International Dyslexia Association Annual 2019 Conference

I have had the good opportunity to attend and present at conferences and I enjoy each one because of the promising opportunities to network with scholars, to be updated on the new and upcoming research focus in the education and EduTech fields, as well as to learn what could be adopted or adapted to the work we do in DAS. This time, I had the opportunity to attend and do a poster presentation at the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Conference 2019 in Oregon, Portland from the 4th to 11th November 2019 with my Divisional Director Ms Geetha Shantha Ram.

Through observing and reflecting, one of the main key takeaways is the management of a conference. First, the organisers of the IDA Conference had made available an app for the event. I have noticed a similar environmentally friendly move from the annual EduTech Asia Conference held in Singapore. The benefits of having a mobile app version of the conference schedule are that updates are instant – as and when the administrators update the session and push out the update, it shows up in the app, giving the conference attendees access to the most updated information with ease.

The mobile app for the IDA 2019 Conference came with a venue map, which was very helpful especially since the Conference Centre was quite large and the rooms were quite spaced out from one another. Attendees who came to the Conference Centre for the first time could navigate easily with the help of the app. The app also had the schedule of all the sessions but what I liked was the Add-To-My-Schedule function, which allowed participants to add their chosen sessions into their personal schedule. So, at any point of time, should I need to know where my next session is at, I just need to go to My Schedule instead of ploughing through the listings of a whole lot of sessions happening across all the rooms. With the infiltration of technology in our daily lives, most app designers are weaving in personalization into their designs. Tapping on the favourite icon and the share button are features that have become universal and available on almost every web or app platform!

Another notable feature of the IDA 2019 Conference app was the direct sharing option to social media, such as Twitter. Participants could post questions, participate in discussions, and share their comments easily which shows up in everyone’s Activity Feed in the app and the icing on the cake was most presenters having their twitter handle made known or available in their presentations and in the app. A twitter handle is basically a username followed by the ‘@’ symbol. A twitter handle using the same username as a webpage or e-portfolio immediately allows participants to follow the presenter (thus connecting) and be kept informed of updates, news and events that the presenter shares even after the conference. This makes communication a lot easier as one can quickly reach out to the presenter to ask questions, clarify or even follow up with the presentation and also see a suggested list of fellow participants and presenters. If the conference itself has a twitter handle (such as @DyslexiaIDA), following the conference will keep the participants of announcements and future events.

Participants of the IDA Conference could also connect with each other using the app’s Attendee Directory function – how cool is that? This makes networking all the easier as participants are able to browse and view the profiles of other attendees. Each participant is able to control the information made available to others by editing their profile in the app itself.

My final point on the app is that there was a repository for all session handouts and slides to be easily downloaded by the participants. While many presenters claimed that they had submitted their session handouts and slides to the conference organisers way before their presentation, some slides were still not available on the app. While this was a major setback, it still shows the conveniences and affordance of the digital platform versus printed hardcopies of handouts and slides. This also tells on the importance and timeliness in updating the changes and materials on the app.

If the DAS were to consider such app development for our events, it is my personal opinion that much care should be taken to ensure that the information on the app is most updated and that the materials that were supposed to be made available are made available before the sessions started. Also, the overall user experience is pleasant without lags. Many participants in the IDA 2019 Conference were frustrated that the app lagged especially when many attendees were accessing it between sessions. So, some were beginning to not refer to the app and stick to the printed schedules instead. While technology can make avail many conveniences, its powers will be limited if the proper resources are not assigned to maintain and update it in a timely manner.

As for the conference itself, there were over 60 booths set up and there was also a book-signing happening in the middle of it all. The poster presentations were also strategically placed in the centre of the exhibition area so the attendees could engage with many activities in one location. There was also a scheduled technology showcase during the lunch hour, which alternated with pre-recorded video demonstrations. Many participants grabbed their lunch and sat at the technology showcase area so that they can watch the demonstrations and videos as they had their lunch. It seemed to be a very productive lunch hour for many!

Our poster presentation was well attended too, as many participants stopped by and spent time with us to discuss either specific EdTech policy and implementation efforts or to share how easy or difficult it is in different parts of the world to even access proper network connection! There were a good amount of questions and discussions on the role of educational technologies in structured literacy instructional activities in the Main Literacy Programme (MLP) classroom. It was a great feeling to be able to share with others how our MLP Educational Therapists (EdTs) conduct structured literacy interventions with the integration of EdTech. I also got to understand from others how they perceived the difficulties of professional development for teachers, as teachers who learnt mainly through rote-learning or using the traditional paper and pen having a hard time making the switch when they are now teaching learners of the 21st century – where digital readiness and going digital is one of the hot topics in the education field. The presentations came from 3 main angles, with the first being the key features of structured literacy instruction, the second being assessment techniques and the last, teacher readiness. Key features of structured literacy instruction were accompanied with examples of structured literacy approaches for phonemic awareness and word reading, spelling, and written expression. For each of these domains, core features of SLI were emphasized and contrasted with non-SL approaches to instruction. We attended several sessions by renowned speakers who spoke on topics such as designing & delivering informed instruction in teaching reading comprehension, going beyond phonemic awareness and the importance of early intervention and executive functioning. All in all, it was certainly a very enriching trip and I am grateful to the DAS for such continued opportunities!