KOREA TESOL Conference. The good , The bad and The ugly.

Last weekend I attended the 16th Annual Korea TESOL International Conference. I also presented and I’d like to publicly and not so quietly, detail the Good, the Bad and the Ugly…..

First off, I really appreciate the chance to network at this conference and so whatever I may say — I still think it invaluable. However, I am for the idea that if you are going to do something, do it well or step aside ……. I have presented and attended at many Kotesol events and so my comments also don’t apply to these efforts. Each branch and area is different. My comments are directed to this conference alone.


* The location is excellent. Central in Seoul and modern/clean. Easily accessible.

* The variety of lecturers / presenters and directions to and fro. Not so difficult IMO, to find the rooms/locations.

* Cost. Not bad considering you get membership which comes with a nice journal published quarterly (highly valuable).


* a website that was down most of the time just prior to the conference. Ugh…. I didn’t even know my presentation room location until arrival. Registering online is not efficient and is really a pain.

* informing members about the little things. Like, where is the banquet? I never got any notification (and I paid for it) about where this was held. So I decided to not go..you can’t go somewhere you don’t know.

* no tailoring of presentations with rooms. Some dolt couldn’t even figure out that I was presenting on Text to Speech and would need a room with basic technology! At the same time I presented, someone was using the main hi tech room to give information about their college. Go figure? Same with many other presenters stuck in dirty , horrid rooms which fit barely 20 people and which WE PAID FOR THE PLEASURE OF PRESENTING! They dropped the ball here — I sat through a lecture on using videos and couldn’t even hear or see the screen of the presentee… (Sat. morning)

* this was a conference about “Responding to a Changing World”. LOL! Sorry but I’ve been to my share of educational conferences and this one is in the stone ages…

* There was no video streaming, podcasting. No conference site which offered user feedback and social networking. No use of technology by the “leaders to be” of this conference…pitiful. Please KOTESOL check out this Shanghai conference and see how a site could be set up to give teachers a full on, community and interactive, professional development experience. Where can we watch the conference presentations online? Where can we discuss them as teachers and share? UGH….

* promotion of the event for teachers and not profit. Unfortunately, KOTESOL in my opinion is catering to the publishing crowd and the business end more and more. I see this grow. Even a member such as myself, if I’d want a chair to promote my writing/book/website, would have to pay??? How is this helping the teaching community? There is no place for members to freely advertise or do their own thing.

* no or little open forums for all teachers to participate. There were few breaks in the schedule to allow for networking, this should be changed. Also, there were no open forums where all teachers could participate, gather, share ideas about teaching…if there were, I wasn’t informed. I did go to the wonderful extensive reading workshop which was somewhat along these lines with many mini presentations and teachers circulated every 10 min.


* I had to bring my own sound equipment! Yeah, so much for a conference about the Future of Learning!!! I mean, come on now. And then when I requested they provide it (I paid $132 (including membership dues) for the room and equipment), I was told that I had only requested a computer. That I should have written “speakers” under “other” on the forum…..And they argued and argued that I should not expect anything but a computer if they said they’d provide a computer for the room. So they finally said, all would be okay. WASN”T. I carried my own large speakers, my own laptop just in case and good thing! What a fiasco, further, the room was a pig stye, reprehensible and horrid. I felt like this…..

* A teacher who will remain anonymous, at the Extensive reading workshop was selling FREE stuff! Yeah, I thought that was against the law, to copy what is free online and then sell it. What balls! He had a huge stack of copied CDs of free Gutenburg audio books. Charging teachers $5 a pop and he was racking it in! Totally wacko and unethical and I’ll write to KOTESOL about this one – you bet ya.

* Paying your dues to a personal bank account. This is just horrid. A professional association which still keeps track of funds like this? I paid with my Paypal account, through email transfer. It was sent to the personal email account of the Financial officer. So all the money is in his name????? This is just crazy!

I will continue to support KOTESOL and continue to do workshops, promote on EFL Classroom 2.0 etc… But still, I think a lot could be done better. Us teachers deserve it!

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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8 Responses

  1. EFL Geek says:

    I don’t think I could have said it any better.

  2. Rob Dickey says:

    Thanks for this posting, reviewing the KOTESOL 2008 International Conference. I agree with some of what you’ve written, and disagree with some. Which is perfectly natural. I’d like to respond point by point. Hope you’ll include a link to this for folks to hear “another perspective.”

    Bad-1–website down. Agree totally. The organization has to make the move to a professional server. Plans to. The server went down, and since everyone was at the conference venue, there was no one to reboot and whatever else might have needed to be done.

    Bad-2–informing attendees. There was a notice board. Was the board noticed? Not by some. We have to do this better.

    Bad-3–tailoring of presentations with rooms. This one is really really tough for a large conference outside of a convention setting. We don’t control, don’t even know for sure til late, which rooms we’ll get. Basically, impossible to fix without a professional setting (which costs lots of money — latest quote, 20 million versus the 5 million we pay at Sookmyung)

    Bad-4&5–theme “Responding to a Changing World” and use of podcasting/etc not matching with the event. Sorry, disagree with you here. You are one of many (not necessarily a majority) that equate “modern” with “tech”. A website, particularly one labeled “2.0”, is probably the wrong place to make this argument, but “the ‘net” ain’t the be-all of the future. We could have been more web-friendly, but very, very few presenters were doing technology, and there’s a reason for that. Many people have given up on tech in the classrooms IN KOREA because the technology in the classrooms are bought but not maintained. I myself cannot rely on powerpoint, MSWord, HWP, or the Internet connection working in any given classroom on any given day.

    Bad-6–promotion and nonprofit. You are right that we cater to publishers to some degree – over 80 display tables (which almost all attendees speak in favor of or simply ignore), and 35 commercial sessions. You also wrote in the “good” section that the conference was relatively affordable. Uhm… care to connect the dots? Display of teacher-members’ books, where teachers weren’t selling, was FREE.

    Bad-7–forums. Actually, we shifted from 10 minute breaks to 15min this year, to encourage social networking of the face-to-face variety, and rented 25 picnic tables. But the weather got nasty. We don’t schedule open periods because others complain about their time, and with over 170 presentations, we need to squeeze them all in. It’s up to attendees to “choose their own breaks.” We even provided lunch on Saturday, to eat during the presentations, to make time more efficient. Sorry, can’t please everyone. As for an “open mic” or roundtables and such, we talked about them, and decided that they are generally a mess, with very few hogging the spotlight, so we don’t do them. Perhaps we could schedule an open room, and a theme, for various hours of a conference and leave it to those that appear to figure out what they want to do?

    Ugly-1–bring own sound equipt. See the comment above in Bad-4&5. We rent more than 20 computers & beamers, several CD players, some speakers, etc… and we have a team of 12 or more techies running to try to get the right stuff working in the right room at the right time. All volunteers. So if folks want more than standard — and this year, all rooms got computer and beam projector as standard equipment — we need to know about it! (And yes, presenters have to pay for it.)

    Ugly-2–selling CDs. In a previous life I was a lawyer. Blank CDs cost less than $1, so I agree with you.

    Ugly-3–Personal Bank Account. This is Korea. There is no such thing as a “nonprofit corporation” except those created by specific act of Parliament (such as Korean Red Cross). There is no “doing business as” (dba) fictitious names registration. If not a “for-profit corporation” or a very few other types of entities, such as school foundations, every bank account is personal. Check it out.

    Final Comment — some years the KOTESOL conference is more tech-friendly than others. It depends a lot on the volunteers’ skills and interests. And the venue (this was the FIRST year Sookmyung would allow us to use their wireless internet system, and we cannot plug into their system [access codes and well as hard-wiring], and the “Ubiquitous Korea” Korea Telecom wireless internet system doesn’t work well at all at Sookmyung U). We only got wireless access at Sookmyung approved 4 weeks before conference. And we had very, very few proposals to the conference regarding technology (it WAS one of the target areas of the Call for Papers, in fact). So, in one respect, the lack of tech at the conference also represents a lack of interest by teachers in Korea to present their tech activities. We have had more in years past, and we do have access to computer labs and such… it simply costs us 100,000won/hour for a lab and so we don’t pay for it when we don’t need it.

    Hope this info is helpful, none of it is a secret.

    Rob Dickey
    KOTESOL International Conference 2008 Committee Chair

  3. EFL Geek says:

    very, very few presenters were doing technology,

    I call BS on this because I recieved an email response to a Query I made about being charged 20,000 won for technology that I didn’t need in my presentation. I was told that most presenters needed it so all were being charged. I’m still not happy about being ripped off.

  4. mikecorea says:

    I now feel even worse that my proposal “Wikis in English education” was rejected. Perhaps they didn’t know what a wiki was. Perhaps they didn’t know me. Perhaps my proposal was poorly worded.

    I did ask for more info after I was rejected and did not get a response.


  5. P. Diddy says:

    I’m constantly disappointed by KOTESOL. I think it’s a great idea to have this organisation but I don’t think think the people running it are getting it right.

    I wonder what criteria the selection committee uses when choosing presenters. I was thoroughly disappointed with Saturday as I did not see one decent presentation. Thankfully, Sunday was much better as I saw 3 excellent presetations, including one by ddeubel(despite the technical problems).

    My disappointment with Saturday’s presentations were echoed by many people I talked to, most of whom said they won’t be coming next year as a result.

    Myself and others even had to walk out on one ridiculous presentation given by the new president of KOTESOL. It made us wonder why we paid the conference fee.

    And going back to tech issues, recently I’ve presented a couple of times at chapter meetings and both times I experienced technical problems. Is it so hard for KOTESOL to get equipment that works???

    I’m in the same boat as ddeubel as I still want to participate in KOTESOL events because I do think it’s a great to share ideas with other teahers and help each other with professional development. But perhaps we need to change the ‘old guard’ and get some new people running the show.

  6. ddeubel says:

    Thanks for everyone who commented. I think it very fruitful to have this discussion and hopefully it leads to some changes, minor or major. I’d also ask though — why can’t we do this on the KOTESOL site or the Conference site????? Social networking is a major component of education and KOTESOL just doesn’t get it. Further – why weren’t conference evaluations included in the package of materials? I never got an evaluation form — or heard of any evaluation taking place (I left 2pm Sunday so wasn’t at the final lecture but this should NOT be done at the final lecture).


    Thanks for responding at length and I have thought and digested all your comments. I’ve linked to other sites so your response could be read in full.

    I do have some specific responses, so please allow me.

    1. Bad 3 — If you can’t meet the needs of presenters – you should tell presenters such. Not promise and not deliver. Further I would suggest there is money in the Kotesol budget to spend more — just cut less of the high profile stuff and the “catering” to whomever.

    2. Bad 4/5 . Rob, I don’t equate the future with “tech”. However, it is there and it is a significant development. You can’t get away from it given that our youth are Digital Natives (I’m just an immigrant). If teachers aren’t using technology these days — I really think they aren’t thinking about the “future”. It isn’t everything but it is an “a prior”. KOTESOL better realize this. And NO, it isn’t just web 2.0 conferences doing innovative stuff to use technology for professional development. Please tell me how I was able to watch live, Jeremy Harmer at MEXTESOL, a week or so prior to your conference? And read blogs from participants? Even small conferences tape portions so those who can’t make it, can benefit. This is part of Kotesol’s agenda given the nature of the membership (dispersed, many diverse interests).
    I really think again, KOTESOL just doesn’t get it and provide leadership in this vital area (and Korea does have much technological access in its schools – teachers can use this.). To pretend otherwise is to ignore the technological literacy of Korea and Koreans and teach with a glass half empty.
    You suggest many people have given up on technology because their computers aren’t maintained? So why doesn’t KOTESOL help fix that? Offer training, online tutorials (or just links) to help teachers resolve these minor problems? If you look at EFL Classroom 2.0 – with comparatively little work, I put up a whole Prof. Development page for teachers. I’m just one guy…I can’t see why KOTESOL can’t. And also, that’s a major pickle I have with KOTESOL. The executive always says, “Good idea but…no people”. I say B.S. to that. Do you ever ask? I don’t think so. I could have had an army of volunteer podcastors at your conference. I myself would have made a fully functional social networking site for conference attendees for a few dollars (for server fees). It isn’t hard. But KOTESOL just is insular and not expansive,inclusive IMO. That is the problem. But I’m off topic.

    3. Bad 6. Promotion. I will only say that when I asked a lecture hall of 400 Korean teachers, “do you know about the Kotesol conference this weekend? Only 2 raised their hands. Enough said. Kotesol does a horrible job here and part of it is because they don’t harness the power of the internet to any degree….

    Sorry but you are dead wrong about cost to members. As stated, it was 50,000 won / member to display and have a small table. I think the conference should offer more ways for MEMBERS to network and promote. Asking for additional fees is just not the way to do this.

    4. Ugly 1. I and many others disagree with your assertion that not many people were interested in technology. Obviously the conference was not and there was no concern with presenters (other than the headliners, I’m sure they got the royal carpet). Just inexcusable too, the wireless internet when you knew that the venue was in a basement! In my presentation, the internet kept cutting out — sorry to say, but why didn’t one of your tech volunteers note that this is just a no no, wireless in a concrete bunker?

    5. Ugly 3 – I started a running club in Korea and know a little bit about registering a business/organization/charity in Korea. Yes, there is paper work. Yes, you must have a “name” and person liable. But you can show your organization’s name in reference to payment. Further, I paid on paypal. No problem there for Kotesol to arrange their own account, in their own name so payment doesn’t go to a person’s individual account. I’d also ask if KOTESOL has ever been audited by an outside agency? I’ve never heard of this and it should be standard and membership informed. Just curious.

    I guess we can agree to disagree with some fundamental points about technology. I’m betting time will prove me right and I really think KOTESOL is missing lots of opportunities to create a community of learners and truly have a “Korean” membership. But I appreciate all the efforts of KOTESOL volunteers, yourself included. Just hope that fiascos such as what I went through can be limited in the future.


  7. larry says:

    Hi David,
    Where did you go to register your running club? I would like to know. Thanks for the blog. larry sincebaugh in gumi

  8. Art Williams says:

    I appreciate the comments I read here. For what it’s worth, now that I’m fairly certain I’ll be staying in Korea for at least another year, I’ll be joining this organization pretty soon and look forward to helping improve some of these issues.

    Art Williams

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