Learner Development SIG forums: Networking and learning together

Andy Barfield, Darren Elliot, Bill Mboutsiadis, Rob Moreau and Jim Ronald, Learner Development website: <ld-sig.org>


Many JALT Special Interest Groups (SIGs) hold a forum at the JALT national conference each year, with each forum serving both as a showcase for the SIG and as an affirmation to SIG members of what each SIGis about. A forum acts as a current demonstration of SIG members’ special interests and re-establishes the SIG’s identity; indirectly, it also reflects how the SIG appeals to and involves SIG members and would-be members. For the Learner Development (LD) SIG andother active groups, forums play a very important and central part of the SIG’s activities, and not only at the national conference. This year, for example, our SIG is organising a total of four forums:at the Nakasendo Conference in Urawa, at the Pan-SIG Conference in Hiroshima, at JALTCALL in Nishinomiya (all in June), and at JALT2012in Hamamatsu in October.

Part of a recent call for forum contributions illustrates how LD SIG forums have typically worked over the past decade: “The forum will feature simultaneousdisplays/presentation corners (poster, laptop, tablet, kami-shibai, and so on) with plenty of opportunities for audienceinteraction, discussion, and plenary round-up.” At this stage, for 2012, we are expecting over 30 people to present at the four forums,if present is the right word, that is. The goal of each forum is to be a forum – a space for interactions between presenters and participants. After all, the forum is about learning, we are all teacher-learners, and we are looking forward to interacting with many people at these forums.

The LD SIG forum at the 2012 Nakasendo Conference in Urawa, Saitama, offered an interesting space for SIG members to share a variety of ideas on teacher and learner development. Since December 2011, members of the LD SIG in the greater Tokyo area have been meeting on a monthly basis, discussing ideas, and beginning to do small-scale research projects in the following learner development areas: collaborative learning, language learning strategies, self-assessment, and vocabulary development. At Nakasendo, participants from the Tokyo get-togethers set up display stations for people to learn more about what the groups were working on, ask questions, and engage in dialogue on each topic. Forum participants also shared their thoughts in a plenary group discussion.

The theme for the LD SIG forum at the Pan-SIG Conference in Hiroshima in June,Language, literacies, learners: Development beyond the classroom,attracted a large number of contributors with most focusing on learning beyond the classroom. Some presenters opted to present on finding or creating opportunities for meaningful communication (for example, with tourists from abroad, or with people who use English at work), while others decidedto create a forum-within-a-forum and focus on English camps. One presenter looked at the use of digital comics as a medium for reflection on language learning histories, with another focusing on critical media literacy development for life beyond the classroom. Again,the forum was planned to be highly interactive for participants.

Looking forward to 2013 when the LD SIG celebrates its 20th anniversary, we’ve decided this year to reflect on what learner development means to different members and what different interests our members want to explore under the umbrella theme of learner development. Thus, the focus of this year’s forum at the national JALT conference is Defining learner development: Different interests, where the aim is to involve as many presentations as possible in exploring how learner development can be theorized from different practices. This will, we hope, allow us to consider overlapping and conflicting definitions and ideologies of learner development.Ideas from this exploration can then be brought into sharper relief at the SIG’s 20th anniversary retreat/conference in 2013.

In 2012, part of what being in the Learner Development SIG means is having many opportunities to be actively involved in local SIG get-togethers, small-scale research projects, different publication projects, and collaborative forums. Through such active involvement, we can network, learn together,and grow. If you’re interested, please come along to a Learner Development SIG forum this year. We’d also be delighted to see you at the SIG’s 20th anniversary retreat/conference in 2013. You will always be welcome.

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