Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Why not call CALL SMALL?

I'm giving a talk in Hong Kong today entitled "Thinking SMALL about social media assisted language learning," from a distance due to a mishap. I know what to say - I'm trying to nail down how to say it.  Hence this blog post.

I've given this talk twice already this year, or one like it (and my talk in HK will be different from the other two). Both of those earlier talks were entitled "Thinking SMALL: A case for social media assisted language learning," but the focus on each was slightly different. Both gave a background for my thinking on SMALL over the past decade, based first on my credentials in using social media in communities of practice with students and teaching peers stretching back past the turn of the century, and  pointed out that I was possibly the first to use the term SMALL in the literature, as far as I can tell from my searches on Google Scholar. I have a slide for that.

But in those two talks, that's the point where the focus shifted. The first was delivered at the annual TESOL conference in Atlanta in March 2019 and reported on a survey I had done on educator attitudes on teacher and student perceptions of social media used for learning. This happens to be what I proposed to talk about in Hong Kong. I blogged that presentation here,

The second was delivered at the biannual PELLTA conference in Penang a month later and reported on a project I had done the year before in my last teaching gig in Al Ain, UAE, on using the voice capabilities inherent in Google Docs (on Android, OS, or Windows devices) to give feedback through Google Docs to poorly performing and unmotivated students on their writing (Stevens, 2019a).

I am a great fan of flipped learning, including flipping presentations, which is to say I make sure that the materials I plan to cover are all online, so that rather than having to, in 25 short minutes, explain in exquisite detail all I have to say, I can overview what I would have covered if I had had more time, and refer people to the links for them to follow down whatever rabbit holes they wish to step into. Furthermore, my presentation at PELLTA in Penang was double-flipped. In rehearsing my presentation prior to the conference (to test how was I going say what I hoped to say in the 25 minutes I had for that one) it occurred to me to record the rehearsal in Zoom. So when I went to the presentation I told my audience that they could find online, at the TinyURL I provided them:
  • the slides for my presentation 
  • a prose write up of what I intended to say 
  • the rehearsal recording online
As far as I can tell, people rarely take me up on my suggestion to follow along in my slide show or prose presentation versions during my presentations. They are not conditioned for it, but one day, they will be! And then they will expect of presenters to lay out their slides in advance, and also have a recording of the presentation available afterwards.

That was the second flip -- to record the presentation as I gave it in Zoom, so that the audience could listen later if they wished. And I told the audience where they could find the link to the recording. In my last slide in the materials listed above, I had a QR code up that they could shoot, and I gave them a mnemonic URL,, which would take them to my slides, and which would in turn, in due time, have the link to the recording I had just made.

So it was all there, and all that material can be found at my blog post here:

I plan to do something similar for my presentation to the HK audience, for which I had created a similar link (but I broke the link here because I was not able to update the slides stored there with the latest version, now uploaded to Google Slides).

And here's what I told the delegates at the conference on the day.

The presentation is in three parts:

1. Background regarding the case for CAI, CALL and SMALL
2. Why teachers must model productive social media techniques with one another
3. Survey of the extent to which teachers are preparing students to engage in collaborative work models

1. Background regarding the case for CAI, CALL, and SMALL

First of all, I'd like to make it clear that I do not advocate for any changes in acronym or disruption to the established order where the term CALL has served us so well. I do not suggest that the follow-on to this CALL Research Conference on the theme of social CALL should be the SMALL Research Conference 2020. That would be ridiculous.

As we know, Stephen Bax is perhaps best known in CALL circles for his suggestion that computers have become so normalized in today's world that the C in CALL is decreasingly descriptive (Bax, 2003 and 2011). This has led many to discuss whether a better acronym would more accurately characterize the role of computers in language learning.

In their article, renowned for its (depth of analysis as well as its) title, Why call CALL “CALL”?, Levy and Hubbard (2005) argue for the retention of the term CALL because the term is serviceable and practical; it describes what we do, and the term had been in use for two decades at the time the article was written, over three decades at this juncture.

However, CALL was not always CALL. Prior to the formation of the CALL Interest Section in TESOL in 1984, the use of computers in education was most often referred to as CAI, for computer assisted instruction. The symposium at the TESOL conference in Toronto in 1983 that kicked of the formation of the CALL-IS the following year was called the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Symposium. The program for it can be found here online:

The term CAI became CALL in just ten minutes at the symposium on CAI when John Higgins proposed, and "argued eloquently that the name of our endeavor should be changed forthwith to CALL, to place the emphasis on 'learning'" Stevens (2015, n.p., 4th paragraph in body of article). A discussion ensued. I argued at that time for the retention of  CAI, citing essentially the same arguments as did Levy and Hubbard in 2005: the literature was all in reference to CAI, and people had been calling it that since computers had started guiding students through whatever could be taught in an algorithm and keep people on task until "mastery learning" was achieved. A vote was taken, democracy prevailed, and we started referring to our field as CALL.

So, nothing lasts forever. However, there are many contenders continually being mooted for a replacement to CALL. I concede that agreement from among proponents of alternative acronyms is unlikely: MALL, SMALL, TALL, TELL ... I haven't heard MELL yet, and SMALL does not lend itself to this kind of transformation. But Levy and Hubbard also insert a longevity caveat into their argument for retention of CALL, where they note that “perhaps … the label CALL cannot ultimately make the transition from pre-network to network-based teaching and learning,” (pp. 143-144).

So why not call CALL SMALL? Now that we find ourselves in just such an age of network-based teaching and learning, and gathered together here at a CALL Research Conference on Social CALL, it is worthwhile to consider how we have re-positioned ourselves, whether or not some chose to call it SMALL, albeit subsumed under the umbrella term, CALL.

This year, I felt for the first time since I started promoting the term ten years ago that SMALL might be coming of age when I was asked to join the panel on what was proposed as a CALL academic session on Social Media Language Learning at the 2019 TESOL conference in Atlanta. After some negotiation with the other panelists, and passing along some of my articles and book chapters on the topic (e.g. Stevens, 2014), they agreed with me to change the title to Social Media-Assisted Language Learning, or SMALL. It was the first time I had ever achieved agreement from a group of respected peers on my choice of acronym in what Levy and Hubbard had referred to as this new age of 'network-based teaching and learning'.

That's my main message for my talk tomorrow, but in my limited time remaining I'd like to touch on the following areas which I touched on in my proposal.

2. Why teachers must model productive social media techniques with one another

Second, how modeling SMALL with peers is precursor to teachers using it with students. Many of these tools and skills work through peers scaffolding one another to bring each other up to speed on the ins and outs. I don't anticipate having time to cover this in greater detail today, but I refer my audience to slide 15 in this presentation

Here, those wishing to explore further can find more background on the importance of social media in communities of practice of educators learning how to use social media in their own learning in collaboration with one another in order to be in a position to use social media with their students. I share here my background working within such communities of practice since 1998, and relate some stories of how individuals have made use of their participation in these communities when working with students.

In my presentation today, I add one more such story …

I have been 'column' editor of the TESL-EJ "On the Internet column" since taking over from Jim Duber in 2002. My editing style is unique to any I have experienced with any other editor I have ever worked with. I have authors whose work I am editing share their work in Google Docs and then use the powerful feedback tools in Google Docs to work with authors to negotiate optimal wording of their work to be published later in TESL-EJ.

I recently worked with Gavin Wu as editor of an article he published in the TESL-EJ  (Wu, 2018).  Gavin mentions how this worked for him in this passage from his article:

"collaborative work is very much needed and workplace collaboration is viewed as a necessary skill for current and future global employees (Jones & Hafner, 2012). In academia, cross-national collaboration is nothing new (e.g., the teacher/researcher in Hong Kong collaborated productively in Google Docs with the section editor in the United Arab Emirates on this piece of work), however, the question we may need to consider is to what extent our students are prepared for engaging in such collaborative work modes?"

Indeed! Gavin appears to have responded positively to scaffolding through working with me in using Google Docs to arrive at a publishable version of his article, and after he had experienced that, he used it as an example of a point he was making to begin with. So, we learn by doing, especially by doing in collaboration with one another, and once we've absorbed that lesson, we pass these skills on through engaging our students in the same and similar techniques.

3. Survey of the extent to which teachers are preparing students to engage in collaborative work models

And finally, I plan to mention a few salient results from the 60 responses to a survey I created gauging educators’ perceptions of certain aspects of using social media with each other and with students. I'll settle on two or three salient take-aways to highlight in my brief presentation, whereas the complete report should be available in the conference proceedings (Stevens, 2019b).

I haven't placed the materials I covered here in this blog post, but you can see them in the slides embedded at the beginning of this post, and they were selected from parts of the following documents:
  1. A “long” version of the chapter I submitted to the conference proceedings containing my findings shared publicly here:
  2. The updated replacement version of my slides which I place on Google Slides because removed an essential function from its service, the ability to replace slides uploaded before giving a presentation with a version with the tweaks you make after the presentation. The latest and definitive version of these slides is now here:
  3. The recording of my presentation in Zoom which is embedded in this blog post and is available on YouTube here:
  4. The Learning2gether episode #415 blog post in which the most current and updated version of the slides appears, and in which the video and also an audio mp3 of the talk are embedded:
And there are more notes on SMALL documenting more of what I touch on here, at

In Conclusion

The title of this post is Why NOT call CALL SMALL. Without the emphasis shown here, this could be interpreted as WHY NOT, so that the question appears to be a suggestion that we do just that. However, with the emphasis shown this could be interpreted as presenting an argument for why we NOT take such a step.

I do not intend in my presentation to call for radical change. Looking back, it appears that such a change was called for back in 1983, and as a result the CALL Interest Section in TESOL did not become the CALI-IS; whereas CALICO, the computer assisted language instruction consortium, itself founded in 1983, carries forward to this day the concept of CAI as opposed to CALL, |

I don't anticipate seeing the formation of a social media assisted language instruction consortium in my lifetime. However, as the presentations at the 2019 CALL Research Conference on Social CALL should suggest, this appears to be a robust and viable interest in CALL in this new age of 'network-based teaching and learning'. Certainly a prime and current focus in our using computers in language learning should be on what computers do best for language learners, which is to facilitate communication among them and with native speakers of a language, largely through social media.


Bax, S. (2003). CALL – Past, present and future. System, 31(1), 13–28. Retrieved from

Bax, S. (2011). Normalisation revisited: The effective use of technology in language education. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, 1(2), 1-15. Retrieved from

Levy, M. and Hubbard, P. (2005). Why call CALL “CALL”? Computer Assisted Language Learning, July 2005. DOI: 10.1080/09588220500208884. Retrieved from Research Gate.

Stevens, V. (2014). Connectivist Learning: Reaching Students through Teacher Professional Development. In J. Son (Ed.). Computer-assisted language learning: Learners, teachers and tools. APACALL Book Series Volume 3. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Retrieved from

Stevens, V. (2015). How the TESOL CALL Interest Section began (updated). On CALL (Sept 2015). Retrieved from

Stevens, V. (2019a). Teaching writing to students with tablets using voice to overcome keyboard shortcomings. In W. Zoghbor, S. Al Alami & T. Alexiou, (Eds.). Proceedings of the 1st Applied Linguistics and Language Teaching Conference: Teaching and Learning in a Globalized World. Dubai: Zayed University Press, pp.22-47. Retrieved from

Stevens, V. (2019b). Thinking SMALL about social media assisted language learning. In J. Colpaert, A. Aerts, Q. Ma, & J. L. F. King (Eds.). Proceedings of the Twentieth International CALL Research Conference: Social CALL (pp. 257-272). Hong Kong: The Education University of Hong Kong. The unpaginated PDF submitted for inclusion is available:

Wu, J. G. (2018). Mobile Collaborative Learning in a Chinese Tertiary EFL Context.TESL-EJ, 22(2), Available:

Friday, January 18, 2019

Hold that thought: Ideas big and SMALL about blending social media and eLearning 3.0 regarding hosting participatory communities of practice and online conferences

I didn't meant to brainstorm my impetus for this post into such a long title: Hold that thought: Ideas big and SMALL about blending social media and eLearning 3.0 regarding hosting participatory communities of practice and online conferences. Here's what the title is about:

Hold that thought

The Hold that Thought part was because all the ingredients of this post have been percolating around my brain for a few weeks and I'm under pressure to get them down in writing by the end of the month so I can propose some talks at an upcoming round of conferences this year. At some point you have to start writing about them. This post is my attempt at grabbing that tiger by the tail and wrestling it to the ground where I can get a grasp of all the ideas at interplay.

Thinking SMALL 

Thinking SMALL is something I've been doing for some time. SMALL, or social media assisted language learning, is a term I coined ten years ago on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of CALL-IS at the 2009 TESOL conference, Denver (see slide 8 here):

I've laid claim consistently to the term since then, as I've documented here in links to a dozen blog posts and presentations from 2009 to 2013 where I mentioned SMALL. In 2014 I articulated my position on SMALL in a book chapter (Stevens, 2014), available at

Despite my frequent 'mention' of it over the years, my acronym never got traction, mainly because there were so many other good acronyms out there trying to make the same point. The point is, as Stephen Bax was arguing eloquently and prolifically at the time, computers had been normalized to the point that the 'computer' part of CALL was hardly any longer meaningful. Many replacements for the C word had been suggested: MALL (mobile assisted), TALL (tech assisted), TELL (tech enhanced), MALL (mobile assisted), BALL (blog assisted), SNALL (social network assisted) etc. and these often came up in conversations where I would put forward my own choice of acronym, but I could see that there was a variety of opinion on the matter, all with more or less equal merit, and therefore the best course of action was the one with least resistance, just continue using the term that everyone was familiar with and that everyone understood to be the umbrella term for all the sub-acronyms: CALL.

Meanwhile, I have continued to attend TESOL conferences each year, because I am invited to give a talk or join a panel, or am involved in Webcasting, and I plan to attend the TESOL conference in 2019 in Atlanta to appear on a panel as a result of the invitation worded as follows:

"Thank you for your proposal submission for the TESOL 2019 International Convention & English Language Expo. Your proposal, number 1020-004276, titled, "SMALL: Research, Practice, Impact of Social Media-Assisted Language Learning," has been included in the TESOL 2019 convention program, held on 12-15 March 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA."

The title of this event was agreed to by all the co-panelists (Sandy Wagner, Susan Gaer,  Elke Stappert, and Maria Tomeho-Palermino, and myself) following my suggestion that we adopt my acronym. And they all agreed :-) Traction at last!

Toward achieving that agreement, I had sent my co-panelists the link to my book chapter on SMALL at In order to work on our proposal, the panel collaborated on a Google Doc, the use of which, incidentally, is a prime example of how SMALL works (Stevens, 2015). The document can be edited by only the panelists but is shared publicly here: 

As indicated in the above document, the following is my proposed contribution to the panel:


Thinking SMALL: A case for social media assisted language learning

CALL by definition is COMPUTER assisted language learning, but these days almost everything has a computer. As Stephen Bax used to eloquently and prolifically remind us, the 'computer' part of CALL has long been tending toward normalization. It no longer seems that the computer part of the equation carries significant weight. The weight has shifted to what computers DO.

What computers do best for language learners is to facilitate communication between them and other speakers of the target language, most predominantly through social media. I believe that SM assists LL more than does the old C, so I have been calling CALL SMALL at every opportunity and encouraging people to "think SMALL" in order to de-emphasize the computer part of CALL as we evolve toward SMALL.

Language is all about communication, and it is through meaningful communication that students of languages learn them, and to a much lesser extent through learning about the structure of the language (though of course, learning how to correctly shape communication and developing predictive knowledge of the language can help with understanding by helping to decode what people are saying). This in turn facilitates communication which in turn forms the substrate for language learning.

I am aware that there is a clamor of other acronyms to describe our field; e.g. TELL, MALL, SMLL etc etc and whenever I nudge SMALL to the fore it is usually drowned out by others suggesting equally qualified acronyms with the same passion as my suggestion. In my presentation I will summarize some of the arguments I have been making for SMALL over the years since I first started mooting the concept in 2009.

Also, a part of my message is that many of these tools and skills work through peers scaffolding one another to bring each other up to speed on the ins and outs. In a piece I just edited for Gavin Wu for the TESL-EJ On the Internet column (Wu, Junjie Gavin. (2018). Mobile Collaborative Learning in a Chinese Tertiary EFL Context.TESL-EJ, Volume 22, Number 2, Available: Gavin mentions how this worked for him in this passage from his article:

"Collaborative work is very much needed and workplace collaboration is viewed as a necessary skill for current and future global employees (Jones & Hafner, 2012). In academia, cross-national collaboration is nothing new (e.g., the teacher/researcher in Hong Kong collaborated productively in Google Docs with the section editor in the United Arab Emirates on this piece of work), however, the question we may need to consider is to what extent our students are prepared for engaging in such collaborative work modes?"

Using Google Docs to arrive at a publishable version of an article in process appears to have been a new experience for Gavin, but after being exposed to it, he used it in his article as an example of the point he was making to begin with. So, we learn by doing, and pass these skills on through engaging our students in the same and similar techniques.


Meanwhile, I am preparing an abstract for the XXth International Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Research Conference to be held at The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong from 10 - 12 July 2019, The conference theme is "Social CALL" meaning "the social dimensions of CALL, more specially the social challenges and responsibilities in respected discipline." The call for papers has been issued with abstracts due at the end of January, 2019,

I am planning to attend several other conferences this year if my proposals are accepted.  These will follow on the trajectory of my work in social CALL laid out in my book chapter on SMALL, as traced from Writing for Webheads and Webheads in Action (WiA) at the start of this century,, and the three free, global WiA online convergences we mounted in 2005, 2007, and 2009, Another thread binding my work since the turn of the century has been my work with Electronic Village Online (EVO, in which I have participated as both a coordinator and moderator of sessions since 2002.

One of my longest running sessions was Multiliteracies, which I conducted in one form or another from 2004 through 2014, and which was known in its latest renditions, once I had bit the koolaid of connectivism, as MultiMOOC,

My latest and most recent project, run under the auspices of EVO since 2015, has been EVO Minecraft MOOC (EVOMC, The social interaction in this project has been best captured in the wide-ranging and graphically colorful interaction of its Google+ Community (G+C, Google plans to shut down this community in April of this year due to known hacking of the platform, apparently because they don't wish to address the threat of congressional oversight as has happened with Facebook since 2016 (and Google+ is not the financial mainstay of Google so they have decided not to defend it). Thus we will need to harvest as much data as we can from this platform before April in order to be able to use what we have built there in any analysis of how we fit in with the participatory culture that makes Minecraft so compelling for language learning.

We have already used blog tools experimentally in this effort; e.g. Mircea Patrascu's harvest of posts through the end of the year here, We are presently engaged in our most current EVOMC session, #evomc19, so we will need to make a last harvest when the session ends in February. I hope to use the resulting data in my presentations, updating what we have learned about gamification of SMALL through this effort, as it has evolved over the years each year since 2015.

Two other conferences I'm planning to attend, assuming my proposals are accepted, are:

Blending social media and eLearning 3.0 into a substrate for hosting participatory communities of practice

The loss of Google+ Communities (G+Cs) is going to be a huge blow to thousands of communities of practice, who stand to lose not only their data and transaction histories, but their connections with one another that were made possible only through the community. We don't necessarily have a way of contacting the 350 people who are members of the G+C EVO Minecraft MOOC. Our links with each other, except in the many cases where we have formed personal bonds with our community members, is through their Google profiles, which, except when hacked, Google disguises as to true identities. This is sure to be the biggest blow to educational CoPs since Ning withdrew its free services in 2010 (Stevens, 2010) or the more recent demise of Wikispaces ( whose end came on July 31, 2018 for sites used purely for education).

It's also going to send all these CoPs out looking for new homes. EVO Minecraft MOOC has already started experimenting with Google Groups and Google Classrooms, though neither seem all that compelling. We have also been considering Moodle, since a couple of people in our group have experience and training on that platform, the platform is free an open source, and training opportunities abound. Other possibilities include (off the top of my head here) Canva, Schoology, Edmodo, Peer-to-peer university (P2PU), Wikiversity ... I'll add to this list as others occur or are suggested to me.

eLearning 3.0

The eLearning 3.0 part is a concept put forward by Stephen Downes in a recent MOOC he hosted by that name,, and which I described (to an extent) in a blog post here: The most interesting thing to me about this and all of Stephen's MOOCs is the platform he has developed for hosting his events, which he calls gRSShopper. The grasshopper flits about collecting content via RSS feeds and couches it all in a platform that runs personal learning environments (PLEs) such as MOOCs. The platform has evolved over the years since Stephen co-hosted the first MOOC in 2008, Connectivism and Connectivist Knowledge (CCK08,

The portal pages for these early MOOCs seem to have disappeared from U of Manitoba's servers, but these early cMOOCs were proofs of concept that algorithms could manage the massive part of MOOCs, the large numbers of participants. The idea was that the participants could learn from one another without any direct intervention from a teacher directing that learning from on-high (in other words, knowledge was distributed through aggregation, not delivered top-down). I recall that Stephen's scripts aggregated all content tagged #cck08 and displayed it via his gRSShopper-driven portal script (and to prevent spam, he required bloggers in CCK08 to register their blogs, and the script would aggravate all tagged content only from trusted users).

Here's how Stephen describes gRSShopper. Visit to learn more.

I don't recall exactly how much of the platform was in operation in 2008 but Stephen explained and demonstrated gRSShopper at an Innovation Forum presentation as a prototype for a PLE on Jul 07, 2009. The YouTube link is

Stephen not only uses gRSShopper as the PLE driving all his MOOCs but invites others to use it freely. He explained in some detail during the eLearning 3.0 MOOC how it works and how anyone can do that. You can tease out the relevant material through the links on this page,, which, if followed systematically, would allow you to replay the entire course. At the bottom of the page, you can see that the page itself is generated from gRSShopper (I did a ctrl-F search on that page to get the notice to highlight in yellow before making the screen capture).

Blending social media and eLearning 3.0 into platforms for online conferences

This project is one requested of me by the president of APACALL Jeong Bae Son. APACALL is considering holding online conferences. Jeong Bae and other colleagues in APACALL were participants in our WiaOC conferences, which at the time seemed to set a new standard for hosting conferences by using free Web 2.0 tools and ignoring pay walls, as was the norm for other online conferences taking place before that time. Nowadays, the standard is much more rigorous, but Jeong Bae asked me to look into how other conferences host their online events.

I've addressed this in a couple of blog posts.

My report to APACALL, when I am able to focus on it, will combine an annotated listing of successfully run online conferences, an inventory of essential and desired features in mounting one's own, and some suggestions on how APACALL might move forward on the concept based on what is learned from reacting to the changing playing field given the considerations noted above.

& Etc.

Another project I have been working on obliquely is one proposed to me by Jennifer Verschoor a couple of years ago. Jennifer's idea is for us to put our heads together on developing coding as a focus for language learning. We created a rationale for it in Stevens and Verschoor (2017) but we haven't developed the notion much beyond that. In both our cases, we simply lacked time to work on it, Jen because she is in so much demand in her consultancy work, and me because I had a full-time job. Now that my full-time work has ended, that will be one less constraint on our time (once the other wheels alluded to in this post are set in motion and running of their own accord).


Stevens, Vance. (2010). The Ning Thing. TESL-EJ, Volume 14, Number 1:; pdf:

Stevens, V. (2014). Connectivist Learning: Reaching Students through Teacher Professional Development" in Son, J.-B. (Ed.). Computer-assisted language learning: Learners, teachers and tools. APACALL Book Series Volume 3. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.;
Also available at

Stevens, V.  (2015). Finding Your Voice: Teaching Writing Using Tablets with Voice Capability. TESL-EJ, Volume 19, Number 3, Available:
Also available at:; pp. 1-11 in pdf.

Stevens, V. & Verschoor, J. (2017). Coding and English Language Teaching. TESL-EJ, Volume 21, Number 2, Available: Also available at:; pp. 1-15.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

EVO Minecraft MOOC travels to WorldCALL 5 in Concepción, Chile

I'm in Concepción, Chile, for my 3rd WorldCALL conference. They happen every five years. I was at the first one in Melbourne, Australia in 1998. I met Jeong Bae Son there and was asked to join him on the executive committee at APACALL ( shortly after that, and have been active in that organization ever since. I believe JB, as he likes to be called, will be in Concepción this year.

I missed the second WorldCALL in Banff in 2003 but went to Fukuoka in 2008. I was not able to attend Glasgow in 2013 but it looks like I'm consistently attending every other one. This one November 13 to 16, 2018, is only the 5th WorldCALL conference ever,

EVO Minecraft MOOC at WorldCALL 5 in Concepción

My talk at WorldCALL 5 will be on Gamifying teacher professional development through Minecraft MOOC


EVO Minecraft MOOC is an ongoing community of practice of language teaching practitioners which invites newcomers to join in every January / February and then continues throughout the year with a dedicated group of teaching peers who have been interacting online in Minecraft for the past 4 years. This presentation explains how the group was formed, how it functions, and what we have learned about gamifying learning by experiencing it ourselves when playing the game Minecraft with one another. More importantly we reflect continually on how this informs our approach to teaching and learning. This presentation shares our insights and perspectives with our audience and invites them to join us online if they wish to learn more about what gamification feels like as a learning experience.


Electronic Village Online is an annual teacher training event run under the auspices of TESOL CALL-IS. EVO Minecraft MOOC is a 5-week session that has taken place in Minecraft, a wiki, and Google+ Community space each Jan / Feb since 2015. The presenter conceived the idea for EVO Minecraft MOOC as a way that he himself could develop expertise in the game and thereby use it with students. Other teachers were attracted to the concept, including some who had some experience in the game. Participants were attracted to the session for the same reasons — not that their learning paths had been prescribed for them in a neatly pre-set syllabus but that by entering the “game” or session, learning would happen for them in a way that participants would come to understand by experiencing the process that Ito et al (2010) characterize as “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out.”

We have found that Minecraft is capable of reversing the normal student teacher dichotomy whereby teachers traditionally are assumed to know more than their students. We have found through the experience of participants in our EVO session that that participants tend to take charge of their learning by guiding one another in the vagaries of the game.

This presentation explains what teachers (who are learning about the game through the experience of playing it as learners) are learning about designing worlds within the game context that will meet their curriculum objectives and create an engaging and enjoyable experience and task-based environment for learners. But above all, the paper explores how teachers can be made aware of the affordances of Minecraft by creating such spaces for one another and interacting in those spaces. It also serves as an example of how we teachers can use what we have learned through our experience with MOOCs to form communities of practice to reboot our own learning, using the community as curriculum model (Cormier, 2008).

A trailer for my presentation in Concepción appears here

I blogged how this came about at my more frequently updated podcast blog here,

The video was the result of a concatenation of events. I was taking an iTDi Teaching Online course facilitated by Heike Philp and one of the projects was to produce a video teaching something to an imaginary class of online learners. Meanwhile I had been asked to prepare a "lightning talk" of 5 or 6 minutes explaining EVO Minecraft MOOC for the Games and Learning Community Group session at EDUCAUSE in Denver and have it ready for their face-to-face session on November 1

The YouTube video is online here, It is a quick run-through of the slides accompanying my WorldCALL 5 presentation, which I have placed online here:

So that is the flipped learning side of my presentation in Concepción. Having done all this preparation, and as the slides are online, I plan to simply talk about them in the 30 minutes I have available to me at WorldCALL.

One thing I would like to emphasize in my presentation is something that Yuko Kato, one of my colleagues in the iTDi course, asked me: What is the language purpose of this? This is a question that is quite critical to keep in mind at a WordlCALL conference on computer assisted language learning.

I co-wrote an article which might be a good starting point, Smolčec, M., Smolčec, F. and Stevens, V. (2014). Using Minecraft for Learning English. TESL-EJ 18, 2. Available: This gives many examples of students using MC to practice and improve learning a FL.

Several of the colleagues who appear in this article have formed a community of practice called EVO Minecraft MOOC. The purpose of this community is to help teachers experience the affordances of MC for communication, critical thinking, problem solving ... all elements underpinning real communication i.e. the desire to learn and use a language. The following article explains how EVO Minecraft MOOC helps teachers to understand the participatory culture which players enter and how to apply the affordances of the game to language learning contexts, Stevens, V. (2017). Gamifying Teacher Professional Development through Minecraft MOOC. In Zoghbor, W., Coombe, C., Al Alami, S. & Abu-Rmaileh, S. (Eds.). Language Culture Communication: Transformations in Intercultural Contexts. The Proceedings of the 22nd TESOL Arabia Conference. Dubai: TESOL Arabia. Pages 75-92. Available:

I'm trying to get Flipgrid to work. The following is experimental ...

View my Flipboard Magazine.

Writingmatrix at WorldCALL 3 in Fukuoka

I preserved the following notes from WorldCALL 3 in Fukuoka in 2008

At the August 6-9, 2008 WorldCALL congress in Fukuoka, Japan,, my 45 min. session on Engaging collaborative writing through social networking was listed in the program at in the Aug 6 time slot from 17:25 to 18:10 Tokyo time. Nelba Quintana, a collaborator on the Writingmatrix project I was reporting on, joined me at the podium for the presentation.

Nelba Quintana and I after we gave our presentation - photo by Joseph Dias
As mentioned, Nelba Quintana, one of the original Writingmatrix teachers, joined me at my session, and Rita Zeinstejer and Sasa Sirk joined in online, as you can hear in the recording.

Several Webheads ( attended this conference. Some are shown in the photo above, taken by Tom Robb (also a Webhead). They might have been about to listen to Vera Menezes give an interesting plenary address on CALL development in the context of chaos theory and how strange attractors create butterfly effects impacting subsequent development of a field like CALL felt all around the world. For example ... imagine huge auditorium, huge screen dwarfing tiny podium with speaker on stage, who clicked on a slide on ... Webheads in Action, and another slide on Writingmatrix. Erika Cruvinel was also mentioned in one of Vera's slides where she talked about Erika's model project sharing with Claudia's class in La Plata. 

I found this picture at the Webheads Posterous blog which was moved (when Posterous shut down) here

I wrote up my talk for the conference proceedings

Stevens, Vance. (2009 July 15). Engaging Collaborative Writing through Social Networking. In Koyama, Toshiko; Noguchi, Judy; Yoshinari,Yuichiro; and Iwasaki, Akio (Eds.). Proceedings of the WorldCALL 2008 Conference. The Japan Association for Language Education and Technology (LET). ISBN: 978-4-9904807-0-7, pp.68-71.

My paper Engaging Collaborative Writing through Social Networking appears in the online version of the WorldCALL 2008 proceedings The paper linked from those proceeds is available here, while a proof version can be found here

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Enduring Spirit of Webheads in Action

In March of this year I attended the International TESOL Conference in Chicago, where at the Wiley publishers' booth I was able to lay my hands, literally, on a copy of my chapter in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching.

Vanessa Vaile. who shared on my timeline the picture I had posted to Facebook earlier, has been a participant in many MOOCs I have participated in myself, including the one I founded in 1998, before the term was coined, Writing for Webheads, and after 2002, Webheads in Action,

Here was the byline of my original post:

There were numerous replies on my post. Here is a sampling taken off the top of the feed:

Communications with the publisher suggest that I am permitted to post a pdf of my chapter on my personal website, so here it is: Stevens, V. (2018). Webheads. In Liontas, J. (Ed.). The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching. Wiley-Blackwell. 5824 pages. This work is also available as an online resource at Pdf available:

The posts and book chapter make great testimonials to the impact that Webheads in Action has had on hundreds if not thousands of colleagues, associates, and acquaintances in language learning and educational technology, many of whom have become good friends over the years.

I imagine my virtual work and social networking with Webheads in Action will continue for some time to come. However, the face-to-face teaching and CALL coordinating I have done in UAE for the past 20 years is coming to an end shortly.

I've been clearing out the papers I have accumulated here, making pdfs (now that the technology is not only available but ubiquitous, not the case when many of these were produced), and posting as much as I can at my papers repository at

This has led me to relate a story. This one starts when Curt Bonk gave a talk at Abu Dhabi Women's College early this century. I was a fan of his due to his writings on learner-centered, constructivist, and sociocultural components of collaborative educational learning tools (e.g. Bonk and Cunningham, 1998, available on Curt's page, one of his many web pages where he shares whatever he can of everything he produces). I made it a point to attend the talk, which was inspirational, and at the end of it he asked those in the room to share how they would make changes in their practice as a result of what they had learned in his talk. He went around the room drawing effusive promises from participants, and when it came my turn I stood up and said I was going to invite him to come online and speak to colleagues virtually in the group that I had been interacting with, Webheads in Action. He looked at me oddly, nodded, and quickly moved on to the next person.

When Dr. Bonk was next in Abu Dhabi I sat near him in the audience between presentations and told him more about Webheads and he took enough of an interest that when we put on our first Webheads in Action Online Convergence in 2005, he agreed to give not one, but two keynotes. All of our keynote speakers at that seminal event are listed here:

Curt has kept in touch over the years, and when Curt's friend Jay Cross came to Abu Dhabi, Curt encouraged him to get in touch with me. On the afternoon of the last day of the conference Jay was involved in, not one to which I had been invited, he called my mobile cell phone, and I agreed to come and get him at the Abu Dhabi Hilton and show him the town. His first request was to visit a beach, so I took him to the nearby stretch of sand where the Emirates Palace Hotel now stands and he got out of the car, took his shoes off, and walked on the beach happy as a kid, squishing the sand in his toes. I don't recall where else we went but we had a delightful time, ending at a fish souq on the piers where the dhows used to moor, and I picked up a kilo of shrimp and I brought him up to our apartment with its night view of the Abu Dhabi corniche where my wife Bobbi fixed it for dinner. When I returned Jay to the Hilton late that night he was well refreshed.

I stayed in touch with Jay through his Internetime Ning. Fast forward a bit to 2007, and Jay had been invited to speak at a conference on "New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region" taking place 30 August - 1 September 2007 at the famous library in Alexandria, Egypt (actually the famous one burned down; the modern reconstruction is engaged in making digital copies of as many books as possible). The event was subtitled "Motivating Change: New Learning in Formal Education for Sustainable Development", and the conference was hosting regionally-based experts working in informal learning, web 2.0, active bloggers, etc. I hardly considered myself an expert on sustainability, but Jay could not attend and was asked to recommend someone else in the region who might fill in for him. I would imagine Jay was planning to talk about informal learning, since he wrote a book on that topic, but I agreed to come and address Web 2.0. I wrote out everything I intended to say on that topic here:

In my notes of the event, on my web page here,
I noted that there was a conference blog. The blog address is still good, but I had to search on the term 'sustainability' to find that the posts pertaining to the event in Alexandria were still online:

The chronologically earlier post,, mentions that I gave a "very interesting presentation" and promises a post about it "later" (still waiting :-). But it also mentions that Buthaina Al Othman was one of the speakers at this conference. And as this post is about the spirit of Webheads, this requires another aside.

Buthaina, whom we knew as Buth, was one of our original Webheads in Action participants in 2002, but we did not meet until Sunday, November 16, 2003, when Michael Coghlan and I were scheduled to be presenters at the annual and entirely online Global Learn Day VII event. Michael was one of the co-founders of Writing for Webheads, and our presentation was on "Meet the Webheads: An experiment in world friendship through online language learning." Our presentation was unusual in that Michael happened to be in Abu Dhabi, so we had arranged to cybercast our presentation live from the Lecture Hall where I worked at the Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi.

I had invited my colleagues at PI to come and witness the event, but it was late in our working day, and I was told later that we were competing with a rugby test on the telly, so only 5 or 6 of my real-life colleagues were there to occupy a few of the 100 some odd available seats. But Buthaina flew from nearby Kuwait to Abu Dhabi especially to be on hand to join us in the live presentation. Buthaina posted pictures and archived the event at her website:, which amazingly remains online.

Michael became the Webheads community troubadour after composing and recording our theme song, "Webheads all over the World", available on Wikispaces until July 31, 2018.
Listen soon! (or maybe Michael will post it elsewhere for us.
Note from Jan 2019, I found a capture here; no mp3 link though

To bring this aside to a close, I next met Buth in person at the 9th EFL Conference at the American University of Cairo, held in January, 2004, where I had been invited to deliver a plenary address (Stevens, 2004) and a few workshops. As a guest of the conference organizers, including the US Embassy in Cairo, I was invited to many events in the course of my stay, and as Buth and I were often seen together at the conference, she was usually included in the invitations. To the many people we met, I was introduced by my proper credentials and as one of the speakers at the conference, and Buth was introduced as "a Webhead." Buth was first to notice this pattern, which we interpreted as a sign that Webheads had taken on a stature in the context of this conference whereby it was as natural to introduce someone as a Webhead as to give their affiliation in the normal way, and it seemed to be accepted on as equal a par by the professors at the event as with any other identity.

Buth and I both met again in Alexandria a few years later at the conference in 2007 on New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region, again by coincidence, and both of us were mentioned in the same blog post as the conference got under way. That part of the story continues on the web page where I record my papers and presentations:

In addition to my formal presentation at the conference in Alexandria, I had been offered an opportunity to mount a poster session at an event called the New Marketplace at New Learning for Sustainability exhibition (with wireless available), so I was able to illustrate some of the concepts I'd brought up in my talk by demonstrating some of the tools we use in Webheads and Worldbridges Webcast Academy, The computer-mediated communications tools I was using at the time would have been similar to those described in Stevens (2005), and presented at the METSMaC conference in Abu Dhabi that year. The Alexandria presentation worked well, the conference delegates were interested, and I was offered an additional slot for a workshop on Saturday Sept 1, the last day of the conference, from 9 a.m to 11:30 a.m. in Egypt

This would be an extemporaneous event. I dubbed it "F.U.N. Fare - UnWorkshop on Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks." F.U.N. was an acronym I had coined standing for Frivolous Unanticipated Nonsense, which I was arguing in those days that teachers should tolerate, even encourage, in their teaching in order to push their lessons toward the bleeding edge of the envelope of what was possible in engaging their students (and each other) with the newly emerging enabling Web 2.0 technologies.

At the TESOL conference in March, 2004 I had given a presentation entitled "Voices heard having F.U.N. in online communities of practice" as part of a Colloquium on “Multiple perspectives on the on-line conversation class” organized by David Nunan:

Buth appears in the picture at the top of that web page, taken at the conclusion of the colloquium; she used to often attend TESOL conferences in that era. David Nunan appeared on the program (with Curt Bonk) at our Webheads in Action Online Convergence the following year, 2005. The gentleman on the right is another Webheads participant, Jeong Bae Son, president of APACALL.

I introduced that final, unplanned and unanticipated, unWorkshop event in Alexandria as a concatenation of two convergent communities of practice, Webheads in Action and, who were constantly together exploring new computer-mediated communications (CMC) tools for percolating knowledge through their overlapping distributed learning networks, and leveraging many properties of social networking (Lebow, 2006). I promised that members of those communities would be invited to join us online, and the (un)workshop would take place informally, without fixed agenda, and in response to the direction suggested by the online participants and those present in Alexandria.

Among the spaces we would explore were:
  • Slideshare, Bubbleshare, Webshots, Voicethread, Flickr
  • Facebook, Moodle, Pageflakes
What ensued was a definitive display of the Spirit of Webheads

The BrightGreenLearning blogger observed the following

Vance Stevens, of the Petroleum Institute (Abu Dhabi) and founder of Webheads in 1998, gave a two hour Un-Workshop this morning at our Arab Region New Learning for Sustainable Development Workshop that he titled F.U.N. * Fair: Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks. This was a face-to-face un-workshop, a veritable souk of activity, connectivity and interaction both in our training room at the Library of Alexandria, where we are now in Egypt, and with his online colleagues from Barcelona, the West Coast of the US, and so on, who joined us in Second Life, on skype and on

The Un-workshop had an open door policy, people were popping in and out. Laptops and terminals all on different pages, the clattering of keypads, exploring and trying out the URLs that Vance was introducing to us, talking us through, answering ten questions simultaneously. There were plenty of technical challenges, and at the same time lots of patient people who were excited by the possibilities, mystified by Second Life (one Egyptian participant said it should be called “Second Wife” instead), and eagerly starting their journey in the technology-mediated environment. It was great to have Vance as a guide. What you can learn from seeing it, trying it, and being able to query it in real time is so valuable, plus his enthusiasm is catching. You could tell that we weren’t the only ones having F.U.N.*
* Frivilous Unanticipated Nonsense


I wrote a report on the plane on my way back to UAE and sent it out to the Webheads Yahoo Group list so everyone could see what F.U.N. Buth and I had had in Alexandria running this particular session. The report can be found online here:,
and here is the full text from that message:

Today was a case of if anything can go wrong it will. The Alexandria Library is about a ten min walk from my hotel. There was no point in arriving at the conference hall too early because the rooms would all be locked until just before the start time of my session, though once I got into the center, wireless Internet would available from anywhere inside. So I left my hotel 45 min before I was due to present, carrying two laptops, wires, a USB mic, webcam, adapters, etc. Though the presentation room was locked when I got there, I got out my computer and booted it, and waited for someone to open the door to let me in.

At 20 min before the start of my session, someone came around with keys, so I got into the room, plugged the laptop into the mains, the one with webcast software installed and ready to go, and discovered my first problem of the day. My a/c adaptor had not been working well, I was having to massage it over the past week to get the charge light to hold, but today it didn't want to charge at all. I worked with it for a couple of minutes, decided to leave it for a while, and started Skype to keep my appointment with Jose Rodriguez who had kindly offered to backup my stream at

Jose was online and on task. He informed me that he was streaming at that moment on Sandbox B. I was expected to take A since I'd been planning to demonstrate streaming at my unWorkshop but working with the charger required two hands and was taking valuable time. Nevertheless I managed to keep up some kind of chatter in the Skype stream, and Jose reassured me that all was well there. Meanwhile I turned on my second computer, which I planned to use for Second Life.

A technician arrived and helped get the projector on my webcasting laptop projecting onto the wall. I looked for Nick Noakes in Second Life but didn't see him, so I left it and went to the Webcast Academy chat room and texted to the people there. Sasa (one of my Webheads collaborators on the Writingmatrix project, (note from 2019; we moved this to and Stevens et al. 2008) and someone else were listening to the stream but unable to Skype in, so no voices were joining Jose and I. Graham Stanley meanwhile offered me a teleport to a space called Egypt in SL. I completely forgot about Twitter.

With battery depleting on my laptop, I worked the charger every chance I got, trying to find the magic fit for plug in socket that would get it working. My battery was a quarter low when participants started showing up fifteen minutes into start time. They had been delayed by a previous event that had run overtime. I asked the first person to arrive at the un-workshop in Alexandria Egypt, Ule from Germany, to take over talking with Graham in Second Life Egypt. Three or four others followed and I tried to explain to them what I was doing while also addressing participants online in the stream.

It was clear that the on-site participants in Alexandria were most interested in SL and they came around behind that computer, while the EdTechTalk chat (Worldbridges) displayed on the big screen. There wasn't much Graham could show us in Second Life Egypt so he moved to Boracay and teleported us over. Ule passed the chat to the next person, and so on as newcomers arrived, and Graham was very welcoming to each newcomer. My wife Bobbi, from her computer in the UAE, arrived in World and we teleported her to Boracay. Graham was by now speaking to us, voice having started working by magic in SL, and we started voice-chatting with Graham there.

I moved the USB mic connected to the Worldbridges stream to the speakers of the SL computer and the face-to-face participants were able to talk to Graham in such a way that the conversation was
clearly audible in the Webcast Academy stream being maintained by Jose, according to feedback from Jose.

The SL computer now had the attention of the face-to-face audience so we switched the one monitor projector to that computer which was configured for hi res. This caused the projection screen to split down the middle but I didn't notice at first. I was still text chatting in the EdTechTalk chat room, working out who could and who couldn't join us in SL, and trying to talk to those who could access SL and help them reach the location where we were in SL by offering friendship, and then extending a teleport. This took us up to the top of the hour, 10 a.m. in Alexandria.

At about that time Buth and several others arrived from elsewhere at the conference in Alexandria, and we had to explain to the on-site newcomers what was going on. At about that time the mic on my Skype chat simply stopped working. I became aware of it when one of the distant participants, Jason, kept dropping out and trying to reach me. He would call, I would answer, but he couldn't hear me. I called him, he answered, hello? Hello? And then he would ring off. I tried troubleshooting, but couldn't find the problem without being able to drop everything else and focus on it. I was also trying to give the newcomers some clue of what we were doing, and prevailing on Buth to get into Skype on her laptop and tell Jose what was happening. Meanwhile the battery on my Skype computer was getting worryingly low. I still couldn't fix the power supply, and I decided to just switch that computer off so I could do a controlled shutdown rather than lose power and not be able to retrieve my most recent files later. This removed me from the stream and EdTechTalk text chat.

Meanwhile Graham was taking the conference delegates around Better World, a water conservation simulation, and they were greatly interested. At one point Graham suggested they fly to another part of the island and the delegate at that moment on the keyboard held down the up button and soared into space. We didn't realize what he was doing till he was well out of earshot of Graham (in SL you can only hear people talking when you are near to them in-world). He was very much enjoying the sensation of flying but I had to take control and get teleported back to where Graham was.

Meanwhile there was a request in the face-to-face audience that we show them Elluminate so I decided to start it on my Second Life computer. I launched Mozilla and was surprised when I typed in the URL that an IE window was launched separately. At the same time a McAfee notice came up demanding action. This was a month-old computer and McAfee had been bundled with it free for one month (but with a debilitating Catch-22). In fact, this was Bobbi's computer and she had noticed before I borrowed it for my trip that McAfee was about to expire. She had installed Avast on it but had not removed McAfee. Now McAfee was informing me that it was no longer protecting my computer and that another program (Yahoo Messenger) had wanted to visit the Internet and I would need to type in my credit card details right there and then in the middle of my unWorkshop. This being a very unwanted distraction at that point I tried to dismiss it and close the IE window but that window froze and the browsers ceased to function.

I discovered later when I had a chance to look at it that McAfee had basically blocked my browsers from accessing the Internet (though SL and IM chats continued to work) and only when I removed the program completely was I able to browse the Internet again. But at this moment in my presentation I went to the Task Manager and tried to find IE in order to kill it. It was open and frozen on my computer screen but it wasn't listed under applications running, so I switched to processes, found explorer listed there, and zapped it. This turned out to be windows explorer so I lost my task bar. At that point there was nothing to do but reboot, goodbye to Second Life. I informed the SL crowd of that. Graham had gone to breakfast by that time anyway, having taken everyone to Camp Dharfur, on our way to what I had wanted to show them: Meteora.

We were now at the top of the second hour, and had half an hour to go in the unWorkshop. We still had Buth's computer in Skype and the Webcastacademy text chat. So while my computer was rebooting I decided to make Buth's computer display to the room via the projector, and meantime to run Elluminate from one of the 6 other computers in the room. One of the participants was talking to Jose, who was still doggedly streaming the proceedings via Worldbridges. We hooked up Buth's computer to the projector and hit the key combo that should have toggled screen modes. However we got an error at the projector, illegal resolution (not just a 'no signal') and Buth's screen display disappeared! We toggled over and over, no projector display, with Buth's screen now unusable. Our on-site participant was still chatting with Jose, Skype sound being unaffected by the problem, however we had to explain to the stream that we were going to have to go off the air for yet another reboot.

With 15 minutes left in our presentation our face to face participants had nothing to see except as they were milling about behind us watching us try to recover. When my computer came back on I adjusted screen resolution down so that it now synched with the projector and no longer gave a split screen and I returned to SL. Richard, another distant participant, was there, having found us via the Worldbridges stream. His voice in SL was working well but he was hearing his echo because I had no headphone on my SL computer, so I decided to plug in the USB mic there because there is an on-off switch on it which would allow us to mute our mic while he was talking. This new computer had the new Vista, and of course Microsoft in its wisdom has changed the interfaces for configuring sound from the familiar XP way, so I was having to figure out how to get at my mic controls and disable the onboard one and configure my computer to accept the USB one.

This took another pregnant couple of minutes but meanwhile Buth had restored our presence in the Skype event and in the EdTechTalk text chat, and technicians were working on getting the third computer into Elluminate and projecting that onto the screen. They left when that was done but we discovered that whereas we could now text chat in Elluminate we could neither hear nor speak there. We had Elluminate on our overhead projector, text only, we were in the Skype stream, and we were talking to Richard in Second Life at Camp Dharfur, and to Graham who had by then returned.

We were at the end of our allotted time but the master of ceremonies for the plenary coming up in Alexandria was with us and enjoying the show. The technicians had by then returned and got us speaking in Elluminate, and we could hear what was being said. Since the master of ceremonies was the one who had requested that demo, she was in no hurry to make us stop. So, something interesting happened.

We were talking to Graham and Richard in Second Life and to Jose, Sasa, and Moira (who had participated in our Webheads in Action Online Convergence in 2005; see Hunter, 2006) in Elluminate (Hala, a Webhead participant from Sudan, had just left). Graham was in no space other than SL, and as these were separate spaces, I was going to my SL mic to talk to him and to the Elluminate computer to talk to the others. But Richard noted that when I spoke in Elluminate, he could hear what I said on his computer. It clicked that Jose was streaming Elluminate into the Webcast and Richard was hearing that. So I could talk to Richard as well as everyone else in Elluminate and he could respond to us in SL voice. It occurred to me then to include Graham in the conversation by talking into the tethered USB and Elluminate mics at the same time. This caused Richard to hear my SL chat (and then get the delayed rendition in the stream so he had to turn that off) but we had successfully patched a conversation taking place in SL into one going on in Elluminate, and for those in the unWorkshop it was one of those WOW moments.

I'm not quite sure how we got there. In the past three hours we had had almost every conceivable meltdown. Starting with equipment failure, power adaptor failing to function, relegating the prime presentation laptop to limited use -- we had moved on to browser crash brought on by McAfee crapware, that sort of design being the reason I had declined to purchase the program in the first place, and subsequent reboot. We had lost Buth's display at about the same time, and had been working with split screen projection up to then where my computer video signal was incompatible with the projector resolution (easily resolvable, but when you are juggling so many balls that some are bouncing on the floor, what would be more obvious at a calmer moment remains ellusive). With two computers down we had fought through technical problems with a third computer and managed to get all computers running in the end and bring the unWorkshop to a close on an epiphany moment.

Later in a plenary recap session, feedback on our unWorkshop was positive, with all concerned saying they had learned a lot from Webheads. The only criticism was that SL appeared to be perhaps too addictive, potentially could take time away from family, and of course that it would be perhaps inaccessible to a majority of stakeholders the sustainable ecologies people were trying to reach in places where the pinch of limited resources is being felt most. Other than that the participants seemed to be quite taken with the potential, and spoke of having eyes wide opened.

Many thanks to Buthaina for her competent and timely support! Amazing dedication Rita (Zeinstejer, another Writingmatrix collaborator, Stevens et al. 2008). Thanks John for your kind encouraging words (John Hibbs perhaps, founder of the Global Learn Day movement), and Graham you were the star of the show, taking everyone on voice tours of eco simulations in Second Life.  As this was for a conference on environmental sustainability, the conference delegates were really putting the twos and twos together as a result of their encounter with Webheads in Action.


And that, dear children, is the true and enduring spirit of Webheads in Action.


Hunter, M. (2006). Are You on the PD Cybertrain or Still Hesitating? IATEFL Poland Computer Special Interest Group Teaching English with Technology A Journal for Teachers of English ISSN 1642-1027 Vol. 6, Issue 3 (August 2006). Available:

Lebow, Jeff. (2006). Worldbridges: The Potential of Live, Interactive Webcasting. TESL-EJ 10, 1.

Stevens, V. (2005). Computer-mediated communications tools used with teachers and students in virtual communities of practice, in S. M. Stewart and J. E. Olearski (Eds), Proceedings of the First Annual Conference for Middle East Teachers of Science, Mathematics and Computing (pp. 204-218). Middle East Teachers of Science, Mathematics and Computing: Abu Dhabi.
The PDF file of the paper as it appears in the conference proceeds is here

Stevens, Vance. (2004). The Skill of Communication: Technology brought to bear on the art of language learning. TESL-EJ 7, 4 (On the Internet).

Stevens, Vance, Nelba Quintana, Rita Zeinstejer, Saša Sirk, Doris Molero & Carla Arena. (2008). Writingmatrix: Connecting Students with Blogs, Tags, and Social Networking. In Stevens, Vance & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Co-editors. (2008). Special Feature: Proceedings of the Webheads in Action Online Convergence, 2007. TESL-EJ, Volume 11, Number 4:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Implementing teacher training in gamification through Minecraft: Putting the forces in motion

The following is a rationale for using Minecraft with students where I work teaching EFL in a military academy setting. I thought I would post it here and perhaps develop it further (and I in fact have updated this slightly in April, 2018).

What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a game involving critical thinking, collaboration and cooperation, strategic analysis, creative engineering, and architectural skill that is extremely popular in its own right. In 2016 50,000 copies a month were purchased and 40 million players a month logged into the game (according to Jeff Kuhn in Kuhn and Stevens, 2017, see reference at end of this post). It is particularly being utilized in education where teachers wish to promote the skills listed above in their work with students. As evidence of how seriously this has impacted education, Microsoft has bought the game from its creators Mojang and is marketing it at huge conferences such as ISTE where their workshops on Minecraft are attracting lines out the doors of educators eager to learn more and use it in their classrooms.

Why in a military academy context?
I think it would be of particular use in my context because the game is designed with fascinating depth to suggest seemingly endless possibility. It emulates military skills such as strategic thinking, establishing a base in a wilderness, protecting it from threats arising in the game, and teaming with others to develop their base through finding resources that can be put to use in creating objects to further team goals. Use of Minecraft would introduce elements of gamification in our coursework (as opposed to using ‘games’ in class, which is not the same as gamification). Students could communicate with us in various ways about their experiences playing the game.

The things you can do in Minecraft are limited only by your imagination. You can find coal and iron and create metal objects, such as railroads, where mine carts you can ride in are powered through redstone, so you can build machines that work on wiring you devise. You can set logic gates, and program in the game. You can build and fortify, set up farms so you can feed yourself and others, raise animals, and grow your own trees so you have an endless supply of wood. You have to employ strategies and carry out advanced planning to thrive in the game. Often players will work in teams.

I created this set of Minecraft challenges for my students in the military college where I work. The challenges are designed to get them to take the tutorial that comes with the Minecraft Edu version, cross the ravine at the end of the tutorial and explore the world on the other side, and eventually parachute into a wilderness where they have to establish a perimeter, defend it, and sustain and develop it in cooperation with other players in their platoon / team.

Who enjoys Minecraft?
Children and adults of all ages enjoy it. It is played by kids as young as 4, e.g. pre-literate, so it relies more on intuition than on language. However there is much evidence of children in foreign countries becoming fluent in English through explaining in that lingua franca what they are doing in Minecraft to others around the world. This article gives an example of one such person, a ten year old Croatian boy who achieved fluency in English through Minecraft
Minecraft can form the basis of writing and multimedia projects where students are highly motivated to show what they are building and doing. They also will research how to do things on Minecraft. One teacher in Turkey reported how his students went out and bought an advanced Minecraft guidebook in English, and helped each other read it, because it wasn’t available in Turkish. Dave Dodgson has recently joined the moderating team of EVO Minecraft MOOC to help teachers understand the dynamics of gamified learning:

What is needed to get Minecraft working where you teach?
Any individual who plays Minecraft requires an account which must be purchased from Mojang for about $28. That’s for a lifetime license, but annual licensed logins are available through educational institutions for only $5 per user, from

The Mojang user ID allows you to play any version of Minecraft. There are many versions with different capabilities. Trusted users are normally white-listed on servers, so in practice you can only play as a single player, or on servers where you are allowed to enter. In order to fully exploit the game in education, it should be played in community mode on a server available to multiple simultaneous users.

The full PC / MAC version of Minecraft is the most versatile. We are looking to purchase licenses for the education edition which I am not familiar with first hand, but it allows up to 30 to play at once, according to It is also possible for us to get a free trial for a limited time.

Training teachers
This brings us to the most important thing needed, and that is a cohort of teachers who are aware of how Minecraft can leverage their learning and that of their students through gamification.

Two years ago, in 2015, my interest in Minecraft as a tool for this kind of learning was such that I organized an Electronic Village Online session for the purpose of learning how to play the game and understand how we could use it to gamify learning environments. We have just completed our third year of the community that was formed then. I have become an accomplished player, and I have a network of other teachers (plus Paul) who can help us with the server side issues. 

The EVO Minecraft MOOC community landing page is here,

To start a similar teachers’ group at your institution you'd need to install the software where teachers can use it and show them how to play there using user ID from the pool requested. Where I work, we will have to experiment with networking other devices so teachers can play in leisure time, which is needed for them to become familiar enough with the game to see how their students might learn it and use it for productive class purposes. It is not necessary in this game that teachers be authoritative sources of knowledge. Students and other players will inevitably make discoveries which they will be eager to share with peers and teachers alike, using communication skills we are trying to teach them.

Further reading
I have described the process of how teachers can learn to be proficient in Minecraft in presentations at conferences, one of which resulted in this chapter in the proceedings of the 2016 TESOL Arabia conference:
  • Stevens, V. (2017). Gamifying Teacher Professional Development through Minecraft MOOC. In Zoghbor, W., Coombe, C., Al Alami, S. & Abu-Rmaileh, S. (Eds.). Language Culture Communication: Transformations in Intercultural Contexts. The Proceedings of the 22nd TESOL Arabia Conference. Dubai: TESOL Arabia. Pages 75-92. Available:

The following free eBook gives comprehensive information about how and why teachers use various aspects of Minecraft to further pedagogical goals:
One of the contributors to that book is Jeff Kuhn, who is on our team of expert co-moderators of EVO Minecraft MOOC. He and I have just written an article which we have submitted to TESOL Journal, having been invited to do so by the journal editor. The article appears in the December 2017 issue of TESOL Journal, where if you are a TESOL member, you can log in and read it for free.