REALIZE! Forum was the first national EAL/ESL online conference. First offered in 2014, English Online developed and spearheaded the event for the EAL/ESL community as well as settlement and integration sector to discuss current trends, issues, and best practices to improve and modernize settlement language training.
More than 800 registrants all over Canada registered for the conference in 2014. On its second run, Realize expanded to include not only expert educators and curriculum developers but newcomer integration experts as well. Offered were more than 30 lectures on topics ranging from the effective use of online tools to issues on intercultural communication and ethnocentrism in English language instruction.
Despite its success, English Online was not able to offer the conference in succeeding years due to issues with funding. However, the Realize Forum website was launched in 2016 to continually offer professional development resources for ESL and settlement practitioners. It contains recordings of the past Realize forums, webinars on promising teaching practices and educational technology (Teaching with Technology) and other resources.
Realize became the alternative PD of choice because of its innovative design and cost-effective nature. Since it is conducted fully online, it hurdled the usual barriers to professional development, mainly: distance, cost, and time. The conference was free and did not require participants to travel. It was also flexible as it allowed participants to choose from a breadth of topics on schedules that were most convenient for them. Most importantly, the use of technology to participate in the forum augmented by social media tools to chat, ask questions, and react, provided a unique, hands-on opportunity for all stakeholders (participants, presenters, and moderators) to learn new media and conference tools.
On its first run, the Realize Conference achieved the following goals (based on survey results):
- 89% of respondents felt that the forum reduced a sense of geographical and professional isolation faced by teachers in remote areas
- 83% said that it provided great possibilities for sharing and dissemination of best practices across Canada
- 74% expressed that it offered great learning opportunities for novice EAL/ESL teachers
- 61% said that the forum helped participants better understand the use of technology and Web 2.0 Tools for education
In terms of experience and satisfaction, the survey showed that 95% were very satisfied with REALIZE Team support and communication, 70% learned new skills by participating, 66% felt strongly that the online platform for presentation of their subject was effective and 75% were very satisfied with training resources.
The 2015 survey mirrored the 2014 survey results:
- 87% of the participants said that the forum reduced a sense of geographical and professional isolation of teachers in remote areas
- 85% answered that the forum provided great possibilities for the sharing and dissemination of best practices across the country
- 88% agreed that the forum demonstrated a sustainable professional development model
- 64% said that it helped them better understand the use of technology and web 2.0 tools for education
100% of the 45 presenters said that it fulfilled their expectations in academic/professional terms, 85% said that presenting improved their skills with online conferencing tools, 90% expressed that the team gave them confidence to present online, and 100% answered that it fulfilled their expectations in academic/professional terms and they would recommend the forum to others.