Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Riverstone and Interpret the Future team up again with OpenKnowledge at the Social Business forum 2016


Now in its ninth year, the Social Business Forum, Europe’s premier speaker and networking event dedicated to social business, will take place in Milan on the 6-7 July 2016. Held once again at the Marriott Hotel in the capital city of fashion and design, SBF16 features a unique offer of visionary keynote speeches, success stories and discussion panels organized in a Free and Premium Conference. The Free Conference includes the keynote speeches in the mornings of July 6th and 7th delivered by outstanding and internationally-known experts.
The theme of this year’s Social Business Forum is the Platfirm Age: Plug your Business – Play your Future. The focus of many of the keynote presentations will be on how platform-companies, such as Airbnb, Facebook and LinkedIn, have revolutionised traditional business models and developed continuously-evolving structures where value is co-created with users / customers.
All the keynotes will be simultaneously translated by Interpret the Future, the Social Business Forum’s longstanding specialist interpreting partners. This year, the team includes ItF founder members Loredana Nano and Alice Bertinotti. Daniela Negru will also be in the booths helping the team to provide a highly professional conference interpreting service. The project is managed by Robert Dennis, director of Riverstone Language & Communications.
Find out more...

Written by Robert Dennis
Robert has published an online business English course. Sign up for the free edition here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

An Empowering experience at the Piccolo: VIP event to launch the new integrated Cambridge English course


On Monday 25th May 2015, Cambridge English held a VIP presentation of their new Empower course. The event was a great opportunity to see the books and get some hands-on practice with the online materials and testing package, integrated with the publisher’s own learning management system. The afternoon also provided a nice networking opportunity and a chance to meet other English language professionals in the suitably dramatic setting of the Piccolo theatre (near Piazza Cordusio in central Milan. The theatre is a satellite of the larger Piccolo in the city's Lanza district). 

Cambridge English Empower is a new general adult course that combines content from Cambridge University Press with validated assessment from Cambridge English Language Assessment. As Chris Jory, Publishing Manager of ELT adult courses at CUP pointed out, this makes the course unique and marks a new chapter in the closer integration of course materials and testing from one of the main ELT publishers and testing organisations.


The first thing that you notice about Empower is the fresh and exciting graphic treatment Cambridge have lavished on the course. In particular, gone are the rather tired standard images used to accompany the text in traditional class-based course books. Instead, Cambridge have commissioned and gathered a wealth of really exciting and unusual visuals, including photos that have a strong narrative content and that can be used to stimulate class discussions. Chris’s presentation featured a montage of images including a backpacking biker’s tour of South America, a busker dressed as a chicken playing the double bass and a beach house perched precariously on a raised platform. All of these images immediately invite the wh- questions that trigger active discussions between students and in whole class discussions. (Who are these people? What are they doing – and why? etc.)

Indeed, the emphasis of Empower is very much on eliciting personal experiences and encouraging students to talk about their own lives and to discover the life stories of fellow students. As language teachers, we know that this is always the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of classroom teaching – and the visually-rich materials of Empower will certainly help teachers and students to have these discussions.


The structure of the course is actually fairly conventional. Chris was at pains to point out that although the course features innovation in terms of its visual design, integration with technology and the testing package, in pedagogical terms it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. In fact, it allows time-poor teachers to teach “off the page” with minimal preparation and follows a tried and trusted communicative pedagogical approach.

The course also features naturalistic and engaging video content, which can be used in both in class and for students to watch in their own time on a range of devices.


Clare McCallum, Head of ELT Marketing Europe and UK Sales at Cambridge University Press, spoke about how Empower dovetails with Cambridge’s other academic activities: language assessment and testing. This is undoubtedly the main innovation of the series for teachers as well as teaching institutions: a course book from a heavyweight publisher that is designed to plug straight in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Cambridge has also drawn on its insights from English Profile, its collaboration with the Council of Europe, that provides  a ‘profile’ or set of Reference Level Descriptions for English. For example, each chapter of Empower features the “Can do” objectives for the appropriate level on the “Getting Started” page.


Since the blended learning approach is now becoming standard in all course books, teachers have come to expect online resources that are both effective and easy to use – and here as well, Cambridge has delivered with a suite of digital materials that allow a high degree of personalisation. Indeed, making everything as personal and relevant for the individual student is now the main challenge in a publishing industry that has recently been likened by Nick Robinson of ELT Jam to a supertanker changing  direction. The shift towards individualised learning and adaptive technology is clearly in evidence in Cambridge’s design of the assessment component of its course. Empower allows learners to take up to 25 different paths through its testing software and features a range of intelligent technologies, including voice recognition and software that can assess fluency based on a speaker’s propensity to hesitate, for example.


Technology and big data also feature in Empower’s use of the Cambridge English Corpus, a multi-billion word collection of written, spoken and learner texts drawn from a huge range of sources: newspapers, the web, books, magazines, radio, exams, schools, universities, the workplace and everyday conversation. The CLC also includes the Cambridge Learner Corpus - a unique 50 million word collection of exam scripts written by students taking Cambridge exams all over the world.


Marcus Tubby, an ELT Consultant at Cambridge University Press based in Italy, demonstrated the assessment package in action and walked participants at the event through the Cambridge Learning Management System. Using PCs provided by Cambridge, we were given the chance to try out the live demo of the course and the platform, which includes a range of useful tools such as individual and class enrolment, as well as a Grade Book with exhaustive analyses of student and group performance. While some teachers might find all the number crunching and endless graphics of pie-charts a bit bewildering, obviously, this is the way the industry / professions is moving – and for schools, especially those providing training to corporate clients, having this kind of instant feedback on individual students is a huge boon.


Along with the other major ELT publishers, Cambridge has been at pains to make their course and the integrated technology as user-friendly as possible. However, at the digital chalk face most teachers will need increasing support as well as training to really capitalise on the benefits of this innovation.


The event concluded with a delicious buffet and a chance to chat and mingle with the VIP participants and the speakers. Russell Lewis, Marketing Manager at CUP, Italy was also on hand with members of his team to answer questions and demonstrate the live version of Empower. The particpants received an information pack which, in addition to sample chapters from the course, included a "fold-out" USB key containing a link to the Cambridge Empower site.

Robert Dennis
Director, Riverstone Language & Communications

You can see all the photos from this event in a special album I have created on Flickr. (Please note that if you would like to use these images, you can contact me and I will be happy to share them with you - but some "link love" or an attribution is always appreciated!)



























Friday, 21 November 2014

BESIG Bonn: Inspirational talks, quality networking and some great beer - a personal view


Note: this is the first instalment of my report from Bonn. I'm working on some more "content-focused" reports about teaching-related material and developments, which will appear probably on the Riverstone blog and in the Milan Business English Network. This is basically an informal snapshot of my immediate impressions of the event and the experience of being in Bonn itself. RD

The 27th IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference took place in Bonn, Germany on the 14-16th November 2014. It was a great opportunity for business English teachers and other professionals working in the sector to meet, exchange ideas and get up to speed on all the latest developments and technology fuelling our industry.

The event was held at the Sankt Augustin Campus of the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, just a short tram ride away from the centre of Bonn itself. The vast majority of BESIG events have been in Germany, mainly due to the fact that the most active members of the organisation are nearly all based in German-speaking countries. It may also be due to the fact that English teachers, like all expats, tend to adapt to their adopted locations and take on the characteristics of the people where they live. So, although there was a BESIG Annual Conference in Milan in 2006, the Italian presence at BESIG has been less noticeable than that of our more dynamic colleagues in the European economic powerhouse of Germany. 

Having said that, though, I did meet Richard Nicholas, who teaches English at Bocconi University in Milan, and took part in his workshop on training students to "hit the ground running" with immediately-useful spoken English skills. Richard drew extensively from his publication "Heads Up", which he co-authored with Mark Tulip and Louise Green.

The IATEFL and BESIG teams all deserve special mention, especially Cornelia Kreis-Meyer, Marjorie Rosenberg , Andrzej Stesik, Rob Szabó, Clare Hart and the many other people who helped to make the event a huge success. I’m sorry if I’ve missed out anyone really important – but I’m basing most of this on my experience as a first-time attendee gradually exploring the hinterland of IATEFL, BESIG and the many other Special Interest Groups. I think one of the interesting phenomena of the digital age is how the full picture of the activities of a group of highly professional people all working in a relatively small sector gradually emerges via various social media channels. This experience then forms the "digital backdrop" to the live international events.

Since I spend an increasing amount of time online it was interesting to make direct contact with so many people that I have come to know or know of through the proliferation of websites, blogs, Facebook pages and tweets, etc that taken together form the ecosystem or cloud of knowledge that we all inhabit these days.

I was also very impressed by the team of helpers from the university itself, who shepherded lost souls from room to room and provided the all-important information about where to find food, drink and other essential amenities.

Paul Emmerson gave a great talk on his new business English venture, BEhereBEthere, which features high quality resources for learners that the best-selling author has made available to students via a site which is 100% under his control. One of the key benefits of BEhereBEthere is the videos of Paul’s own students that he has posted along with exhaustive supporting materials, including detailed language notes and exercises. During his presentation, Paul explained aspects of his developing strategy, which is to build a unique and uniquely useful free resource for business English learners on the web and to gradually introduce premium features. This freemium model is now an established feature of many online English sites, services and apps and the whole question of business models was a recurring theme throughout the talks and chats taking place in and around the conference itself. 

Paul also shared some invaluable insights into how he uses Google Analytics to learn more about where visitors to BEhereBEthere are located. Given Paul Emmerson’s undisputed status as a major star in the business EFL publishing firmament, it was interesting to see how he is making the transition from published author to self-publishing web entrepreneur (webpreneur?). I think the key thing that was clear from Paul’s talk is the passion and commitment he brings to business English – and his genuine interest and engagement with students. Technology and social media in this context become incredibly powerful channels for content producers to connect directly with students (and fellow teachers) – much more directly than is possible through passive media, such as print or CD-ROM. However, as one audience member put it, once the content genie is out of the bottle the question of how content producers can monetize their creations (or, indeed, whether they can at all) becomes critical. 

As perhaps the “most photocopied man in the world”, Paul Emmerson knows more than most people about the problem of piracy and loss of revenue through vast armies of well-meaning teachers whacking his books under the copier. (During one of the dinners at BESIG, I suggested to Paul that he should perhaps consider some sort of deal with Canon, Xerox or any of the other companies that have helped to spread the Emmerson brand around the globe. In fact, he could even produce his own Paul Emmerson-branded photocopier, bundled with exclusive content for any language school that buys one. Another idea we kicked around was having some PE advertising on the underside of the copier’s flap – since there must be at least a million “flap views” a year in various schools around the globe. Why not have some inspirational Paul Emmerson quotes and a link to BEhereBEthere for people to read while they snag pages from Email English?)

Pete Sharma spoke about the development of the business English course book from print to digital. (Fuller report about this talk coming soon.) The last time I had the pleasure of watching Pete speak was a few years ago at the PSA Symposium at the Consulate General in Milan. As well as being one of the leading experts in the world on blended learning Pete is also a marvellous conference speaker and simply a great communicator. He has a sort of magical rapport with his audience and I think this is one of the reasons why face-to-face communication will always be important – despite the onward march of videoconferencing and Skype. His gestures are also incredibly expressive – and, like all foreigners living in Italy, I have become something of a connoisseur of how people talk with their hands. So, if you want to see and hear someone communicating cutting-edge ideas about education in a memorable, absorbing way, I urge you to check out Pete’s forthcoming speaking engagements.

Other highlights of the conference included a talk about the importance of lexical chunks by Jeanne McCarten in the plenary session. Paula Mulanovic's session was entitled "Teach like TED" and offered tips for teachers of business English. Cleve Miller of English 360 spoke about blended learning for business English: how to design it, deliver it and sell it. It was also nice to meet Valentina Dodge from English 360 too. I also ran into Bob Dignen of York Associates, who spoke about virtual teams and virtual meetings as well as presenting "Ten top tips for successful communication" with Ian McMaster. There were so many talks that it would have been impossible to do more than scrape the surface, but that's BESIG, I suppose. The overwhelming impression you get from attending a conference like this is just how diverse and constantly evolving the business English ecosystem actually is. 

One of the great things about a conference is the opportunity for chance meetings which subsequently prove providential. One such random encounter was meeting András Petz of Anglofon, a specialist legal English firm based in Budapest, Hungary. I happened to be sitting near him on the tram to the campus and overheard him asking someone which stop to get off at. I went over and we struck up a conversation, which resulted not only in meeting a really nice person and a dedicated professional but also in attending his presentation and discovering the very impressive range of resources he has created with his team in Hungary. These include a book on the Terminology of Civil Law, which is linked to a wealth of online material specially designed for legal professionals who need to improve their knowledge of English. We both agreed to stay in touch and hopefully collaborate on some interesting future projects. 

Bonn is a truly lovely city, with many historical and cultural associations. As the former capital of the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany as it was known before reunification) the city retains a certain gravitas as well as a legacy of imposing administrative buildings and headquarters, including almost twenty UN institutions. My hotel room had a commanding view of the Rhine and the Kennedy Bridge and the occasion also allowed me to explore the historic centre of Bonn. The classical architecture of the University buildings and the Hofgarten (Court Garden) are very impressive and the city is also a place of pilgrimage for music lovers visiting the house where Beethoven was born. The Marktplatz (market place) is dominated by the Alte Rathaus, or old town hall - simply stunning:


It was also great to spend some time chatting to other delegates in the canteen of the Hochschule as well as in some of the city locations. I had a memorable dinner with Alex Taylor of TJ Taylor, the language school based in Milan with centres in the UK and Ireland, at the First Flush Tea Room, which is also – despite the name – a restaurant serving exotic delights such as pumpkin curry (excellent). We also had tea – everyone gets a teapot of a different design – and sampled the local Kölsch beer, which was equally outstanding. We continued our conversation in Brauhaus Bönnsch, a traditional Rhineland pub serving Kölsch in strangely curved glasses, complete with finger-grips to make imbibing just that much easier. I also managed to squeeze in a visit to Cologne to see its massive and overpowering Cathedral, whose twin spires loom above the station and somewhat cramped squares below. Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily, which just seemed to add to the sense of oppressive  weight towering overhead – and it was actually something of a relief (architecturally speaking) to be standing in front of Milan’s far more forgiving, though equally impressive, Duomo (cathedral) later the same day.



I flew back to Milan with most of the Italian contingent including freelance business English teachers Louise Goodman and Andy Townsend and our BESIG chat continued well after we had touched down. 

Based on my first experience of BESIG I can honestly say that this was a great experience and for any business English teachers - freelance or otherwise - I would strongly recommend signing up to BESIG and checking out all their events, including regular webinars with experts from the field of business English.

I'll post an update soon when I have sifted through all the notes and stacks of material I accumulated during the conference. Stay tuned!


























Sunday, 15 June 2014

CircleMe friends and fans celebrate the new look for the “made in Milan” app

Last week I attended the launch party of the 2nd Generation of CircleMe products for web and mobile devices. CircleMe is the “made in Italy” social network that allows you to share your passions for culture and media with a network of trusted people who share your interests.

Situated alongside one of Milan’s canals, the site of the former Richard Ginori porcelain factory, which dates back to 1830, now plays host to a cluster of creative businesses, including the Italian headquarters of CircleMe. (The company also has a London branch based in Silicon Roundabout in the City). The completely redeveloped Richard Ginori complex, which covers an area of over 60,000 square metres, also houses companies such as Strenesse, Momo Design, Della Rovere, la Fornarina and MDF as well as communications agencies and photographic studios.

Il Circolino, a chic bar located in the ex-Richard Ginori centre and a favourite haunt of CircleMe staffers, provided the perfect setting for an evening of relaxed chat with CircleMe users and friends and the chance to discover the new Second Generation apps for PCs, tablets and phones.

With the mercury hitting 36C on the hottest day of the year so far, we sipped complimentary ice-cold drinks and enjoyed an excellent barbecue from Il Circolino’s budding chefs. The CircleMe team mingled with guests at the venue, which features a glass floor through which you can watch the table football matches taking place downstairs.

Making it new
CircleMe has completely updated its interface and introduced a new user-experience that builds on the app’s existing ability to curate your passions and share them with a network of people you can “trust” (CM's equivalent of friending). The app now boasts 1 million interests that you can “love” (by clicking on the famous CircleMe heart icon). Over a thousand stories and new content items are added every day from 6,500 sources and two hundred thousand interest groups.

A brand new feature of the CircleMe experience is the Calendar, which allows you to access a customised calendar featuring all the nearest events linked to your unique set of passions. There are already 55,000 events in over 4,500 locations mapped onto the CircleMe Calendar.

As Giu D’Antonio, CEO of CircleMe pointed out as he demonstrated the new app on a widescreen Mac to guests at the party, you can flick through a virtually endless feed of stories, news and updates relating to your passions – anything from your favourite bands to the latest must-see movies. A new feature is the categories menu bar than you can swipe in from the side. This allows you to refine the view to specific groups of passions based around particular media, such as Music, Books, Movies, etc

As Startupbusiness reported recently when the network’s Android app went live, CircleMe has signed an agreement with Kiver to distribute music online in mp3 format, which users can download according to their passions and their level of activity on the network. The downloads on offer include music from leading artists. (For example, glancing at the app, I see I can download free tracks from artists such as Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, The Killers, Queen and The Rolling Stones, etc.)

Users can also benefit from a tie-up between CircleMe and moo.com, the UK-based online business card printing service, which rewards users with 50 free cards personalised with their passions.

CircleMe has been growing steadily. According to WiredItalia it is strongest in the UK, US, Italy, France and Brazil.

Niche and easy does it
While CircleMe has expanded considerably and added a wealth of new features it remains something of a niche product in the face of the “big beasts” of the social networking world: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, etc. However, as Giu pointed out, the aim of CircleMe is not for users to simply grow ever-larger networks of contacts, but rather to deepen and enrich the experience of sharing passions within a trusted circle of like-minded people.

I personally think CircleMe could do more in this area to build on the existing functionality of its apps, especially the ability to “plant” a passion by adding geo-location data and its under-utilised “To do” option. As I explored in an earlier post on this blog, I also think CircleMe members could have a more pro-active role in curating information and content, which uses a “push” model to provide an updated feed to users’ devices based on their passions. I would like to see more of a physical community developing around CircleMe – and I think one way they could achieve this is to have more live events, such as this excellent party, as well as providing opportunities for users to meet up at gigs and special screenings of films they have "loved". There are considerable opportunities for combining CircleMe’s ability to gather and share cultural passions with a more face-to-face experience, which would involve users and allow them to be more active.

A night to remember
So, overall this was a great evening and a nice chance to meet the lovely CircleMe team, who are all passionate and committed about their app. I’d like to say a special thanks to Giu, Elena and the CircleMe team – as well as the excellent Il Circolino – for their hospitality.

Looking forward to seeing you all again at the next event!

#bewhatyoulike