Co-authors of our Mobile English series, Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney reveal all about their careers in English language teaching and writing. One of them has dabbled with stand-up comedy and the other used to be a technophobe – can you guess which?
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Nicky: I’m the Director of Pedagogy of The Consultants-E, which Gavin and I set up in 2003. We help teachers get comfortable with using technology in their teaching, both face-to-face and online. Although I love my work (travelling to conferences and teacher training take up quite a large percentage of my time), I do have other interests. I hike regularly in the mountains, I read, I travel, I do yoga (crucial when you spend as much time as I do in front of a computer!) . And, perhaps most importantly, I open tins of food for my two cats. Well, the cats certainly seem to think that’s my main job.
Gavin: I’m a teacher, teacher trainer and teacher resource book writer. Together with Nicky I run The Consultants-E, an online teacher training and development consultancy, and we specialise in online training courses connected with the integration of new technologies in teaching and training. Apart from all that I also travel a fair bit to conferences and other events, and to do face-to-face teacher training courses. In my spare time I like many of the usual things: travel, films, music, cooking and eating food, red wine, playing the ukulele…
In five words, how would you describe yourself?
Nicky: I’m a technophobe turned technophile. That’s five words if you count ’I’m’ as one word :-)
Gavin: Well, assuming you’re not going to ask anyone else, then I’d say I’m pretty hard-working, obsessed with technology gadgets and trends and engaged in the work I do. Work aside I think I’m fairly creative. I’m quiet and quite private - though you probably wouldn’t say that if you met me at a conference!
How did you start your writing career?
Gavin: I started with a few conference appearances, articles and face-to-face training courses. When I published my first book with CUP in 2000 (The Internet & The Language Classroom) it was a natural next stage of professional development, and I was able to combine all my experience into that first book. Since then I’ve carried on collecting, writing articles and journal chapters and – when there’s been a real shift in technologies – publishing books. I have to say, though, that whilst some people find it all very quick and easy (Nicky springs to mind here!), I still find the whole process challenging and exhausting.
Nicky: Like Gavin, I started by writing articles, the first while I was doing my MA in the late 1990s. At the same time, I started getting involved with teaching with technology. As a ’non-tech’ teacher myself, it was clear to me that there was a huge skills and knowledge gap in the profession, so Gavin and I wrote our first book together on integrating technology into the English language classroom, How to Teach English with Technology (Pearson Longman 2007). I couldn’t seem to stop after that. I’m currently working on my sixth methodology book!
Where’s the most interesting place you’ve taught?
Nicky: Now that’s a tricky question. I’ve spoken at conferences and trained teachers all over the world, but I’ve only taught EFL in Spain and in the UK. I think it’s the people that make a place. For language teaching, the multilingual groups of EFL students I was lucky enough to teach during my stints in the UK have been some of the most interesting and motivated people I’ve ever taught.
Gavin: In my training career I’ve been lucky enough to visit over fifty countries and each of them has been interesting in its own way. If I was pushed to choose places, I’d choose Russia (for the many times I’ve been there, and the variety of places I’ve visited), any of a number of countries in Latin America (for the nature, the food and music) and a variety of places in south-east Asia, primarily for the food! I’m always getting in trouble when I return from work trips because, when asked ’How was it?’ my initial reaction is always ’Lovely people, great food’.
What are you most proud of in your teaching and writing career?
Nicky: In teaching and training, nothing gives me more pride than seeing a previously reluctant or non tech-savvy teacher start to use technology well in his or her teaching. I suppose it mirrors my own development from technophobe to technophile, so I know it can happen. And when it does, and technology is integrated into classroom practice in a meaningful and pedagogically sound manner, it can really motivate teachers (and of course students).
In terms of my writing career, I’m proud of all of our books, but especially of my e-book Webinars: A Cookbook for Educators, which I published in 2012 with The Round (www.the-round.com). Webinars is a topic I’m interested in, but as a self-publishing venture it was a great experience to be involved in all parts of the publishing process, from writing and then formatting the ebook to helping promote and sell it. It’s given me a real sense of ownership of this book.
Gavin: The book that came out February 2013, Digital Literacies, with Nicky Hockly and Mark Pegrum (Pearson), is probably the one. It’s a great combination of theory and practice and it combines both digital literacies and language activities into a variety of lesson plans that we felt really addressed the place of technologies in education. It was a lot of fun to write (one writer in the UK, one in Spain and one in Australia) and I hope the end product pleases its reader as much as it pleased us to write it.
What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?
Gavin: Too many to mention, I suspect – I’d rather talk about other people’s! When I was first working in Spain we used to have to get work permits, which were issued in a very arbitrary manner. There were regular inspections of language schools, and when the word went around town that they were paying a visit we were supposed to disappear for a little while. On one inspection, I got caught short of time and ended up sitting down with the other students, much to their surprise. When the inspectors came in they found a class with no teacher, full of students staring at one of their own. I’m sure they must have known, but I got away with it.
Nicky: There have been many of those. I’m quite clumsy, and tend to fall over things. In fact I seem to have created a new law of physics: the bigger the conference audience, the more likely I am to trip over the laptop cables. The most spectacular fall to date involved tripping (as usual) over the laptop cables in front of a class of teachers, and falling against a hollow metal cabinet which made a noise like thunder. This brought students and teachers running from the adjacent classrooms to find me sprawled on the floor …
What’s your favourite joke?
Gavin: I was a stand-up comedian when I left university - for about two years, including performances at some of the great comedy clubs in London and a couple of visits to the Edinburgh Festival. Sadly I have a terrible memory for jokes, and am always stumped when asked this question. The favourite one from this week comes from the great Canadian king of the one-liner, Stewart Francis, and it goes like this: ’Did I already do my déjà vu joke?’.
Nicky: I am a fan of silly or absurd jokes. Here’s one:
Q: How do you get four elephants into a Mini (small car)?
A: Two in the front, two in the back, trunks in the boot.
This can be followed up with:
Q: How do you get a giraffe into a Mini?
A: You first take out the elephants.
What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?
Gavin: I think you have to have a passion for something – in my case, it’s technology. If you have a passion for something, you become quite expert in it and you really feel a desire to share that expertise with someone else. My progression is, I think, a fairly common one: articles, conference talks, perhaps a book chapter or two, then a book. Writing for sites like onestopenglish is a great way into writing.
Nicky: I agree with Gavin that you need to feel a passion for something – and you need to have something novel or interesting to say about it. You also need to be able to write engagingly and well. Writing is actually hard work and I find it useful to keep a professional blog (www.emoderationskills.com), which helps me with my writing fluency. It also helps me develop or crystallize my ideas, and these can then feed into my articles and books. And they say that good writers read widely, and are exposed to a lot of ’good’ writing. So my advice is to always read widely and to start writing – a blog is an excellent way to share your ideas with a wider audience and to show that you have something to say. If you then decide to write articles or pitch for a book, you already have a body of work you can refer commissioning editors to.