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.