On May 25th, I attended and presented a paper at the National Council of Teachers of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL) in Itasca, IL, outside (way outside!) Chicago. I was able to do so thanks to a travel grant from BLC in the amount of $750.
However, even at this amount, this particular conference is so expensive that I was only able to attend for the day of my presentation (I had to arrive the evening before, due to the time change when traveling east). This is something I feel needs to be commented upon. $750 is a very reasonable amount of funding with which to attend most academic conferences for a couple days, yet with the costs of this particular conference ($378 for a plane ticket, $120 for the hotel room, and $285—yes, you read that right! —for conference registration, I was already $33 over the $750 that BLC can provide. On top of this, I had to join NCOLCTL ($50) in order to get the member registration rate (it would have been $385 otherwise), pay $30 each way for a cab from the Chicago airport (no shuttle was provided), plus pay for all my own, expensive, meals at the hotel (the hotel was in the middle of nowhere, with no nearby cheaper dining options available). Dinner was provided to conference attendees on Friday night, but alas, I was already on a plane back to California by then. For an organization that focuses on languages traditionally taught at U.S. universities by low-paid lecturers and teaching assistants, the expenses associated with this conference seem way out of line to me.
As for the content of the conference: I did attend one interesting “colloquium” (really just a publicity presentation by Columbia University staff) on the distance learning initiative they have going in collaboration with Cornell and Yale, funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. Basically, these three institutions have installed very advanced video equipment and offer less commonly taught languages taught at each of the three institutions to the others with no money changing hands, in a remarkable example of universities working together to get beyond the usual administrative barriers to such an arrangement. I was drooling over the equipment they described and presented photos of, such as specially designed chairs and tables well suited to a distance classroom, and 80-inch high-definition video monitors side-by-side with touch screen “smart blackboards” in each classroom.
My own presentation, on my five years’ experience teaching distance Intermediate Khmer at UC-Berkeley (transmitted to UCLA), was quite poorly attended; of the 5 people who showed up, 2 were people I knew from teaching intensive Khmer at UW-Madison, and 1 was the panel chair. Needless to say, this is a not a conference I plan to attend again in the near future!