ELT Hackathon

Hackathons have become part of the professional lexicon in Berlin. The event, which can last anything from one day to a whole weekend and sometimes a whole week, is a place for like minded individuals to get together and create something to solve a problem. Hackathons have burst out of their techie bubble and are taking a number of industries by storm and are even being used to solve social problems in some sectors.

The concept is that a large group of professionals come together normally over a number of days to engage in collaboration. The general consensus is that each participant / group of participants can work together on whatever they want. Some view the importing of a concept or common goal or improvement as a bit of a bastardization, but others say it adds value with clearly-definable success criteria. For the purpose of playing around with the idea, I’m going to postulate that we have a shared focus.

What topics could ELT hackathons focus on?

The first thing that springs to mind is materials development. Other topics could include advocacy movements, teacher development, assessment or test development.

What, do you mean making a whole course book in a day?

Baby-steps. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But what if it could be?

Let’s take a short-course book. Give it 5 chapters and 35 pages. Focused on a predefined topic, just to speculate, let’s say English for bike holidays. What steps would it need to go through in a hackathon?

Briefing ahead of time

What kind of skills will participants bring to the table? It’s important to have depth to your hackathon. Let’s go back to the short-course book idea for a moment. People you might want to get involved would have experience in editing, product development, product management, graphic design, marketing and last but not least authors. For this, it’s vital you have a diverse network and reach out well beyond your personal contacts to find these people. Meetup or eventbritte are two platforms you could use to reach out to people on for this purpose.

Set goals of hackathon

To help define what people expect to get out of the hackathon. Survey participants for their expectations and goals as well as their skills beforehand. Many people will attend because they want to network or learn new skills in addition to solving the problem in question. How will your hackathon be organised to help people best reach their own goals as well?

Have clear rules

Timescale, manifesto or mission statement for the hackathon, software standards (googledocs, word, libreoffice, pages – we all use different tools; what will your standard be?)

Decide these ahead of time and keep everyone on the same page to avoid any frustrated hackers.

Keep powered, keep connected

Power outlets need to be in plentiful supply and wifi needs to be strong and readily available.

Clear goals

For example, “English for Bike Holidays”, a 20-page short-course book to be developed over the course of a weekend in a 12-person team. If there are a number of projects going on in your hackathon, make sure the judges at the end are not external and transparent. Also, will there be a prize for participation? What if the event is sponsored by a publisher and the best product receives a deal?

Silence the rumbling stomach!

Caffiene, fruit, water, junk food, Red Bull, jelly sweets. Participants should remain fuelled and up to the task of creating exceptional value.

The proposal: an ELT Hackathon?

A weekend hackathon to develop a short-course series book that fills a gap in the current ELT publishing market. Sponsored by X publisher. Winners will receive a deal for the publication of their product. What else can participants hope to get out of the hackathon? At the end of the hackathon, each group will pitch their concept and product.

Skills sharing, community building, new contacts, networking, practical experience, creating solutions.

What kind of hackers are we looking for? 

Complete rookies in materials development looking for a big break

Experienced authors looking to share or get involved in an exciting project

Experienced pros with project management, graphic design, product development or marketing experience

Editors with experience in ELT


ELTstat | Why I’m getting excited

I’m getting really excited about the new ELTstat project. The results from the Germany Pay Survey 2014 can be found on this blog, but that’s not all. There’s a new survey up there that’s been streamlined, there’s a contact formula to answer any questions you have about the data set and there’s more information about where the project is going next. Here’s a quick extract from the website and a cheeky video to get your juices flowing…

The reason this blog exists is to disseminate the information collected in the 2014 Germany Pay Survey and ensure all future forays into this data set or any subsequent dataset has a place online, readily available, for anyone to find, any time of the day or night.


Check it out at www.eltstat.wordpress.com

How to get the most out of your DOS

Directors of studies can be a mixed bunch. I’ve had a few; the one who’ll always be there to lend and ear or help out, the one who is useless with admin, the business person who’s guiding mantra is bums on seats, the all-round superhero leader (I bet we all wished we had that one).

Whatever type you’ve got, here are a few ways to make sure you get the best out of them.

1. Follow up on the important stuff

Didn’t get back to you on your email? Never fear. follow up on it, your DOS may thank you for it. With emails flying in to the DOS’s inbox and a million problems to sort out, it’s easy to see how your request could go on the back burner. If it’s important to you, follow up on it.

2. Workshops

Ask about them. Suggest topics, offer to sort out the of organisation. No one in the world would openly say that development doesn’t matter. Can you give workshops? Help out or take a small part of one? Let them know. You might be the solution!

3. Keep emails short and to the point

One topic per email. You don’t want what’s important to get lost in a sea of rambling. Can you make the solution or follow up action clear? Yes? Do it. Saving your DOS time will get you what you want and fast. Rant and ramble with six paragraphs and don’t be surprised if your requests are ignored. Consider your reader.

4. Glorious observations

Ask for them. Welcome them. Have a positive attitude to them. It takes time to organise and time to do (especially if it’s in-company). Be timely with your lesson plan and take it seriously. In the worst cases your professional attitude will reflect well on you. In the best cases it will contribute to a great working relationships.

Not all schools offer observations. You can ask for one. Ask and you shall be rewarded.

5. Come with questions

Popping by to say hi? Come with some questions. New courses? Missing your books? Come and ask. You might just catch your DOS with a few minutes free and then have all your questions answered. Be proactive. Don’t wait until it’s a problem.

6. Ask how things are going

It sounds trivial but it’s so refreshing. Ask about the company, how everything is going. Making small talk will build relations. We teach it, do we do it?

7. Share your thoughts

Feedback is important to me. So important. How the course is going, if the students like a new book. Try to think of a positive and a constructive. You don’t want to get a reputation as always negative after all.

8. Keep your admin in check

Invoices, lists, records. Every time these are late. Chasing up on these things and the delays involved creates more work.

What should I say? You’re probably nodding your head and thinking “that’s what I do”. Then congratulations on your working relationship with your DOS!

How NOT to get freelance Business English work

How to not get freelance Business English work with a language school

Joining a language school might seem like quite a simple process. From a small provider to national or international school or language agency, there are a few things you can do that will make sure you do NOT get the job.

En-masse applications

Let’s get off to a good start. Send a personalized email. Find out the right name and get in touch with the person with the power to make the decision. Mass-produced emails with all the schools’ emails to which you are applying visible say one thing: You’re not worth the five minutes it takes to write an individual email. You don’t want to make that impression.

Location, location, location

Don’t Start your email with “I’m currently living in X far away country and would like work as a teacher in your school, do you have any openings”. Instead, apply in the country/city or make first contact and follow up when you’re here and ready to work. Find out what we might be looking for (websites are great for this) and hone your first line. Something like “I’m sending you my CV for consideration for  freelance Business English training in Berlin”.

Don’t start with your pitch 

Include a long list of jobs and unrelated qualifications and experience. Make it difficult for the person hiring to find out why you are special. This will ensure you don’t get filed away in a dark corner of my inbox.

Instead, take a look at some more interactive CVs on the net. Spend a couple of hours making it interactive or jazz it up with interesting formatting. Highlight your expertise and detail your relevant experience – this is your one-minute sales pitch. Don’t give a timeline. Select, refine and target your points.

I received a CV the other day in a lesson-plan format with lesson aims (in the form of experience and qualifications) on it. After that, I was keenly interested in speaking to the person. Raise interest. Think about content, layout, presentation. Your CV is your pitch.

Don’t sell your qualifications 

CELTA? OK, pass A, B, or just pass? That makes a difference. Pass A candidates prick up my attention. Don’t sell yourself short by not including it.

Don’t provide accurate information on schools

So you’ve worked with Amazon, Siemens, Vodafone. Impressive. Was this through a school? Still impressive. It’s not underselling yourself to say that you worked with a private language school. Actually, I’m in charge of hiring for one and I want to hear that you’ve got experience of working with our type of company

Quote your rate in the first contact

Rule number 1 of freelance negotiation. Try and get the school to quote first. They have a rate. Being pushy with your rate won’t improve your remuneration – it just comes across as demanding. I want to know if I can work with you – if I can, I’m likely to also be flexible on payment.

Under-prepare for the interview

Bad tip: Don’t read our website. Don’t find out that we provide learner-centred and interactive lessons.

When I ask you about how you’d present and provide practice in a specific grammar of vocabulary point, I’m really looking for how you have understood what we stand for. That means that starting with “I’d put some example sentences on the board and explain it” is a no-go zone.

Don’t bookmark blogs

Sidestep all the information out there online about us. Bad idea.

Check your potential employer out on LinkedIn, Xing, WordPress, Twitter.

A quick search online will show you what I’m into as far as teaching goes, what I’ve written and what I’ve done. I’m not saying suck up, but doing your background work on me will show me you’re motivated and info-savvy. Always do your background work on your learners’ companies, and this is also true of your interviewer.

No business acumen 

Respond at 12 at night to emails, don’t sign off your emails or better still make glaring mistakes in your writing. This will not make a good impression.

That’s not you though, is it? In Germany, freelancers are also our clients too. Do you have a signature on your email? Do you respond on time? Communicate in a professional way? If I’m looking for someone who could teach email writing and other facets of business communication, I want to know that you can do this yourself.

Scrap the follow-up

Leave your application for months and never come back to it. Again, bad advice. Actually, your friendly reminder might just bring that stunning application back to my attention at the right time. Better still, time it for late Aug or early Jan and you might just catch me in the middle of a search – I’ll want to interview you right away and I’ll be really grateful your brought it to my attention.

So there you have it, a few simple tips to avoid getting hired. Now you can get back to being great language training professionals. Maybe I’ll be speaking to you some time soon?

How do you analyze needs?

Needs analysis is the foundation for providing effective Business English training and it seems more and more often that I am teaching English for meetings. Every school has its own needs analysis questionnaire including a variety of business skills and personalised questions in addition to a language test which give a sense of the ability and preferences of course participants. The results of this needs analysis goes into the syllabus design and informs trainers on what kinds of skills to include in their training. This process, it is safe to say, has taken place as the scientific cornerstone of much our needs analysis practice.

This takes me back to my secondary-school science classes and needs analysis doesn’t differ that much from a scientific experiment in the sense that trainers gather a batch of information that then forms the basis of a number of assumptions. For example, a group of team leaders in an international E-commerce business will need English for a variety of different meetings. What’s the next step? Go and make a syllabus, find materials and input that expose learners to the language they will need for meetings.

Now looking back on my science classes I remember the next essential part of the process was testing these assumptions. To borrow from the start-up culture here in Berlin, assumptions on user and customer behaviour for a new product or service is are numerous and a start-up is the business equivalent of the science class. You wouldn’t find a successful start-up around that hasn’t thoroughly tested its assumptions before launching its product. I had a meeting with a guy from Microsoft earlier this year who was trying to launch an online news app for teachers that reduced their lesson planning time. His assumption was that teachers would buy into the product. Actually, what I believe his conclusion from his initial meetings was that in fact the learners would be the ones buying into the product – trainers already know which articles they like to use and wouldn’t spend money on a product that did that for them.

Anyway, I digress. A needs analysis in my mind is not successful unless it tests the assumptions it provides a trainer. Just today, I was listening to a meeting participants in a course of mine had made of their work meetings and it turns out that yes, they do need language for meetings. My initial observation from the needs analysis was that they needed language for giving updates. What the recordings have however shed light on is that in these meetings the language that causes problems involves two elements: firstly, language to manage the discourse and presenting problems as solutions with longer conditional style phrases like “if we were to have the training on a fixed date every month, would that chance anything” instead of “the problem is that the date keeps changing”.

The more scientific approach I have taken from this is that needs analysis involves:


Without going deeper into the problem, there is the risk that despite an initial needs analysis, the assumptions made may well be far flung from the linguistic needs of participants and the training not as effective at helping them perform better in their jobs.