JALT2011: Spirit of volunteerism

John Gunning, Gifu Pharmaceutical University and Conference Manager of JALT 2011


The JALT National Conference held November 18-21, 2011 is one of the largest language conferences in Asia with over 1,800 participants, workshops, presentations, and plenaries as well as two satellite conferences occurring within the conference itself: JALT Junior and Other Language Educators (OLE). Last year I had the opportunity to act as Conference Manager and one word sums up the conferences from a planning perspective, that being, volunteerism. Just about every member of the team, from our student interns up to the JALT National President, volunteer many hours in order to provide a platform for educators to share research and exchange ideas in Asia.



When I first got involved with the planning of JALT conferences (Site Chair JALT 2010) I was completely unaware that the planning starts years prior to the conference. The sites are secured and booked by the Director of Programs and followed by negotiations regarding budgets, grants, and facilities with a small team that consists of JALT Central Office (JCO) staff, prior site chairs, the conference business team (JALT National Business Manager, Conference Business Manager), and members of the Board of Directors (BOD). This process can take up to a few weeks as the sites are checked for room sizes and numbers, Internet availability, restrictions, and transportation concerns. This year the Director of Programs, Steve Cornwell, is looking to reserve venues years in advance, and as the size of the conference grows, available sites are becoming more difficult to secure.


There are also a number of Pre-Conference Planning Committee (PCPC) meetings throughout the year. The main ones are scheduled on the last day of the Conference and during the Executive Board Member (EBM) meetings in February and June. However, there are a number of meetings scheduled between the EBMs, usually in March, May, and October. Between the meetings there are flurries of emails, skypes, and telephone calls confirming and checking planning schedules.


The team

An important facet of any volunteer work is simply getting along. In reality and being honest, I do not think I would want to volunteer countless hours and put the effort into a project of this size if I did not truly enjoy the time doing it. The JALT 2011 planning team had fantastic chemistry and not only have I made professional contacts working with everyone, but many personal relationships have been developed, which I believe will last longer than my future participation with JALT. The team is divided up into three main groups. First, and I am not sure if this is the best way to describe it, would be the visionaries who consist of the Conference Chairs and the BOD. They let the rest of the team know the feel, sense, or type of conference they envision. This is followed by the second group, who might be best described as the nuts and bolts and who are responsible for taking that vision and making it actually happen. The PCPC team and its many volunteers (student interns and staff which number more than 200) have the job of setting up rooms, securing equipment, programming, developing and planning events, setting up the Internet, coordinating the interns, coordinating the Educational Materials Exhibition (EME) space, making transportation maps, booking hotels, and writing the pre-conference and conference handbooks. I honestly cannot provide every task that is necessary in the space provided for this short article. The last group is JALT’s Associate Members (AM), otherwise known as JALT’s business partners, who work with the planning team to ensure that there is quality space devoted to educational materials, and provide sponsorship for some featured speaker workshops and some of the plenary speakers. They also support various events, which can be both academic and social in nature.


Getting involved

The planning team is always looking for new members who have the time and are committed to seeing it through from the start of its one-year planning cycle. Depending on the position, the amount of time devoted to the planning varies considerably with some team members joining from the very beginning to other members who have the opportunity to commit time at a later date. If you are interested and would like to learn more about the roles and responsibilities, I would be more than happy to get that information to you. I would suggest, if it is your first time volunteering for JALT 2012 and future conferences, to perhaps start with a role that is less demanding in terms of the time and effort so you are not overwhelmed. And it can be somewhat overwhelming for the less experienced, and that is based on my own experience!

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