AILA conference –International Association of Applied Linguistics

15-20 August 2021 in Groningen, the Netherlands

Online conferences and human interaction

I had a great opportunity to participate in the 19th World Congress of Applied Linguistics, which took place from 15-20 August 2021. This congress focused on the Dynamics of Language, Communication and Culture in a Changing World and is one of the consecutive events organized by the International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA).

As with many conferences, one of the main aims of the AILA congress was to bring professionals together for productive and motivating dialogue and information sharing. First, one would wonder how on earth it is possible to fully concentrate and participate in a 6-day online conference, having to spend many hours in front of a screen. These were my thoughts at first. However, when I saw the program of the conference for each day, I realized it wasn’t going to be very difficult. The conference had key speech addresses every day; however, many thematic simultaneous workshops were comprised of shorter presentations and an opportunity for interaction. This made the physical distance and the screen time tolerable and the whole conference more engaging. For obvious reasons, the 6-day conference was organized online this year.

While talking about engagement, I must mention that one of the most amazing discoveries for me was the AILA Gathertown, a great poof of the endless opportunities of the virtual world. Thus, Gathertown was a virtual ‘town’ where all the conference participants could socialize, cook together, have body-mind-recharge activities, quiz nights, bike tours in Groningen, live literary reading, senior-junior mentor meetings, and other socializing activities in various small and large spaces. This was just amazing! The conference was using the Dryfta platform, which worked out just fine.

A glimpse of AILA Gathertown. Snapshot.
A glimpse of AILA Gathertown

One other great thing about the conference is the fact that I can access all the workshops for 6 months after the conference. Thus, I am currently listening to presentations on topics I am very much interested in, which I simply could not attend during the conference.

As I said, the interaction during the workshops was greatly encouraged and well organized. Many presentations were recorded beforehand and were available in Dryfta, thus some of the participants let us just watch the recording, and after that, we had discussions with the presenter for more clarifications and insights.

I mainly participated in workshops on CLIL (Language and Content Integrated Teaching and Learning) pedagogy and greater fairness, emphasizing equity and inclusion for all. In addition, I attended workshops on English medium education, teaching, student and teacher experiences. I particularly liked the workshop called ‘Spaces of otherwise’? South-North dialogues on languaging, race, (im)mobilities. This particular workshop with its 9 presentations and follow-up discussions opened my eyes to the fact that language, indeed, is an amazing phenomenon that can either bring us all together for good reasons or provoke misunderstanding and hatred. However, “those ‘spaces of otherwise’ are spaces of curiosity and risks potentiality and exhaustion which open possibilities for more ethical becoming and the emergence of new forms of social life” as mentioned on the conference pages.

Due to the pandemic, many conferences had to be organized in an online mode during the past year, thus, providing ‘spaces of otherwise’, where new forms of social and professional interactions emerged and keep emerging.

Hasmik Minasyan
University Instructor, Tampere University, Language Centre