of living and being and looking at the world. We find our own sense of who we are profoundly enriched and deepened in ways we could not have otherwise imagined.

It’s hard to explain this to someone who doesn’t believe there’s any value in learning other languages. There are those who will never be convinced. Rather than trying to implore them with hollow arguments that are hard to back up, instead, we can offer concrete examples of individuals who changed the world by learning other languages. Here are some examples:

Albert Einstein. He was born in Switzerland and spoke German as his first language. (Anecdotally, I am told that he did not speak at all until he was five years old.) He learned English as a Second Language.

Nelson Mandela. His first language was Xhosa, an African dialect. He learned English as a Second Language.

Mohandas Gandhi. His first language was Gujarati. He went on to learn 10 additional languages.

Rigoberta Menchu. Her first language was Quechua, an indigenous language of her native Guatemala. As I understand it, she learned Spanish in order to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize which she was awarded in 1992.

Critics would argue that all of these public figures learned a language of the dominant population and would go on to discuss issues of power and oppression. My aim here is not to enter into such a discussion, but merely to point out that the work that these individuals did would not have been possible if they had not learned other languages.

That is a bold statement and I stand behind it. Let me repeat it: the work these influential people did would not have been possible if they had not learned other languages. Why? Because learning other languages gave them opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations, connect with others and do the work that they were so deeply passionate about a larger scale. They moved beyond the parochial into the global. They transcended personal, political, scientific and historical boundaries. With their words and ideas they changed the world.

When we learn other languages, we change who we are. We grow to understand and appreciate the world around us in new and meaningful ways. As we change, so the world changes. That’s the real reason we believe in the power of learning other languages. Because when we do, we learn to reach out to others, connect deeply and express our passion for life and our life’s work in profoundly transformative ways.

Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Specialized courses: Essential for a healthy marketing mix

April 28, 2010

In 1982, W.P. Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe, a novel that was later turned into a major Hollywood movie starring Kevin Costner. The most famous line of the book is, “If you build it, he will come.” The basic premise of the book is that if you have an idea or a dream, go with it. The rest will take care of itself.

While this feel-good book, and the movie it was made into, may smack of naïveté on some level, the main principle is one that we can use in marketing our schools. If you build a specialized program, based on a sound curriculum that you can deliver well, the students will come.

Is there something that your school does better than any other in your area? Do you have a program to train foreign language teachers? Do you offer a specialized course in medical or veterinary terminology, for example? How about a course in business communications? If you have at least one course or program that differentiates you from other schools, you can focus on being the best there is for that specialty. You can still offer basic language training or other programs, but having a specialized niche will ensure you a unique market share, and add both revenue and students to your program. It can also add flair and a sense of uniqueness to your program. I’ve seen programs that offer English and sports or English and activities such as surfing, and they truly set themselves apart from the hundreds of other English programs in the world.

Specialized courses often referred to as “ESP” or “English for Specific Purposes”, in the English as a Second / Additional Language field. Together, generalized and specialized courses combine to form your marketing mix. Finding the right mix can boost your revenue significantly.

Specialized courses deserve special attention in your marketing plan. For example, if you offer a program for language teachers from foreign countries, you could easily research the contact information for language schools abroad and add that information to your database.  Then you have the tools to do a targeted direct mail campaign to those schools that would catch the attention of those teachers and school administrators.

Also consider that specialized courses likely require specialized curricula. You’ll want to ensure that whatever materials you are using fit your niche market really well.

Generally, it takes longer to see results for specialized programs. That is because it may take prospects longer to find out about your niche and respond to your marketing. I’ve seen more than one niche program fail because administrators gave up on it too early. One semester or session is not enough to test the market to determine if there is a demand for your specialized course. These types of program may require extra attention in their infancy, simply because their target market is very specific.

You may want to dedicate a certain amount of time (for example, one hour a week for an entire year) just to marketing this particular program. This may mean contacting associations, schools or other audiences with an interest in your niche to advise them of your program. For example, if you have a program to train teachers, then a direct mailing to teachers’ associations abroad may help you promote these courses. It may cost you time to build your mailing list, or it may cost you money to buy such a list. You won’t see a return on your investment until participants begin to enroll.

If you persist, within a couple of years, you can have a booming program.  The trick is to carve yourself a niche and be patient while the world discovers your uniqueness. If you build it… they will come.

This post is adapted from “Idea #5: Carve yourself a niche” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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