June 5 – Far from everything but peace and quiet
My colleague who had attended last edition at l’Auberge du Lac-à-l’Eau-Claire had warned me that it was fairly removed from the big cities. Google Maps suggested that it would take under 3 hours to get there from Quebec City, which made the Abitibian in me think that it could not be that deep in the woods.
I reconsidered that thought when I was told to turn onto a street named Rang 2, after barely spending 1 hour on the highway. The last 2 hours or so of my drive were on serpentine roads that crossed a multitude of picturesque villages, each smaller than the last.
As I had chosen not to eat at l’Auberge on Sunday night, I stopped 15 minutes away, in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, at a microbrewery on the side of the road that caught my attention. The place, Microbrasserie Nouvelle-France, ended up being quite nice. After overcoming the surprise of finding a Steampunk-themed pub in such a small town, I enjoyed an excellent and generous poutine with a delicious locally-brewed sour beer. I know this is not exactly related to RASCALS but, hey, restaurants and pubs have had it as hard as any teacher for the last couple of years and they deserve the shout-out.
As I slowly crossed the last few kilometers to l’Auberge, I took in the beauty of the landscape. A dense mixed forest bordered the small road and the flora boasted this pristine purity that is only possible far from the city. When I arrived at the accommodation, I was impressed by the beauty of the large manor-like buildings that reminded me of Victorian architecture. After checking in, I headed to my room and read on my private balcony overlooking the Lac-à-l’Eau-Claire before going to sleep, lulled by the sound of the breeze and the wildlife.
June 6 – Amazing location, even more amazing people
The next morning, I headed for breakfast in the dining hall, too conscious of my sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb-ness as the only representative from Cégep Limoilou and Eductive. Luckily, the gang from Cégep the Thetford quickly took in the orphaned runt that I was and immediately made me feel at home. This experience ended up being representative of the conference as I quickly realized how friendly everyone attending was and how easy it was to start chatting with basically anyone. By the end of the 1st day, this shy millennial who shakes at the thought of having to order food by phone felt comfortable enough to introduce himself to anyone.
The presentations and workshops took place in a congress center and gym near the main pavilion of l’Auberge. All the conference rooms were spacious and comfortable, with massive windows that offered plenty natural light and the occasional distraction of a marmot running around.
The 1st presentation I attended on Monday was “Life Give You Lemons? Publish Your Own Textbook” by Meg Gillespie from Cégep Gérald-Godin. Her energy and enthusiasm was infectious and I learned where to find free content that can be included in textbooks (The Conversation for articles, Pexels for pictures). I also heard about Microsoft Publisher, which might be worth looking into if your college already has an Office 365 subscription, and how affordable it was to use Amazon for print-on-demand projects, as long as you game the system a little.
After lunch, it was time for the keynote session led by Lorne Elliott. Now, at the risk of outing myself as a terrible Canadian, I knew nothing about the man beforehand, despite his prolific career. I ended up discovering a friendly old man with a biting sense of humor and a larger-than-life personality. His frantic hour of silly songs and anecdotes was an absolute delight.
My 2nd presentation of the day was “Learning How to Use 360° Technology for Developing Communicative Competence” by Stéphanie Lapointe from Cégep de Jonquière, where she discussed her experience with 360° technology in the context of a language class. The experience was interactive, with 360° headsets available and a Wooclap for attendees to answer questions throughout the presentation. The project itself was extremely interesting and it was invigorating to witness the other teachers’ enthusiasm and curiosity for the headsets.
The last talk I attended on Monday was “Fantasy Role-Playing in Class” by Félix Maranda Castonguay from Cégep de Lévis, which explored his attempts at using fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), such as Dungeons and Dragons, in the classroom. He began his talk with a thorough introduction to RPGs before running the attendees through a typical game session. The highlight of the presentation was certainly the props that Félix had prepared for his students. Using art graciously provided by Studio Agate, his project ended up including a detailed map, a wide variety of random-encounter cards, as well as a 15-pages scenario. Many attendees, myself included, were wowed by the effort that went into the material and how professional everything looked.
The day ended with a cocktail, a banquet with live music, s’mores around a fire, and an improvised dance floor at the bar. I was floored to see how energetic people almost twice my age still were, after a full day of conference, dancing like nobody’s watching until the wee hours of the night. Some might say it was the wine, but I prefer to think that teaching ESL just might be the fabled Fountain of Youth.
June 7 – Who needs coffee when you’ve got contagious energy
The 2nd day of the conference began around 9:00 am with much fewer attendees looking hungover than I’d expected.
My day began with “The Writing Room: Practice Writing to Teach Writing” by Cégep de Chicoutimi’s Elise Mitchell and Cégep de Jonquière’s Stéphanie Lapointe, a presentation about an intercollegiate writing group the 2 had started with teachers from nearby campuses. The group aimed to create a community of practice and re-frame what it means to write in order to make it as low-stake as possible. Elise Mitchell having become a prolific writer after discovering fanfiction, she wants people to understand that not all writing has to be literature, and that accepting that is the 1st step to being able to enjoy the act of writing. While their project was mainly for teachers, it is easy to see the benefits of such a group trickle down to the participating teachers’ students: it is much easier to convince your students that writing is fun when you truly believe it.
Then came a half-hour presentation by April Passi from Cégep du Vieux Montréal, “Koloro: Publishing Student Writing”, where she presented her project of publishing her students’ writing in a tangible, paper literary review. She began by detailing the project and the considerable impact on motivation the prospect of publishing had for many of her students (although I had trouble imagining her students struggling with motivation, so contagious her smile and passion were). After a brief workshop, we exchanged conclusions on the possible challenges and benefits of undertaking a similar endeavour at our own college and were reminded of the importance of validating our students’ voice and experience, and of allowing them to share their story with the world.
The last presentation I chose to attend was Helen Kavouris and Martin Roy’s presentation “Course Plans can be Fun!” where they detailed how their department went about revising their course plans. While the topic might sound a bit dry on paper, the pair’s obvious pleasure in recounting their experience and the unexpected discoveries they made as they reviewed their department’s course plans made their presentation extraordinarily engaging. It was an important reminder to be careful when blindly copy-pasting material from previous years, as they had discovered that many teachers’ mediagraphy included books that were out of print or websites that had not been updated in years. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from the presentation was to remember the target audience of the course plan and not to be afraid to simplify the language and tables, and to include pictures or colours in order to better communicate the information to our 18-year-old students.