Phil Wade Interviews: Rob Howard
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center, a live online course for C1/C2 level students. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and writer for ESL/EFL. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom.
He is the founder of EFLtalks utilizing social media to build a worldwide PLN+ for new and future teachers through free 10-minute videos by education experts and building The Teachers’ Video Glossary to build an updateable online reference guide to pedagogical terminology.
His latest venture is the newly formed Business Language Training Institute where he and 3 other education training professionals come together to provide low-cost Business English teacher training for English teachers new to the Business English market.
What is your end goal for EFLtalks?
From the start, I had two goals. First, I hoped to create a free, growing and sustainable database to help not only new and future teachers from less-advantaged countries access CPD (continuing professional development). From my time living and working in Brazil, I know there are many people who are unable to go to conferences, take courses or study for expensive qualifications.
Second, I also wanted an alternative for independent writers, publishers etc. to get their names out there to people that might never get the opportunity to see our work. Case in point, your wonderful PARSNIPS Series which I have been lucky enough to contribute to. How can we afford to advertise this in Tunisia or Morocco where free materials could be used when we don’t charge for it?
I hope to keep growing the viewership and contributions from our EFLtalkers, continue giving away prizes to worldwide educators and we hope to have an eBook Companion Guide out soon for US$1 to keep EFLtalks self-sustainable.
It seems that EFLtalks burst onto the scene and got big very quickly. How do you explain that?
They say that behind every good practitioner is a good teacher. I’ve got hundreds of wonderful, caring, unselfish professionals behind me. EFLtalks is nothing without our EFLtalkers, some of the greatest people I have had the honor of meeting and working with. EFLtalks owes its success and growth to our hard work, great contributions and a huge investment of time promoting it.
I also feel it was the right idea at the right time. Short, 10-minute talks as opposed to the standard 1-hour lectures that no one really has time for anymore. I am happy to see the trend has caught on as many other organizations have shortened their formats also. I feel the simplicity of the concept, to watch what you need when you need it, was far overdue. We take a lot for granted that we all have access to CPD over the internet these days, but putting it all together in one place is proving to be part of our success. Being adaptive helps too.
Your new venture is short videos about TEFL language and terms, some claim there are too many acronyms nowadays but what is your view?
Yes. We are now building THE TEACHERS’ VIDEO GLOSSARY covering the basic pedagogical terminology we throw about in conferences as I have found that the terms are not as universal or well-known as we would think they are.
There is a myriad of acronyms these days. EFL, ESL, ELT, ELF, ELL, EAP, ESP, EIEIO. We like acronyms in the business, they add mystery and sound official. Too often we just use them to rehash/rename/modernize ideas in the industry so it can become confusing for many. To me, Escargots à la Bourguignonne is still Snails in Garlic and Herbs. Call it what you want, just serve ‘em hot please.
You and EFLtalks were nominated for an ELTon, what is your perspective on ELT awards?
I think we deserve to be recognized for the hard work, the innovation, the dedication we put into our work. It’s a shame we can’t all win. I think it has helped EFLtalks gain credibility and I am thankful to the British Council for acknowledging it. I was grouped with some great people with great ideas and I wish we all could have won. For me, it has helped to drive me to meet the challenge of innovating more, working harder and moving upwards. As we are all volunteers here at EFLtalks, it would be nice to win an award to recognize everyone’s dedication to the project, and to future educators.
Videos and teaching with videos has been around for some time but maybe not for TT. How effective can they be for your average TEFLer?
Having been in Brazil for 13 years, seeing the economic challenges that teachers face which force many to work 3 jobs to get by and leaving little time for CPD, convinces me that this is a great start. Many of my colleagues would love the opportunity to study more and to advance their careers but there isn’t enough time or money to do so. I’m sure this is a worldwide problem. We’ve had over half a million views since we started and I am confident that in some small way we have helped teachers learn, improve, think, reflect and act on the ideas our EFLtalkers have presented. The feedback I get is wonderful. Therefore, we will keep at it.
You are a man of many talents as you have also ventured into writing. You penned a very practical guidebook for the TOEFL that seems to cover some secrets to getting a good score. Would you mind sharing one?
Yes. Buy my eBook. Realize that the test is not really an English test but a logistical test on critically thinking quickly. The speaking test, which I cover, does not really test your English, per se, as most books and teachers wrongly profess, it tests your ability to think, process and organize quickly. So test takers have been focusing on the wrong skills. Buy the book.
Another string to your bow is that you teach online a lot, so could you tell us honestly how practical it is to get clients and deliver classes?
If you have been around for a while and have done a good job, students will always come to you. I am restarting a student now from 7 years ago doing English for Special Purposes (ESP) for a job in Qatar. Having helped 1000’s of students in the past realize their dream of speaking, writing, communicating, studying abroad at Harvard, MIT, NYU, Columbia, Stanford, LSE, etc. certainly gets the word around and brings better quality students to us all the time. Having made a 100% transition to online teaching has afforded my teachers, and myself, incredible flexibility in global mobility for both student and teacher. Delivery is not a problem, in fact, I feel that being online is an asset as students are more focused on class than in traditional large classrooms.
Getting clients is always a challenge in any business, online is no different. The biggest challenge is for the student in finding a proper course delivered by proper professionals, but that’s a whole new article.
My last questions is if you could have 1 person do an EFLtalk, who would it be and what would the topic be?
Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy. He is a major inspiration behind me starting EFLtalks.
Here is his mission which I have adopted:
“Our mission is to provide a free, worldclass education for anyone, anywhere.”
The topic would be how to start from the heart with an idea that will help the world and make it succeed. I could use the pointers. I would also like to know how to get Bill Gates and Google to each give me US$1,000,000 to invest in EFLtalks so we can continue to build our legacy of teachers teaching teachers.