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: