TESOL 2016 and 2017: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Thanks to SurveyMonkey and other free programs and packages, anyone with Internet access can now create a survey—but not necessarily a good one!—in a matter of minutes. That can lead to a condition that I have playfully described in my work as “hyper-questionnaire-emia,” in which respondents feel mentally and physically overloaded with requests to complete questionnaires! This negative response is not new, and was described 20 years ago, by Goyder, in his 1996 paper, “Survey on Surveys: Limitations and Potentialities”: “the more times a person reports requests for survey cooperation, the more unfavorable is his or her attitude toward the method” (p. 27). However, 20 years ago the Internet was in its infancy, so the prevalence of the “hyper-questionnaire-emia” condition has grown considerably in the intervening two decades.

We do, then, need to avoid overusing and misusing surveys, but when they are used correctly and carefully, surveys can tell us a lot. A good example of this is the survey feedback we received from more than 2,000 attendees at the TESOL 2016 annual convention, which represents an unusually high response of around 30%. So, this TESOL Blog is partly to say thank you to all of the convention attendees who gave us their feedback, which is essential in helping the association develop and grow our annual convention. We also take seriously the moral and ethical responsibility to “give back” to survey respondents, in this case, to the convention participants who patiently and thoughtfully completed the TESOL 2016 attendee survey, by sharing the results of the survey with you.

So, we have spent the last 3 months, since the end of TESOL 2016, poring over the tens of thousands of data-points created by 2,030 attendees responding to 20 survey questions. At the end of all that, we now have a good sense of what went well and what we can work on improving for TESOL 2017. For example, one survey question asked the attendees to rate various aspects or components of the convention. Most of the main components were rated as “Excellent” or “Very Good” by 75% or more of the respondents. But some areas for improvement were also identified by between 7.5% and 9.3% of respondents (140 and 170 attendees, respectively), including the following:

  • Online program/itinerary planner
  • Convention website
  • Session room management

We also learned a lot about who came to TESOL 2016, why they came, and what they did while they were there. In relation to the self-identified categories of employment, the four largest groups were:

  • Higher Education/Community College Faculty: 34% (690)
  • Primary/Secondary Teacher: 20% (403)
  • Adult Educator: 12% (246)
  • Higher Education/Community College Administrator: 12% (243)

These four categories made up 78% of responses of the 14 categories of employment in the survey. More than 37% (760) respondents were first-time attendees, and the second-largest group was respondents who had attended two to five conventions (34.6%, 700). In terms of reasons for coming to TESOL 2016, we were interested to see that more than 19% (360) of respondents were there to do a poster session.

A great deal of thought, time, and energy goes into finding the best keynote and plenary speakers for the annual convention, so there is a specific question on the survey about those presentations. The Opening Keynote, by Aziz Abu Sarah, was the most highly-rated of the four featured session, which was an important finding as Aziz’s talk was well outside the usual parameters of the fields of TESOL, English language education, and applied linguistics. This is not the first time we have gone outside of our “comfort zone” like this, and it is a gamble that has not always turned out well. So, we were thrilled to see how much the TESOL 2016 convention attendees appreciated hearing about language teaching and learning set in the broader, global context, beyond the usual confines of ELT.

TESOL 2016 attendees were also asked to rate the convention overall, with high ratings given for the convention being:

  • “a worthwhile experience” (87.4%);
  • “intellectually stimulating” (82.1%); and
  • “providing good networking opportunities” (74.6%).

The last question on the survey asked attendees: “Based on your experience in Baltimore at TESOL 2016, how likely is it that you will attend a TESOL convention in the future?” The responses to this question were also encouraging, with 41.7% responding that they were “Very Likely,” and 36.5% that they were “Certain” that they will attend a TESOL convention in the future.

There are, of course, other points that arose from so many responses, so this is just a snapshot of some of the highlights.

We are very much looking forward to seeing you in Seattle, next March, for TESOL 2017. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know if you have any additional feedback on your experiences at TESOL 2016 that you’d like to share with us by leaving a comment below. And thanks very much again to the 2,030 attendees who completed the TESOL 2016 convention survey.

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
From 2015–2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has coauthored and coedited around 200 publications and worked with more than 50,000 language educators in more than 100 countries. His current research is focused on the New Peace Linguistics. He is an online professor in the Graduate School of Education at Anaheim University, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent language education consultant for organizations worldwide.
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