Saturday, March 14, 2009

Celebrating 25 years of CALL: Forging new pathways

This posting regards my thoughts toward a session I am taking part in at the TESOL conference coming up in Denver. In this session I will be sharing a segment in a program with Roger Kenner and Deborah Healey, as indicated in the TESOL Advanced Program book and here:

Deborah and Roger are focusing on certain areas of paradigm shift tangential to ones I envisage. I have lately characterized how I see the shift over the past 25 years in ten aspects, shown on slide 33 here
These are spelled out more clearly near the top of this document
Here I suggest that educators must make at least these ten mind-shifts in order to be able to adapt to change in the 21st century

1. Pedagogy - from didactic TO constructivist
2. Networking - from isolated TO connectivist models; e.g. CoPs and distributed learning networks
3. Sharing - from copyright TO creative commons
4. Literacy – from print dominance TO communication that tends toward multiliteracies
5. Heuristics - from client/server TO peer to peer
6. Formality – from Trepidation, fear of being exposed as not knowing TO F.U.N. = encourage class to explore despite risk of Frivolous Unanticipated Nonsense
7. Transfer – from lecture, sit/get TO modeling, demonstration
8. Directionality – from push TO pull e.g. RSS
9. Ownership – from proprietary TO open source
10. Classification – from taxonomy TO folksonomy

The above remarks were made in a talk given online at an online event put on by George Siemens et al:

This conference and much of what George organizes along these lines, and what Webheads attempt in, are excellent examples and models of where I think these paradigm shifts are taking us.

So where I would be taking my 6-8 minute presentation would be to work from our early attempts to organize what we started back in 1983, doing the best we could in the paradigm available. For example I used to solicit articles for and cobble together an MS-DOS Newsletter and photocopy it at Sultan Qaboos University, where I worked, and send it out in department mail to a list of names I had collected, often by snail mail. These were the days where we would keep in a box in someone's house somewhere for 360 days a year all our disks of educational software which we lugged to each TESOL conference. Later we accumulated some of this on a CD that Deborah and Norm (right? or Elizabeth??) put together, and eventually stored on a server in Australia (who was the guy who hosted that?). Having to distribute our work on physical media and then post it entailed costs which got me in trouble at SQU when I felt the need to request compensation from recipients who needed an invoice so they could get money from petty cash from their institutes which I created and eventually got stung with accusations of commercialism, when all I and like-minded colleagues really wanted to do was share our stuff for free at no cost to me or to the recipient, which we can all easily do now that the paradigm has shifted.

So from our clumsy beginnings in CALL-IS with all the software fairs that ended in swap meets and hard copy newsletters and presentations at physical conferences which we sometimes managed to broadcast to the outside world (always the question, should we ask TESOL if we can do this? the edupunk answer, uughhh *bump foreheads!*) ... up through to EVO, which emerged through CALL-IS thinking and much effort over the past decade, and which I see as a model showing the right direction for us. Webheads has been a fixture in all but the first EVO session, and this is another model for interactions with one another, many participants in EVO being members of either and often both CALL-IS and Webheads. And when we model through any of these entities (EVO, CALL-IS, Webheads), we do so in such a way that we help anyone along who wants to follow the model.

This I think has always been what CALL-IS has intended and tried to do. It's people helping one another, since the days where as young people we would happily pitch in to all hours with no compensation beyond whatever support our workplaces provided in getting us to TESOL conferences in the first place.

Now we don't pitch in so obviously at annual conferences. I mean we do, but nothing as labor intensive as those who were not there cannot imagine (sleep deprivation but also commeradie). But the paradigm shift that I would like to focus on is the one which now allows us to treat our annual conferences not as The Cake but as a tasty layer of icing on a larger cake on which we sustain by ourselves throughout the year. That has always been what CALL-IS has intended to do, to provide people with a means to communicate and network not only at the annual conference but between conferences. We now have several models for doing this. To recapitulate, some of these which I have mentioned here are:

  • CALL-IS, which has always provided mechanisms for facilitating interpersonal interactions among members at conferences; e.g. the CALL Hospitality Room and after-hours gatherings, as well as for interacting during the year (newsletters, Moodles, sponsorship of EVO)
  • EVO (speaking of which) is an excellent model of sustained professional growth where procedures have been refined over the years for training new moderators in EVO culture and technique and for implementing quality control while involving as many as possible in free 6-week professional development seminars.
  • Webheads got its start in professional development as an EVO session (formerly it had been an EFL community focused on students). The growth of Webheads illustrates the distinction between groups, communities, and networks. Webheads started as a YahooGroup, and soon its participants were thinking of themselves as a community. But its members have branched out into so many spaces, and are drawn from so many, that it is fruitful to view Webheads as a circle on a Venn diagram that intersects with other circles which in turn intersect with each other, so that Webheads are obliquely connected to a huge network that is always feeding more knowledge into the community. One mechanism for doing this is Webheads in Action Online Convergence, a bi-annual free online conference whose third rendition is due to occur in May 2009 ( )
  • George Siemens has characterized this type of interaction as connectivism, whereby to paraphrase his words, the pipe is more important than its contents. By this he means to say that by configuring one's network so as to establish the right connections one can ensure that knowledge, or content, will flow through the pipe and be accessible as needed, when needed. George and others have implemented this concept through a series of free online conferences where everyone learns and benefits.

So, to get back to the question of where we have come in the past 25 years, and where we are headed, I have in all this time felt that CALL-IS has been helping us to come ever closer to achieving many personal and professional goals through proper utilization of technology in meeting these shared goals. Foremost among these has been to develop mechanisms to create climates in which personal and professional development are enhanced through interaction with sharing with empathetic peers. One major affordance of technology is where it facilitates communication, and facilitated communication is of prime importance both in bringing distributed communities together online AND as an important component in the practice of groups involved in language learning (the reason for CALL-IS formation in fact). Hence those who put these mechanisms in place 25 years ago shared a vision that we were embarking on a path that would prove its worth in time, despite many nay-sayers who did not share this vision and who saw no need to change tried and true ways of learning languages with infusions of technology whose great potential relatively few understood.

Today we find available a plethora of tools which help us to accomplish our goals both face to face and online for 365 days of the year. These tools allow those who see the educational potential inherent in web 2.0, blogging, wikis, Skype, webcasting, podcasting, YouTube, Twitter, Moodle, Facebook, the list goes on and on, to accomplish their goals almost apart from traditional structures such as face-to-face conferences and dues-collecting organizations. This is not to decry the importance of conferences such as the TESOL annual conferences nor of professional organizations such as TESOL. They play crucial roles in bringing together practitioners and making possible palpable connections, and TESOL plays behind the scenes roles in areas such as teacher benefits and professional standards.

However, much of what traditional publishers and face-to-face conferences offer and what professional organizations such as TESOL provide in the way of connectivism and networking is now available in substantial measure to practitioners for free at almost any time of the day or night, at greater convenience, and even in greater intensity (or less, it's up to the user) than what is possible through traditional entities who retain the baggage of logistics and expense for providing what people have until recently been willing to travel and pay for.

So my point is that traditional entities need to adapt, to shift with the sands of shifting paradigms so as not to be swallowed by the dunes. Those of us who have seen CALL-IS develop since the days when it was the most important means for many of us to flourish in our professional careers, for the most part would like to see TESOL and CALL-IS continue to be important fixtures in our professional lives. In fact, TESOL has often listened to CALL-IS advice (and sometimes not ;-) so one role of CALL-IS is to help TESOL adapt to these shifting paradigms in order that it retains its relevance to teachers of English to speakers of other languages throughout the world, recognizing that the most progressive of these practitioners are already sharing and organizing and networking constantly and spontaneously in productive ways that almost always circumvent any intrusion from any organizing body with a constitution, by-laws, and fee structure.

So how should TESOL and CALL-IS adapt? One way would be to capitalize on events such as EVO which attract people to TESOL without charging them money, giving them the impression that TESOL has something to offer and to share with no strings attached. Then if they want certification, let us say, they can avail themselves of certificate offerings available through TESOL for which there would be a charge. Another way would be to open conferences up to online participation. George Siemens says simply that it is "unacceptable" for conferences to not make allowances for people to network online in back channels with other conference participants and with the wider world not at the conference, by providing free wireless capability to all paid participants at a conference, and of course to presenters so they can model and demonstrate what they are talking about, and so the participants can try out and DO what the presenters are talking about at the conference.

For TESOL to get through THAT barrier either major hotels in the Western World are going to have to provide wireless connections throughout their facilities and stop charging exorbitant prices for them, or TESOL is going to have to stop using expensive hotels. For either of these things to happen, someone's business model has got to change. People are starting to realize that they don't need to pony up to other people's greed when this prevents them from accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, especially when they can do it better elsewhere, and for free.

The past quarter century has seen a group of people who had no other alternative take advantage of the connectivism offered by TESOL to come together and form a group which I think is one quite apart from other interest sections in TESOL. The next quarter century could see more of the same but I doubt it. This is my prediction: that CALL-IS will continue to exist a quarter century from now, but that
  • It might no longer be called CALL
  • It might be an entity apart from TESOL
  • TESOL will have moved to a means of interaction more inclusive of social media, or it might have ceased to exist
  • In the former case, TESOL will encourage and facilitate wider collaboration within subgroups such as CALL-IS within its Interest Section structure
Meanwhile, this just in over my Twitter network. Here's how a truly connected conference works. As I recall, Deborah has been involved in ISTE there in Eugene. ISTE's annual conference is NECC (correct me if I'm wrong here). Here's a URL for a blog posting that shows how a truly functional as opposed to dysfunctional conference should work with regard to networking:
Here, Joe Corbett has set up a spreadsheet and embedded it in a blog post where those going to NECC can record their Twitter (and blog) addresses and can then follow each other at the conference. NECC has been Twitterfied for several years now, I think it was two years ago or three that NECC goers 'discovered' they could tweet throughout the conference and started using Twitter as the tool de force for networking there.

This happens only when there is connectivity available at the conference of course. NECC is a conference to watch to see how people connect with each other during the conference and with the outside world while they're at it. When the conference is in session, it is a truly international event with people following uStreams and other feeds from all over the world and interacting with the conference-goers. This makes NECC exciting. Participants are excited to go there. People all over the world are starting their build-up now and marking their calendars to spend some time online checking out what's going on in Washington DC June 28-July 1 2009 from wherever they happen to be online.

Twitter is used at TESOL but only effectively via iPhone. Do you recall that at our CALL-IS academic session last year, TESOL was able to get us an Internet connection only 15-20 minutes into our session? I had the Internet connected computer, went on to Twitter, and almost immediately received a tweet from Carla Arena via her cell phone from the audience. There should have been dozens of Twitterers in the audience operating from their wifi enabled laptops.

(Fine print for the record, I'm adding this perspective after the first three comments were posted)

It occurred to me as an afterthought to this post to refine further this perspective in light of the last 25 years and the next. It's probably hard for someone whose experience in this field is only in the past decade to appreciate what computer-based language practitioners were up against in 1983. Ours was a minority view, a small group of us, a couple dozen in Hawaii in 1982, a couple hundred in Toronto in 1983, and growing steadily thereafter, out of the whole membership of TESOL. We were constantly having to argue the case that computers were not only a way forward, but THE way forward. Those who saw the light were convinced that there was no going back on technology, but there were many in entrenched positions, peers and administrators, creating obstacles which disappeared only as people became gradually aware of the potential of computers, began routinely using computers themselves, and as computers started insinuating themselves significantly into day to day life, creating changes as fundamental as rendering almost extinct film cameras and VCRs, with impacts on education that were considered radical and revolutionary 25 years ago, but are simply taken for granted today. One dinosaur that didn't even EXIST 25 years ago was the fax machine, and now that too is headed for extinction.

This hindsight might help us in formulating a vision of our world 25 years from now, when it is understood a la Alan Toffler, in Future Shock, a book written almost 40 years ago, that change is accelerating as we zoom ahead, so that changes we imagine based on patterns unfolding over the past 25 years could conceivably happen in ten or 15.

Right now I think that we are essentially with social networking where we were with computers 25 years ago. Social networking implies being constantly connected. Increasing numbers of people are learning, and keeping themselves updated and informed, through utilization of many forms of social media. Many of these people are teachers and teacher-trainers, and they are inculcating these skills in a growing segment of a generation of young people. In other words, this is also a phenomenon that is not going to go away.

So my predictions with regard to TESOL and CALL-IS (while admittedly pure speculation and to be treated as such ;-) are based in a view of a world that was much different 25 years ago and will have changed again in the next 25 years, possibly acceleratedly more than in the past quarter century. I think that social networking will be as taken for granted by then as computers are today. I think that (free) Internet connectivity will be much easier to find and will be considered to be essential infrastructure, like TV or radio, or water, by then. Perhaps corporate hotels will have stopped placing significant financial blocks preventing connectivity and conferences such as this one, and institutions like TESOL will be able to connect their participants with each other and with the outside world in the course of evolution within the organization, without having to make internal changes.

But we are leaving the era where people feel that it is acceptable to pay big money to come to a conference where they are forced to leave their social network behind. David Warlick said essentially this in his 2008 K-12 Online keynote talk, to wit that to cut kids off from their networks in schools (by filtering their networking tools) was an "insult" to them. David's description of his talk recapitulates what I have been trying to express with regard to teaching professionals: "Today, for the first time in decades (in generations of teachers), we are facing the challenge of changing our notions about teaching and learning to adapt to a rapidly changing world. We are struggling to rethink what it is to be educated, to reinvent the classroom, and redefine what it is to be a teacher and a student. There is much that has changed, and for much of it, we have responded to by attempting to ignore, filter, or to block it out."

I think that in the future people will do what they are learning to do through social networking, and that is to move into areas where they can accomplish their goals while remaining connected to their supportive and knowledgeable networks. People who are already doing this are finding that
  1. they can learn from one another and from experts in their field throughout the year in ways that used to be possible only by physically attending major conferences
  2. therefore annual conference with limited connectivity are of benefit primarily to people who don't otherwise constantly interact in communities of practice and distributed learning networks
  3. UNLESS participants can leverage benefits of face-to-face attendance at major conferences with interaction with their wider networks
In this latter case such conferences can have great benefit to not only those at the conference, but to those in the learning networks of conference participants, who in turn learn from their online interactants when they attend their own face-to-face professional gatherings, and the circuit is reversed.

It follows that is only the latter kind of conferences that people will continue to pay to attend over the next 25 years. Institutions that don't cater to what they will find increasingly demanded will not fare well in this climate. Hopefully we as members of these institutions will be able to act effectively as change agents to bring about desired changes, as CALL-IS has to some extent been able to do within TESOL over the past 25 years.

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