KOTESOL: is it worth it?

I think so.  I was a somewhat active member of Gangwon’s KOTESOL group for many years.  I am currently involved with the Busan chapter and assisting, in the most limited way, with a mini-conference they are hosting in late Spring. Oh, wait.  KOTESOL is the acronym for Teachers of ESL in Korea group, usually written this way to emphasize it can be Foreign and Korean teachers, not exclusively Korean teachers, as it may read if Korea is at the front of the phrase. Alright, you now know what KOTESOL is and that I am satisfied with being a member.  Why do I think others wouldn’t be? Well, particularly in Gangwondo, the meetings were interesting but frequently focused on issues that didn’t affect me.  Sokcho and surrounding area had a large EPIK group and many speakers gave talks on their specific issues.  There was a talk on teaching at ESL camps, but the speaker and the examples were all concerned with the mandatory camps the EPIK teachers had.  They had reasonable and clear concerns, but mine were different.  For example, EPIK camp teachers have specific teaching schedules they have to follow that don’t allow as much individual input at they would like.  Budgets are set and spent before the foreign teacher knows they exist…  Anyway, the camps I frequently work at, by choice, do allow, or require, personal initiative, are longer in duration and have different goals than the EPIK camps.  Attending that meeting was by no means a total waste, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hope. In short, university teachers were a minority at those meetings and their interests were not met.  Which is the chicken and which the egg, I cannot say. Perhaps Scholarly Societies are on their way out as like-minded groups can increasingly refine their specific likes and needs and meet those needs online.John Dupuis, at Confessions of a Science Librarian has examined the issue closely and discusses an article at The Scientist.com on the subject.  This article is about scientific societies, but clear parellels can be found. WordPress is not allowing me to have nested quotes – that is, the first quote indented and the second quote (inside the first), double indented – so I will not indent Dupuis but will indent the stuff he quotes. The thrust of the article is that scholarly societies are having trouble offering true value to their members in the Internet age, that their business models and even their raisons d’etreare being disrupted.

In years past, the answer was easy because being a member came with tangible benefits, such as inexpensive journals and the ability to submit abstracts to annual meetings. Nowadays, these perks don’t seem very important. Most society journals are freely available online [1], and the proliferation of scientific meetings has made it easier to find venues to present my current research. Thus, the frequency with which I ask that question–“should I bother?”–has steadily increased.

Clearly, I am not the only scientist who is ambivalent about societies. Judging from their newsletters, many of the larger societies are struggling with stagnant or declining memberships, especially among young scientists. Although it is the youngest scientists who potentially have the most to gain from a scientific society because of networking opportunities, they are the ones who usually are most poorly served by those societies. This is because scientific societies generally cater to the status quo, not to the new and emerging elements of a field.

Both the The Scientist.com article and Dupuis’ comments on it are worth reading.  Dupuis also links to several of his previous posts on the subject and asks these questions (and is waiting for answers): Questions for scholarly societies:

  • Does your society subsidize member programs with profits from it’s publications program
  • What kind of outreach do you do to the next generation of scholars?
  • What do you tell them is the “value proposition” for joining your society?
  • Do you facilitate your members online networking and professional development?
  • What are your thoughts on an Open Access business model for scholarly society publishing?
  • Do your members often mumble your name under their breath with the words to the effect of “just don’t get it” or “waste of money?”

Added later: Jason Renshaw, who once was president of the Busan/Gyeongnam chapter of KOTESOL, discusses problems with the small meetings and local conferences given by various chapters of KOTESOL.  The problem, apparently, is us!

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