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Photo credit: @sandymillin @eltpics


The August get-together of the Social Media Perth group provided a lot of food-for-thought. The guest speaker was Brodie McCulloch, founder of Spacecubed. And what is Spacecubed? In their own words – “Spacecubed is a network of Coworking, Collaboration and Innovation Spaces and Communities across Western Australia. These spaces have been co-designed with our members – a mix of Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Changemakers who want to get their idea off the ground. To reduce this barrier we offer a range of work spaces, meeting rooms, events and collaboration opportunities.”

So what links can be made between social innovation/entrepreneurship and education, specifically language learning? I’ve noted some of the points that Brodie made in his talk that most resonated with me then added my own thoughts and questions below.

‘People want to demonstrate social values in business but they also want to make money’

Education is inherently social. It’s either taking place face-to-face in a community such as a college or university or it’s taking place online, mediated through digital and social channels (learning management systems, personal learning networks, personal learning environments, apps, MALU etc.). International education is inherently global which also requires a demonstration of social values, particularly where language learning is concerned – it’s social because it’s language and because it has international communication at its heart.

When language learning becomes a commodity (when we talk about what we do in ELT as a business rather than as a profession), then we are faced with the challenge of retaining our social values as well as making money. Because of the inherent social qualities of language learning, I don’t think there’s much chance that we will lose our values in our quest to generate business, but sometimes we may need to reassess them or remind ourselves of them. Reflective practice in teaching and in business is always a good thing.

‘How do we support people who have a good idea to tackle big social, economic, and financial change?’

And how do we support people who have a good idea to tackle educational change? Let’s face it, educators do love their tradition, and advancements in methodology and pedagogical thinking are more often than not met with suspicion and resistance. So are the creatives and the innovators in our profession getting the support that they need or going it alone? Are we even making a point to identify these people in ELT and foster their innovation or are we just not interested in pedagogical ‘start-ups’? The social entrepreneurial solution is below.

‘Spacecubed gives people access to everything they need to start up – space, networks, mentors, investors…’

So how can we translate these ideas to ELT? As educational organisations, we need to give our most creative thinkers comparable scope and support.

Space – perhaps not a physical space, but temporal space – time out of class or away from routine duties to work on innovative projects.

Networks – either helping people to build personal learning networks (PLNs) or to identify existing networks, the membership of which would be beneficial to them. These could be teach-meet groups, special interest groups, or online communities. My own network has been developed through the social channels of Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as through face-to-face networking opportunities at conferences and other professional development sessions. Social Media Perth meetings are one important part of this. The #AusELT community is another.

Mentors – we need two types of mentors. Those who will mentor skills and those who will mentor career development. I think that often in teaching, skills mentoring (through observations and PD) is more common than career development mentoring. I’d like to see more of the latter and I’d like to see it done in a more formal and active way. For myself, I’ve had role models – people in the industry whom I’ve looked up to and tried to emulate, but it would have been great to have had an actual nominated mentor – it still would. I love the idea of the ‘Speed Mentoring’ event at this year’s English Australia conference. A massive step in the right direction.

Investors – this links into the ideas about space and mentoring. We need to invest in our innovators by giving them space to create. We need to mentor them so that they have the support they need to build the required skills for their endeavours. More practically, there may be funding requirements: payment for training and professional development, assistance in finding scholarships or sponsored opportunities, the dollars to upgrade technology or buy specialist resources. There is also much to be said for giving people the confidence to invest in themselves.

‘Q: Where does Perth sit in this new social entrepreneurial landscape? A: 2/3 of the world’s population are in our time zone. There are huge opportunities for budding entrepreneurs.’

I’ve left this (parochial) point in because, as a Perth-based ELT practitioner, I’ve come across this particular fact before, and it always amazes me that not more is made of it. GMT+8 does indeed encompass the majority of the world’s population. And of these 2/3, a very small proportion have English as their L1.  A huge number have it as their L2 or L3. Many have never learned English before. However, Perth’s market share in the national ELT industry isn’t the largest by any means. While as a state, we have our industry bodies which promote Western Australia as a language learning destination, I can imagine that a ‘budding entrepreneur’ with some creative ideas and a gift for social selling could make a profound difference to that market share.

Perhaps the ‘huge opportunities’ for our industry may arise out of collaboration spaces and events, such as are provided by Spacecubed? It would be interesting to see what might happen if ELT organisations encouraged their ‘entrepreneurs, innovators, and changemakers’ to access such resources.  “You can move your ideas forward,” said Brodie, as he finished.  And in this, ELT is the same as any industry – we want to go forward, and social innovation may just have the ideas to get us there.