An interview with J.J. Amaworo Wilson

downloadJJ Amaworo Wilson is a German-born, British-educated debut novelist. Based in the U.S., he has lived in 9 countries and visited 60. He is a prize winning author of over 20 books about language and language learning. Damnificados is his first major fiction work. His short fiction has been published by Penguin, Johns Hopkins University Press, and myriad literary magazines in England and the U.S.

(This interview appeared first on the ELTA January – February 2017 issue ELTA Serbia January – February 2017)

Vicky : J.J., thank you so much for agreeing to give this interview!

J.J. Wilson : My pleasure, Vicky!

Vicky : I know that you have traveled to a lot of countries in your life. Which one is the most memorable?

J.J. Wilson : Every country I’ve been to has at least two things that I love about it. The first is always the people.  

Vicky : I personally would like to know more about the time you spent in Lesotho and your school theatre.

J.J. Wilson : I got there the year before Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa, and it was already clear that big changes were about to happen in that part of the world. I was lucky enough to get work teaching and running a school theatre, so I produced and directed plays about what was going on there. We did a lot of Athol Fugard (the great anti-apartheid playwright), but also Beckett and Shakespeare. No one has more to say about tyranny than Shakespeare.    

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Vicky : You are a very productive writer, not just in the ELT industry though. I know you have written short stories, for example. And about a year and a half ago, if I am not mistaken, your novel ‘Damnificados’ came out (which I really loved reading, by the way!). Tell us about the Tower and how you came up with the idea of your novel.

J.J. Wilson : Firstly, thank you! I’m glad you liked Damnificados! I was on a book tour in Venezuela some years ago, and I couldn’t sleep. I took a long, late-night walk and saw the Torre David (Tower of David). The tower was unfinished, but hundreds of homeless people had moved in and built a community. I’d known nothing about the tower, but when I got back to the States I researched it. I discovered that the community living there was incredibly creative and resilient, like many poor communities. For example, the lift was broken so they built wooden ramps up the side of the tower and motorcycle boys gave people rides. They built an outdoor gym on the helicopter pad at the top of the tower, using leftover building materials – pulleys and iron bars. Their resourcefulness inspired me to write about them, but I turned to fiction because that’s how my mind works.

Vicky : ‘A modern day David & Goliath of epic proportions’, ‘Moses meets the desperados’, ‘Mad Max meets the favelas’. Which of these metaphors better represents your first novel?

J.J. Wilson : All of them! There are a lot of Biblical references in the novel. The hero is a Moses figure, discovered beside a river when he was a baby. He later leads his people to the Promised Land – the tower. I included a terrible flood in the novel. That’s taken from the Bible, although there are floods in the literature of all the major religions. The tower is also the Tower of Babel, with everyone speaking different languages. The Bible is full of great stories that writers can steal.

Vicky : One of the central messages that your novel conveys is that of social justice. Do you feel that social justice is a utopia in the world we live in?

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J.J. Wilson : Utopia is like the horizon – beautiful and always out of reach. We walk ten paces towards it and it’s still out of reach. We walk a thousand paces and it’s still out of reach. We walk a thousand miles and it’s still out of reach. And that’s the point of Utopia. It keeps us moving. The struggle for social justice will never end. Humans are too flawed. Moving towards Utopia is all we can do.

Vicky : When narrating a story like the one in the Damnificados, does it actually sound ‘inevitable’ to resort to magical realism because…how else can you portray the absurdity of our times?

J.J. Wilson : I don’t think it’s inevitable. That story, like all stories, can be told in a straight, factual way or in a satirical way, as Orwell would have told it. Magical realism was a style I adopted because of what I like to read and because it’s the great Latin American style, practiced by some of my favourite writers: Marquez, Allende, Borges, and Asturias.  

Vicky : While you tackle on many different issues (homelessness, urban social politics of power), you also make an interesting point about polyglotism. Introducing languages means we are forced to recognize diversity. One thing you were not afraid to use in your novel was languages! Do your damnificados respect each other’s diversity more than people in the rest of the society? And why?

J.J. Wilson : I’m not sure they respect one another’s diversity more than anyone else. They’re just used to the fluidity of languages. It’s like this in many parts of the world. There are parts of Nigeria where you’ll go out to get your morning coffee and newspaper and you’ll speak four different languages before breakfast. Australian aborigines might switch languages when they arrive at a certain river or rock, because that river or rock belongs to a different linguistic culture. The damnificados in my novel simply have to work together to survive, regardless of race or nationality or language. It’s not a choice they make out of respect. It’s out of necessity.

Vicky : I know writing takes up a lot of time but I also know you love it. Are there any plans for a new novel or an ELT book?

J.J. Wilson : I’m working on books in both fields – ELT and fiction. It’s good to switch between the two. They use different parts of the brain!

Vicky : Thank you so much for your time!


*I hereby certify that I have the right to publish these photos



Call for eLearning Papers: Innovation in education


Call for eLearning Papers: Innovation in education

Open Education Europa has announced a call for eLearning Papers on digital and innovative education at all stages of life and for all types of learning.

The eLearning Papers provide an opportunity for researchers, people in projects developing innovative applications, and policy makers to share their material quickly and easily on a pan-European portal with international reach.

Authors are invited to submit papers in any of the 24 official EU languages on a number of key themes related to innovative learning. We are particularly interested in receiving contributions from people in international projects and early-stage researchers.


Papers may be submitted on any relevant topic, but we are particularly interested in those covering the following areas:

  • Learner data: Learning analytics; Methods and strategies; Big data and analytics
  • Teaching technologies: Online courses; Social media; Learning apps; Organisational digital readiness
  • Innovative learning methods: Gamification; Project-based learning; Entrepreneurship; Digital storytelling; Flipped classrooms; Maker spaces
  • Pedagogy and curriculum: open educational resources; Blended learning; Collaborative learning; Recognising and rewarding teaching
  • Quality assurance and accreditation: ePortfolios; Accreditation and certification; Validation
  • Recognition: ePortfolios; Digital assessments; Badges and certificates
  • Policy: European policy; National policy; Organisational change


Authors can submit long papers of a maximum of 6,000 words and shorter entries between 500-1,000 words, excluding references. Bibliographic referencing should follow the Harvard style. Online citation generators can help to simplify this process. Long papers are also required to submit a short abstract in English (even if the paper is submitted in another language).

Review of articles

All articles will be reviewed by a specially-appointed, independent Editorial and Advisory Board comprising experienced academics working in the field of education from across Europe. If accepted, papers will be published online immediately on the portal where they will enjoy high levels of visibility.

Deadline: Papers will be accepted on a rolling basis with first online publications expected in October 2017.


P.S.  The call was initially published here

Call for eLearning Papers: Innovation in education



Did I tell you I worked in tobacco fields? by Vicky Papageorgiou




I had a wonderful childhood. I come from a middle class family, in some ways typical, in some other ways quite unconventional. My brother and I grew up surrounded with love. We lived in a small pack. Our grandma raised us since she lived with us. My parents worked hard. Every summer, and after  schools closed, we would spend our holidays somewhere near the sea. Every August though, we did something different. Totally different for two city children.

In Western Greece, there is a small village up on the mountains very close to the borders with Albania. It is called Oinoi. Pontic Greeks live there, immigrants who moved back to Greece  from Asia Minor in the beginning of the century. Ionians. Very tough and rough people. But generous.

I have family there, not related to them by blood but still family. From the age of 8 and until I was 15, my parents would send me, my brother and my grandma there for about a month. Or less. Every year! Why? To help them out with farming. They needed hands. Working hands. And they could not afford to pay for them.

The mother and the father of that family would wake up every day at 4 o’clock in the morning to go to the fields. Did I tell you what they cultivated? Tobacco! A lot of acres. They would return home at around midday, with their baskets filled with tobacco leaves and  all of us the children (5 in total) would follow them and go under a poorly set up shed, would sit on the ground, cross our legs, and would start work. We had to lay the tobacco leaves in a certain position and ‘sew’ them together. Afterwards, hung on tiers we would let them wilt in the large barn . Until the merchants would come to buy them. And that would mean that then the family could make it through the winter.

We used large needles to ‘sew’ the leaves. For years that family could not even afford machines which would do that. We had to do it by hand. Also, for years they did not even have electricity out in the shed. Only in the house. We normally had to stay up until 8-9 p.m. in the shed to finish working on the day’s harvest and hang everything in the barn. And we used gas lamps for light late in the evening.

My grandma would spend the day cleaning up their two-storey house, kitchen, yard, etc. And she would also cook for all of us. Every day a different dish. Because the family that hosted us normally fed on freshly baked bread, feta cheese, tomato and olives. They rarely cooked. They did not have time to cook. Nor had they ever had the luxury to learn how to. They were rough mountain people. The women did not know how to cook the complex dishes that my grandma prepared (I come from a family of cooks and restaurant owners – but that’s another story in itself).

So, anyway, in this way the rest of us could concentrate on working hard with the tobacco harvest. Have you ever touched tobacco leaves, by the way? They stick on your hands! So much so that your hands get seriously rough in the end that no hand cream can soften.

I could talk for hours or could write whole pages about these summers I spent there. Working hard daily (weekends included) but having fun, incredible fun every day. We worked for hours, never complained and learned how to live in the countryside and appreciate it as well.

Did I mention we were never paid? There was never a matter of payment . Because they were family. Though no blood related. And because our parents wanted to teach us a few valuable lessons. Volunteering being the biggest one. Giving without necessarily asking to receive back.

Why am I telling you this story? I am a strong advocate of volunteerism. I have been working pro bono since I started working, after the age of 18. In multiple ways. And I did it consciously, it did not just happen because I needed to acquire certain skills, I needed to train. Ever since I remember myself, I felt the need to give back to the community and so I contributed in various ways. I made sure I worked and earned enough money to pay my bills and survive and then I did pro bono work, too. The people who know me also know I am a hard worker. And a dedicated one. I also like to believe I have a strong work ethic and so I  do not differentiate between pro bono and paid work. Both of them are done with the same diligence.

I believe that volunteering can help people develop skills, but it also promotes goodness and it can also improve human quality of life. Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served. It is an altruistic activity and there is nothing superior to being able to give to others without the expectation of gaining anything back (UN volunteers, 2006). Not because it makes you ‘feel’ superior! But because it makes you feel humble.  Because a true volunteer is someone who put themselves in someone’s shoes. Not someone who looks at them from above!

Now, what triggered all this? I work in education. You already know that. What I am sure you also must know is how much I value open education, open access, open data. ‘A lack of access to information hinders learning, stifles innovation and slows scientific progress’, says Erin McKiernan (McKiernan, 2014). Today more than ever we need open educational resources. They are important for developing countries, for students who may not be able to afford textbooks, where access to classrooms may be limited, and where teacher-training programs may be lacking. They are also important for young or older researchers who cannot afford the publications which are under a pay wall. Also, OERs are to their greatest degree digitized and so they represent an opportunity to have one’s own materials enhanced (Anyangwe, 2011).. The material can be modified, transformed by other faculty around the world, so the modifications and additions can be countless and can lead to a work stronger than the original. The possibilities are utterly immense.

imagesBesides their increasing importance for developing countries, they are also important in wealthy industrialized countries, where they can offer significant cost savings. Cost savings are directly linked to open data and OER generally (Salomon, 2008). For these resources to keep the cost low though, they largely depend on volunteers (Eve, 2004). Volunteers who will write, select, edit materials, curate the websites, etc. And this is exactly the point I am trying to make.

I am one only of a great number of people who work tirelessly (dedicating their non-existent free time a lot of times!) and without payment trying to provide free education and open educational resources within the ESL world. In hard times like the ones we are living in, keeping education and educational resources open benefits teachers, research and  students worldwide. By doing so, we serve a not elitist and cost free education and training for thousands of citizens. Besides the downsides of such a venture (quality of materials, quality of peer review, etc.), the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and this is why OER should remain open.

However, what is free tends to be considered of lower quality as well. While in some cases it is true that quality is not optimal yet at all instances, we need to keep in mind that the movement of keeping educational resources open is still in its beginning, relatively  anyway, and has a long way ahead of it. Yet, one more thing to consider is that we should shift the focus on the openness of the resources and services and not on the fact that they are offered for free. The fact that they are available to everybody so that education is not limited to the few. We are building a more democratic society in this way as well as a more inclusive one. Even with all the downsides this might entail, I would still stand up for it and I am!

This text serves as my response to people who recently seem to not have respected or appreciated our work as volunteers in this sector.


· Anyangwe, E. (2011, October 25). Exploring open access in higher education. The Guardian.  Retrieved from
·         Eve, M.P. (2004). Open access and the humanities. Available from :
·         McKiernan, E. (2014, August 22). University research: if you believe in openness, stand up for it. The Guardian.  Retrieved from
·         Salomon, D. (2008). Developing Open Access Journals: A Practical Guide. Available from
·         UN volunteers. (2006, September  5). The power of volunteerism. [blog post]. Retrieved from


«Creativity in the Twenty-First Century Book Series»

Interested in creativity research? submit your book proposal to this series, Creativity in the Twenty First Century
«Creativity in the Twenty-First Century Book Series» repositions «creativity» as a boundary-crossing discipline that is essential to learning and teaching, social-economic dialogues, academic discourses and cultural practices, as well as technological and digital communications. The series serves as a timely platform, bringing together like-minded scientists and researchers around the world to share their diverse perspectives on creativity and to engage in open and productive inquiries into promoting creativity for a more peaceful and harmonious world. Researchers and practitioners from all continents are invited to share their discipline-specific insights, research orientations and cultural practices, as well as to pose new questions on what creativity is, how to promote it, which directions to pursue, who should participate, and so on.

The book series is led by emerging eminent and senior scientists, researchers, and educators in the fields of creativity, psychology, the cultural sciences and education studies. They create networks of sharing and spread innovative publishing opportunities within the communities of practice. They invest considerable time and effort in deepening creativity expertise, structuring creativity programs, and organizing creativity activities for the communities of interest. The book series aims not only to «glue together» like-minded scientists (community of practice) to share benefits of creativity theorizing, research and practice, but also to encourage non-experts (community of interest) in all societies to become supporters and spokespersons of positive engagement in creative learning, teaching and dialogues.

Book proposals for this series may be submitted to the Publishing Editor: Lawrence Liu

Interview with Shelly Terrell

For over a year now, I have started interviewing several people of the ELT world for the ELTA Serbia newsletter and I am now going to share these interviews on my blog. I hope you find them interesting. My first interview was with the lovely Shelly Terrell. Here it goes.

Interview with Shelly Sanchez Terrell

by Vicky Papageorgiou

(This interview appeared first on the ELTA March-April 2016 issue )



Shelly Sanchez Terrell is an international speaker, teacher trainer, elearning specialist, and the author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert and has been recognized by the ELTon Awards, The New York Times,  NPR, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year by Star Jone’s National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the Big 10: Most Influential People Transforming EdTech by Tech & Learning (2015). In 2015, she founded Edspeakers to help spread diverse voices at education conferences worldwide.



Twitter handle- @ShellTerrell


Vicky : Hi! First of all, I would like to say that it is a pleasure to have you as a guest.

Shelly : It’s my pleasure. Whenever I can meet up with friends, even virtually, I try to make the time.

Vicky : I know that you are extremely busy every day trying to juggle an amazing number of tasks successfully so I‘d like to ask you to describe a typical day of yours.

Shelly : I have two types of typical days. If I’m not traveling, my day consists of at 1 to 3 virtual trainings with teachers either via a webinar or learning management system (LMS), grading, updating websites, phone call meetings for consultations or projects, conducting interviews, and hours on social media (Twitter, FB, Instagram, Voxer, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, my blog, etc.) for my various passion projects and as one of the social media managers for American TESOL. Most of my day is spent creating and designing content. Typically, I write at least one blog post or article a day, create a lesson plan, and do some graphic design. I also help at least one or more teachers find resources.

I travel at least 100 days a year and usually more. When I travel, I do most of the rest above in addition to giving keynotes and workshops in countries worldwide.

Vicky : Can you tell us where you are teaching/working currently?

Shelly : Currently, I work for American TESOL as an instructional designer, social media specialist, and instructor for the course I designed, I also work as an ESL Specialist for the U.S. Embassy and Georgetown University. I also manage the various projects I’ve founded, which include The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers ( and

Vicky : You initiated the movement called ‘30EduGoals’ and hundreds  of teachers followed you and started writing, reflecting on their practice and blogging because of you. How does it feel really to be able to have an impact on so many people from different cultural backgrounds and different countries?

Shelly : I feel really blessed to be able to inspire and help teachers worldwide. Teachers are what help shape the world. I still pinch myself and am in awe that teachers complete the goals and share their passion with me daily.

Vicky : Your book is already a big hit. Do you have any future plans for a new book?

Shelly : I also published Learning to Go with The Round. I’m working on a few projects including a digital citizenship book, Byte-Sized Potential in a Digital World of Possibilities. This one involves lessons to help students learn science, math, and English, but also impact their world through social media. I’ve already tested out some activities with teachers worldwide and give some free templates on my blog,, such as the student epic selfie adventure and creating hashtag movements. I am working on a lesson book based on the use of emoticons and emojis for writing and literacy. I also do creative writing and am working on finishing my second novel.

Vicky : I also know you are a visiting lecturer in Venezuela (or is this a permanent position? – You have to enlighten me here). How easy is it to teach in another country? What can be the possible problems?

Shelly : I love the teachers in Venezuela. I have many close friendships there now. VENTESOL has adopted me into their family and I’m thankful especially to VENTESOL President, Mary Allegra, who has created the many projects to have me visit and work with such a dedicated group. I am fortunate the U.S. Embassy and VENTESOL have continued to bring me back to help them develop and design online courses at the universities, train teachers on how to integrate technology and mobile learning, and help institutions develop their own textbooks.

Vicky : When DO you find some free time for your private life with such a busy schedule?

Shelly : I have to make time and will often send myself Google calendar reminders to take time off. I’ve learned to let go of perfection in my work and be satisfied with great work but having a life. When I travel to other countries, I take time to visit with friends and go on adventures. When I’m with friends, family, or loved ones, I put down my phone and other digital devices so I can give the moments the attention they deserve. Of course, this is a learning process and in the beginning I wasn’t so great at taking time for myself. I’ve realized it is really important so I keep up with my health, spirit, and passion.

Vicky : Thank you so much for your time!


Conference on Creativity in Language Learning and Teaching Research

The Conference will be held on 23 September 2016(The Open University, Milton Keynes).

Proposals – which should be a maximum of 250 words long and accompanied by a short title and a 100-word bio note – should be emailed to by Friday 6 May 2016.

You can find more details here : Conference on Creativity in Language Learning and Teaching Research

CALL for Special Issue on: Deploying Creative, Disruptive and Gamified Interventions for Lifelong learning

From now on, I will occasionally share some calls for papers for various issues, journals, all of them related  to creativity, Art in ESL, etc.

The first one is a CALL for a Special Issue on: Deploying Creative, Disruptive and Gamified Interventions for Lifelong learning. You can find the actual call here :


International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning

Special Issue on: Deploying Creative, Disruptive and Gamified Interventions for Lifelong learning

Possible (sub)topics are:

  1. Fostering Creative mindsets through Serious Games and Gamification strategies
  2. Capitalising Creativity
  3. Fun and positive mood as the common elements in Creativity, Games and Learning from a Lifelong Learning perspective.
  4. An Analyst, an Insightful or both?
  5. Context-aware real time creativity and disruptive innovation in Lifelong Learning
  6. Collaborative Creativity in Education
  7. Collaborative Global Dual Ecosystems for Open Work/Learning Flow Competencies
  8. Designing, developing, sharing and repurposing games as a creative process
  9. Assessment and Feedback Progress Indicators as metrics for creative learning analytics
  10. The role of emotional intelligence in creative thinking
  11. Incidental creative learning in games / gamification
  12. Game Authoring Environments for creating, sharing and repurposing games
  13. Mapping creativity-related learning attributes to game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics.

 Deadlines for submission

 Submission open: November 1 2015

Submission deadline: February 1 2016

Final feedback and acceptance: May 2016

Expected publication: September 2016


Authors are not restricted to these topics but submissions must provide relevant related topics within the remit this special issue.

Authors should prepare their manuscript according to the Instructions for Authors available from the online submission page of the International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning. All the papers will be peer-reviewed following the IJCEEL procedures.

Any specific instructions for submissions

Papers will be submitted directly to the Guest Editors. To submit a paper, you can send one copy in the form of an MS Word or PDF file attached to an e-mail to the Guest Editors (their names and contact details can be found in the actual call – the link is provided in the beginning).

Please contact Dr. Piet Kommers ( with any queries concerning this special issue.

3 Suggestions for Essential Apps for ESL Students in Higher Education

This is my 3rd post for EdTech Review India. You can find it here :


Apps are useful and practical a lot of times and young people know all about them and use them.

But students are interested mainly in using apps for their own pleasure and entertainment and not so much for educational purposes.  It is not always easy to include them in everyday classroom practice but I think that it is worth the trouble to try to make a few of them part of your College students’ everyday classroom practice.

If the target group is College students, as mentioned above, you need to choose the right apps to introduce them to. They have to be easy to use, practical and exciting. You don’t want to overwhelm them after all! My 3 main choices would be:


This is a very popular communications platform which I was introduced to this year and I have found immensely practical for many reasons. It can be used in various ways, initially to communicate information to your students, e.g. homework tasks, useful links, photos, giving feedback using voice messages. But it can also be used in other ways, such as hosting a chat, which is a great idea since using twitter for a chat is too public and intimidating for a lot of students, but being on a more ‘private’ platform, like Remind, can minimize the feeling of ‘exposure’ that weaker students perhaps feel. It is safe, simple and secure both for educators and students to use.


This is another ‘must’ for encouraging ESL students to share boards where they can post language tips, exam strategies, useful videos they find. Teacher and students can also post text, graphs and even photos and videos related to a specific topic. Another idea is encouraging students to post questions, either as part of an activity or anonymously, post-lesson, which the teacher can then read off and answer them every day.


If Powerpoint is dead, then Prezi is its worthy successor! Prezi is indeed a very exciting tool to create presentations because it allows you to present your work in a non-linear way, creating maps of texts, videos, images, graphics, etc. It is very easy to master and some of its features, like the zoom, can easily make an impression on these young adult students and tempt them to use it in their presentations!

One way or another, these are not new tools (Prezi, for example, was designed in 2009) but it is useful to remind ourselves of a good combination of practical, easy to use digital tools that our ESL students would feel motivated to use on a daily or weekly basis. Good luck everyone!

My video activity for Nik Peachey’s new book ‘Digital video’

unnamedToday I am sharing the activity I wrote some time ago for Nik Peachey’s new e-book ‘Digital Video – A manual for language teachers’

You can buy the book online. Here is the link to it on iTunes:

And this link is for people who don’t use Apple devices:

The activity I wrote involves U-tube videos and hosting short debates on a controversial topic. You can check it out here :


I hope you enjoy it!