An Interview with Sophia Mavridi


 

Sophia Mavridi is a lecturer and a teacher trainer specialising in the field of Digital Learning. She is currently teaching in UK higher education and is based in Leicester, United Kingdom.  I was happy that she took the opportunity to tell us a little bit more about herself.

 

Doug:  My first question is normally – where did we first meet but that doesn’t apply in this case.  We haven’t met in real life but certainly have interacted online. Do you remember when our paths first crossed and why you decided to follow me?

Sophia: I remember it very vividly. You took part in a research project of mine as an interview participant back in 2013. I found your insights fascinating and since then we’ve been connected on Facebook and Twitter. 

Doug:  You are part of the faculty at De Montfort University in Leicester. What courses are you currently teaching?

Sophia: I’m currently teaching Academic English and Research Skills, mainly to postgraduate students. It is very interesting. The vast majority are international students who need to acclimatise themselves to the UK higher education and learn how to do research but I may also teach British students who need to improve their writing, presentation skills, academic vocabulary etc. It depends on the semester and the institution. In the past, at a different institution, I taught educational technology to TESOL & Applied Linguistics postgraduate students, something that I also thoroughly enjoyed. 

Doug:  Recently, you announced that you will be giving a keynote address at a conference in Mexico.  That’s a long way from home! What takes you there and what will be the topic of your address?  In what language will you deliver your message?  

Sophia: I’ve been invited by the British Council to give a plenary session at BBELT 2020, which is one of the biggest conferences for English language educators in Latin America. I talked about the transformative potential of technology in education and more specifically language learning. The talk challenged the current educational paradigms that present technology as the silver bullet and talked about the dilemmas but also the pedagogical criteria that should inform our decisions. I delivered it in English as I sadly don’t speak Spanish but as I said the conference was for English language educators and all of them are fluent in English. 

You can watch it here if you want but mind you, it’s a 1-hour long talk so perhaps grab a coffee or tea 🙂 

Doug:  Thanks for sharing the link.  Nice use of the tambourine!  I thought your topic was timely as many teachers are rethinking/rationalizing approaches to their use of technology in education.  By the way, Sophia’s introduction starts at about 4:00 into the video if you wish to skip directly to it.

How did you feel that the presentation went? 

Sophia: It was a fascinating experience. I was impressed by how lively, receptive and enthusiastic Mexican teachers are. This goes for teacher trainers too as before the conference I also delivered training to about 50 British Council teacher trainers. They are so eager to learn and so positive in so many ways. I wish I could have stayed longer. The organisation of the event was excellent and it is not by accident it was attended by 1,100 delegates and sold out in November. 

Doug:  On your website, you offer a large listing of the topics that you’ve talked about.  It’s very impressive. I have a superstition I go through before I speak in front of an audience.  Do you have any superstitions?

Sophia: Really? What is it? I don’t have a superstition but I always eat chocolate. It makes me sharper and brighter. I think as educators and trainers we are used to having an audience so it’s not extremely intimidating. That said, it depends on the audience, the topic and so many other things 🙂

Doug:  My superstition?  Well, my first superintendent noted that I had a great deal of arm action when I talked to an audience.  I corrected this but still walk around for about 10-15 minutes before a presentation with my hands in my pockets just to remind me…

Recently, you announced that you will be releasing a book “Digital Innovations and Research in Language Learning”.  Congratulations. Can you tell us a bit about the book and who your target audience would be?

book1Sophia: I’m really proud of this publication. It is a collection of 12 research chapters that explore the pedagogical potential of new learning technologies in language education contexts. Topics include technology-mediated task-based learning, virtual schooling, game-based learning, digital responsibility & ethics and many more. The research studies are from a range of different places from around the world – from the UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece and Israel to Japan, Australia, Chile, Thailand, and Uruguay – and thus it gives voice to different contexts and diverse perspectives.  It is for any educator interested in approaching technology from an informed pedagogical perspective, ideally for language practitioners, teacher educators, researchers and administrators.

Doug:  Another upcoming publication with your name is titled “English for 21st Century Skills”.  Can you tell us a bit about that book?

Sophia: This is another amazing project I’ve had the privilege of being involved in. The book is concerned with the development and integration of 21st centurBook2y skills which I think is a challenge for all educators, not just language teachers. Our students, more than ever before, need the competencies, skills and values to live and work in a globalised and interconnected world and be able to generate innovative ideas, solve problems and implement solutions. We believe that this can be achieved through pedagogies that explore how creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, inclusion, wellbeing, leadership and other key new literacies can be developed along with subject knowledge, which in our case, as language educators, is English. I believe, however, that any educator, who wants to keep up to date with this increasingly important field will find it interesting.

Doug:  If someone was interested in purchasing either of these resources, where would they go?  Amazon?

Sophia: Yes, the research publication is already available on Amazon and can be found here. The ‘English for 21st Century Skills’ will be available on the publisher’s website from April 2020 onwards and in bookshops of course.

Doug:  Through Vicky Loras, I’ve been exposed to a whole group of educators involved with language learning and you’re so often in the middle of things (and the pictures).  It wouldn’t be education if it wasn’t full of acronyms that are new to me. BETT, BBELT, NATESOL, IATEFL. I’d need a roadmap to follow all these. Can you name an organization or two that Canadian educators should stand up and pay attention to?

Sophia: That’s true haha, so many acronyms. For a Canadian, I would recommend  IATEFL which is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The headquarters is based in the UK but the association is really international. BETT is not an association and is not solely for language educators. It stands for British Educational Training and Technology and it is an annual conference and exhibition organised every January in London. It is for any educator and policymaker interested in educational technology and it is a not-to-be-missed annual event. You can watch the #BETT2020 highlights here. I delivered a keynote at this year’s conference. Can you spot me in the video? 😉

Doug:  I did!  You’re at the 0:39 second mark!

A common thread to what you’ve been talking about recently seems to be Digital Distractions.  Do you have an answer for those who observe students suffering from this?  

Sophia: I feel passionate about this topic as I do about anything that falls under the umbrella of digital literacies, responsibilities and ethics. Technology has given us unparalleled opportunities but it is also chronically distracting us. We can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer as it interferes with learning, social life and wellbeing. We need to find ways to help students to manage their distractions and these ways need to be informed and systematic. Banning the devices is just a reactive approach. It is not a solution. I give guest lectures to students at the university where I work and I also speak about this when I train teachers and when I speak at conferences trying to raise awareness of the issue. My BETT keynote was on this and you can watch it here if interested. I don’t have all the answers but it is rewarding to know that students and teachers find my seminars useful. I’m currently involved in research projects on this so hopefully, I’ll be able to say much more soon.

Doug:  I really like your use of the term “Digital Resident”.  You seem to weave the concept nicely through all your talks.

When I look at your Facebook statistics, you and I have 91 mutual friends.  I find that pretty amazing since we live an ocean apart. Do you think that this speaks to the need for a connected reality for today’s educator?

Sophia: Yes, it does. We can learn so much from one another. On a personal level, being a connected educator has shaped my career and life in many ways. And I find that the benefits can extend beyond the teacher to the students as well. It often creates teacher inspiration and this can spread to students and make them feel more engaged. 

Doug:  Originally from Greece, you now work in the United Kingdom and are fluent in both the Greek and English languages.  Do you speak any other languages?

Sophia: I speak French as well but nowhere near my Greek or English. I would like to refresh my French and learn Spanish and Italian, hopefully soon, when I have more spare time available.

Doug:  I know, from our interactions, that you’re a dog lover.  That’s a good quality in any person! Can you tell us a bit about Hector?

hector1Sophia: Aww my little boy. I’ve had him since he was a two-month puppy. He’s smart, affectionate and absolutely adorable. He brings joy to my life and I love waking up to his smiley face and wagging tail. He always does silly and funny things that make me smile, even when I am troubled. That said, he’s not an easy dog. He has a strong personality and he can be stubborn and naughty. But he’s so charming that he always gets away with it.

Doug:  One of the things that strikes me about your group is how you travel widely in Europe.  Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union, will this change things for you?

Sophia: I hope it won’t but the truth is nobody knows yet, we just have to wait and see. On a personal level, I still have a European passport so technically I will still be able to travel, work and live in other European countries. And I’m already settled in the UK so I don’t think things will change for me in this respect. That said, it may have an impact on my British and European colleagues who would like to live and work elsewhere in Europe or come here. That would be unfortunate. What I really love about the UK is how multicultural and diverse it is. If this changes then it may not be the place I love to call home.

hector2

Doug:  Can you tell us a couple of interesting things about Sophia Mavridi that we don’t know?

Sophia: You may already know that I travel quite a lot for work. What you may not know is that I always spend my holidays in Greece, preferably by the sea. Nothing relaxes my body and soul more than being next to the sea. Hector enjoys the sea breeze too but he is not so keen on the water 😉 Here we are on holiday in Naxos island.

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time from a very busy schedule to tell us a bit more about yourself.  

Sophia: It was lovely talking to you, Doug. Thank you so much for inviting me!

You can follow Sophia on social media:

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Sophia for this blog.  You can check out all of the interviews here https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews.

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