Natural disasters and the roving trainer

After  a fair amount of consideration, I’ve decided that I’d like to use this space not only to talk about management issues but also to talk a little about some of the issues that face freelance trainers/consultants etc in our field. The former is what I teach and write about, the latter is what I live on a daily basis, I suppose. I don’t think these things are unconnected, but  suspect that they are very much connected for me, but perhaps less so for anyone reading this. Anyway, if you think I’m making a mistake in combining the two, please let me know in the comments below.

Last year I found myself trapped in the UK after a conference, when Eyjafjallajökull erupted sending ash all over Europe and grounding flights. As I sat there in Heathrow airport and latterly in various UK locations wishing I was at home with my family, I pondered how much I’d come to rely on air travel.  It became clear to me that this was not only a lot, but also that it was probably unsustainable (obviously from an environmental perspective all these airmiles are unsustainable, but also from a work/life perspective I began to conclude that it was so as well).  As I read the stories in the papers about the effects on various people of the enforced airspace shutdown, I began to wonder whether the world would be changing in the future, and we’d stop flying everywhere.  In fact the conference I’d just attended (IATEFL as it happens), was very wired and people had been able to participate in it from all over the world.  I wouldn’t have liked to have missed it, but in theory I could have “been there” from home. More and more meetings are taking place online, and I have been teaching ELT management online for ten years now in various formats (and on various platforms). Meeting people face to face is extremely useful, and possibly at times indispensable. But while it used to be the only option, increasingly it isn’t.

So, I mused on this possibility, and the idea that I might be able to cut down a lot on my travel, while I twiddled my thumbs in the UK and then as I took the long train ride to Berlin for my next engagement at the EAQUALS conference.  Would it be that this unpronounceable volcano would finally provide the catalyst for major change in our (and my) working practices?

9 months down the line, and it would seem that it hasn’t really. I spent much of the latter half of last year away from home in various locations, all of which trips involved face to face training, and therefore seemed sort of indispensable (though in the same period I did also start working on a purely online course).  This morning though, I was reminded that natural disasters like the volcano that had disrupted my flight home from IATEFL didn’t necessarily confine their effects to travel and face-to-face work.  One of the IDLTM centres that I work is the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education at the University of Queensland. In Brisbane. This morning I dragged myself from bed especially early to “meet” my class of students who are all based in various locations around Australia and New Zealand. At 6am I log on to find that the servers are down.  Hardly surprising perhaps given the fact that the UQ campus is by the river.  The Brisbane river which is currently rising very fast and swamping the city.  With many people I know in Brisbane forced to evacuate their homes and take refuge where they can, me not being able to have a class at the scheduled time was hardly a concern, but it did serve to remind me that natural disasters can also affect us even in the 21st Century with our distance this and our online that.  Food for thought I guess while I watch the waters rise from half way round the world, seeing pictures of the building in which I stayed as recently as November which now has water lapping at its doors, receiving emails from friends, colleagues and students who are affected by the rising waters.

And, I find that my friend and colleague, and flat-mate from that last course, Ron White, has already commented on his reactions to the pictures and the stream of news we are seeing, and summed it up much better than I could

Later update: The servers came back online (which is more than the planes did, back in April). I can only assume that they are housed somewhere higher up than I imagined this morning.