Zahra Shafiee interviews Vance Stevens regarding his views on the role of teachers in integrating technology with language teaching

Learning2gether Episode 392

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On Friday, April 27, I had a delightful conversation with Zahra Shafiee. based in Alzahra University, Tehran, Iran, currently doing a PhD in Applied Linguistics. For her PhD dissertation, Zahra is conducting an exploratory research on CALL teacher development and professional identity. As a part of this study, she is interviewing CALL professionals and practitioners to explore their opinions about the role of teachers in integrating technology with language teaching.  Zahra’s supervisor, Dr. Susan Marandi, suggested that Zahra interview me for her study. We conducted the interview in Skype and recorded as best we could.

I’ve posted with permission a screen shot of Zahra conducting the interview and a recording of what transpired.

Zahra graciously sent me a copy of her transcription of the interview. I corrected and enhanced it, annotated it liberally, and posted it here:

Here it is copy / pasted below, but without the graphics and annotations in the Google Doc version

Full text, and then some of
Zahra Shafiee Interview with Vance Stevens

Zahra: I am Zahra Shafiee from Iran. I am doing research on CALL, CALL teacher education. My supervisor, Dr. Susan Marandi recommended that  your experience and knowledge in computer assisted language learning will be a great contribution to this research. So she suggested me to interview you, and thank you so much for accepting my request for interview. 

I would like to know about your experience in teaching, and integrating technology in your teaching either regarding your language teaching or teacher education. 
Vance Stevens: Before answering these questions, may I ask you about your degree program, what are you hoping to get a PhD in?
Zahra: Yes, I am a PhD student of TEFL, and I am currently working on computer assisted language learning teacher education, you know, CALL teacher education, teaching language teachers how to integrate technology in their teaching. 
Vance Stevens: What aspects of it really interest you?
Zahra: I am interested in professional identity of CALL teachers,  the way that it is developed, the way that they can learn how to integrate technology in their teaching not based on technocentricism, not based on learning how to work with a particular tool, but how to develop some identity in themselves in order to see how they can learn wherever they are, in every situation they are, to develop themselves professionally.

Vance Stevens: Yes, that’s very important I think. that’s what I myself am interested in.


Zahra: I would like to ask some biographical questions about your experience in teaching English and training and helping English teachers to develop themselves.

Vance Stevens:  I started teaching English in 1974. So that’s around 45 years ago.  I think I started teaching other teachers when I was working in Saudi Arabia — this was in 1978 or 79. In that year I took charge of a program to train other teachers in developing materials for what we used to call computer-assisted-instruction.  The IT department had brought a big mainframe computer to the language centre and set it up there. It just sat there and did nothing, and one day I just went over to it and kind of like you’d play a piano, I just started fiddling with the keys, and my director came by and saw me doing that, so he put me in charge of the program that they were trying to develop to put some CAI (computer-assisted instruction) English lessons on that computer. I didn’t really know anything about how to go about it but someone gave me a manual and I read a little ahead in the manual and I was able to organize teachers to develop some English lessons. So I guess that might be the first real training of other teachers I had done up to that point in my career.

Then, while I was studying for my MA in 1983, I helped to organize the Computer Assisted Language Learning interest section in TESOL. This happened at a symposium held in Toronto in that year, where as a group we debated what to call ourselves and we deliberately agreed the acronym should be changed from instruction to learning, so that had a lot to do with helping other teachers learn about CALL, computer assisted language learning (Stevens, 2015).

And later in 1998 I started something called Webheads. I had been working in Oman for 10 years, and when I went back to the United States, I got a job in a software company in California.  That was the first time I had been out of teaching for all that time which would have been about 20 years up to that pont. So I got involved in online teaching, and this developed into what eventually became known as Webheads. Meanwhile, I got a job in United Arab Emirates, where I helped set up a language school, The Military Language Institute, where my job was to train teachers working there in CALL.

So at that time when I started the online Webheads, I called it Writing for Webheads, up until 2001, when I was physically in the United Arab Emirates, but training teachers to use CALL, the Webheads had developed into a community of practice of students and it was also attracting other teachers.  And we were going out to conferences (both online and on site) and giving demonstrations of what we were doing and how we were engaging students online and in online environments, in much the way that you just described as the focus of your dissertation. Because whereas when I did the project in Saudi Arabia, our approach was didactic. Teachers were taking exercises they were having students do in their workbooks, but copying them onto the computer. so basically computer assisted language learning back then was not as well understood as  it is today, and it had none of the social aspects. 

So by the year 2001, Webheads was about getting students to come online and to engage with each other and with teachers, and we were putting video, audio, pictures, anything that they (the students or participating teachers) wanted online — Basically I called it Writing for Webheads, but they were writing about anything they wanted to, and I was setting up what they were doing on a Web 1.0 website. And we were using voice applications. It was quite unusual that we were using synchronous voice applications back at the turn of the century. This was especially what attracted other teachers to it. 

So I suppose my teacher training really made a quantum leap in 2001 when I started setting up the Webheads in Action, an electronic village online sessions. Are you familiar with EVO?
Zahra: Yes, I am. I have already taken some courses in EVO which doctor Nellie Deutsch, Moodle for teachers…

Vance Stevens: Yes, she is the head coordinator of EVO at the moment.

Anyway, Webheads in Action  was a EVO session in 2002, which was the second year of the EVO program, and webheads in Action became a community of practice of teacher educators. Susan Marandi joined us. If you go to Webheads in Action at, you can see Susan’s picture there (actually, you have to click on a link at the top to see it here).  So she was a member of our community. Then I met her in Fukuoka in Japan, when she went to World Call conference there. 

So it was a nice mix of online blending into real life learning from one another with probably about a thousands people involved in Webheads in Action at one point or another. It is still exists. In fact I have just published an article in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching published by Wiley and I just saw it in the last TESOL conference in Chicago (Stevens, 2018). But there is an article there on Webheads, so Webheads is now a valid entry in a published encyclopedia. so it is a recognized entity that’s been going on for the last twenty years or so. This September will be our 20th anniversary. I just now thought of it. We’ll have to celebrate.

Zahra: Congratulations!

Vance Stevens: So anyhow, that’s teacher training the way I like to do it. And the way to do it is … Do you know David Cormier the Canadian researcher? instrumental in MOOCs? Actually he coined the term MOOC (massive open online course).  I am sure you are familiar with MOOCs, which have taken the world by storm in a way. So Dave Cormier came up with that acronym MOOC. Or he and Brian Alexander, there are some (friendly) controversies. Neither of them will say, now, who actually invented it (Stevens, 2013).

In his (Cormier’s) last MOOCs, one of them (Rhizo 14) was focused on community as curriculum (Cormier, 2008 and 2016). So basically it’s the community that establishes what they want to do in the class and that’s the kind of language and the model I instinctively used with Webheads in Action back in 1998. Community as curriculum is where community members set out what they want to do and interact around what they have in mind. And Webheads has always done that too. I’ve always been known as the “Cat Herder” on Webheads because I never tell anyone what they should do, they just do whatever they want to do, and in so doing, they learn from one another.

And most recently, in the last four or five years, I’ve been getting into Minecraft. It’s a game. I’m starting to get people where I work interested in starting a Minecraft Exploration Group. Again it addresses what you are researching, and that is, instead of coming at language learning from the point of view of teaching people grammar from step A to step B, etc., it puts people, whether students or teachers into a communicative environment where each person has his or her own agenda and they work with one another, learn from one another, and have fun doing it. Minecraft lends itself to just about anything you want to teach. If you want to teach language, it is a very good substrate for communication because it encourages creativity and problem solving, and critical thinking skills, and so if you can exploit the communication around that, then you can address language learning issues. The same holds true for other topics as well. At the website for, you can find lots of worlds devoted to topics such as chemistry, for example. I happened to notice the large number of chemistry worlds because I was looking into the worlds available to see if I could find anything that would lend itself to our situation.

Anyway, that’s the philosophy that has been behind all of these efforts. All my teacher training efforts are not really prescribing workshops that would work this way or another; rather they suggest that teachers would get together and agree on appropriate steps to learn about the tools, in the way we are doing right now. You might have a purpose that is not really the purpose of what you are really trying to do. For example, we might say, “Let’s get together and play minecraft.” “Oh, boy, that looks like fun!” But what are we really trying to do? It’s about gamification and how students are trying to do this. Gamification is something like chelow. You have to taste it, you cannot describe it. You need to experience it.

Zahra: I have realized that you use Blackboard Collaborate among other tools that you use. I would like to know about the major devices and about the theoretical perspectives and the learning theory you consider behind using them.
Vance Stevens:  For a while, I was kind of hooked on something I called “Do it yourself LMS, DIYLMS (Stevens, 2012). DIYLMS encourages people to create their own functioning LMS out of many free tools, instead of going to one thing like Blackboard, for example, which is expensive or as Nellie would suggest, why not just use Moodle, which is free and does very much the same as Blackboard. Moodle is a good step toward a “Do it Yourself” LMS because you can install Moodle, and you can use it for a lot of LMS features. But I use wikis quite a lot. I like PBworks in particular. PBworks is very robust, and I use it to organize all my face-to-face courses. Nowadays I always set up a PBworks for all the classes I teach. For example, if you go to, you can see what I’m teaching currently, and what I’ve been teaching where I’ve been for the last five or six or seven years.

So, anyway, that’s a way I’m organizing what I’m doing so that students can go to a link and, if they have missed a class, they can see what they missed. Or if they were in class, they can’t tell you they didn’t understand the assignments, because all the assignments are always there. Everything is there, all the resources they need are there. Everything is uploaded there, they just need to click on it, and they can download it, or there is a link to where can get it. And that link could in fact be to the resource in Blackboard,  because we use Blackboard here, so I sometimes link to things in the Blackboard. In that case they have to use their password to get it, but at least it is there, organized for them. If they go directly to Blackboard, they find a big, huge wall of text they have to get through in order find things. But if they are in my class, they just go to Vance’s Class and they can see, this is what we did on Tuesday, click here and do that.  So there, we’ve got two devices mentioned just now. Blackboard, could be one, or Moodle because is free and open source. Plus, you could have your own little “This is my class” wiki going.

In fact, I was teaching a course for TESOL, in the TESOL Principles and Practices of Online Teaching program, on Multiliteracies. Are you familiar with multiliteracies? If someone asked you to teach a course on multiliteracies, would you know what to do? When someone asked me to teach a course on multiliteracies, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I said “Sure, ok, I’ll do that.” So I figured it out. I read some things about it and found out it was a way of dealing with Web 2.0, and there are so many aspects to it. Basically it’s about being literate digitally, being able to converse, to write about, to implement digital multiliteracies. It is not just about traditional literacy, but also the literacies that you need in today’s day and age.

So I agreed to teach a course on that, and they wanted the courses to be in Desire2Learn, a LMS similar to Blackboard which they had purchased, and for which they were paying me, not much, just a thousand dollars a time. Actually, for the work you put into it, $1000 was just a token amount, a stipend. But a part of what they want to do was to develop their Desire2Learn platform with all the courses that  they were offering there,  but I sort of went around it. I used Desire2Learn as a chat forum, but i put the materials I planned to use in my own spaces;  for example in a wiki. And here again, you can go to where I eventually called this multiliteracies MOOC, in a set of web pages called Goodbye Gutenberg. So if you go to you can see the archives there,  all the iterations from the TESOL PPOT courses in 2004-2009, and for the ones that I did after that, from 2009 through 2014, for the EVO sessions.

In fact, actually to keep this courses alive,  to keep it current, I gave it for some time as both a TESOL paid course and as a free EVO session. I felt I needed to do that because TESOL removed everyone, both students and teachers, from the Desire2Learn space once the paid sessions ended, so I had no access to my course in the ten months I wasn’t teaching it, and it was not something that I could just restart and teach as a set of lectures whenever they wanted it. When they gave me access to my Desire2Learn course, this gave just a couple of weeks  lead time to open up the Desire2Learn space and rebuild my course there, and then run the course, which is set up in the Blackboard way where everybody, students and teacher, are suddenly enrolled there, and then cut off from the course at the end of it. But I was always doing the course off in another space, which I maintained as an EVO session, and which I could then use again the following year in the TESOL principles and practices course.

I think they kind of didn’t like that and they dropped me from the program. But I had interesting interactions with many of the people. Some of the people in the TESOL front office took my course — I think they were checking me out perhaps to see what was going on there. But my approach was certainly different; it was not the way that most TESOL courses were run (and not what most people who take those courses would have expected), but some of the people that were in the TESOL PPOT courses are still in Webheads or still my friends. Mark Algren is one of them, and he later became president of TESOL for a while. It was a different way of running a TESOL PPOT course.

It encompassed all the tools we just mentioned, Blackboard Collaborate, if that seemed to be the best way to do it, or what we are doing right now, we are using Skype, voice and video, works quite well. But this is not social. The main drawback of Skype — it does work well, kind of like Facebook, we could do this on Facebook as well, but Facebook is a little bit more social. You can actually bring people into it (by posting a link) — but it’s kind of difficult to do that in Skype though. We didn’t really set this up socially.

Another thing that I do, as far as a teacher trainer is concerned, is Learning2gether,, where you can see the podcasts I’ve been doing. This would be podcast number 392 or something like that. So, almost 400 podcasts since 2010, a little fewer than one a week, though I’ve been tapering off lately. You can find an index of all my Learning2gether podcasts here: You might notice that this is, again, based in a PBworks wiki space.

Learning2gether,  this podcast, is social. I had a little discussion with Nellie the other day. She said it was a wiki, I said no it’s a social network. And as we started conversing, I noticed she tweeted about one of my podcasts, and so I tweeted back and said “Ah, you see? It is a social network.”

Now, that’s a good example of how to combine the tools, to illustrate what devices or tools I use. I have a Facebook page for Learning2gether, I have a Google+ community for Learning2gether. I didn’t actually set this podcast (that we are doing now) like that, but some of those other ones that I showed you, I did. It depends on where you are going to have it. On Skype or if you are not sure where you are going to have it, you can’t really announce it. But if I had done that or if you wanted to come back to us and tell us about your dissertation once you have done it, or once you are well along with it and have something you’d like to share with us, then, we would announce your event on my wiki, and I would announce it on Facebook and Google + communities.

These reach a lot of people. Google + communities are quite powerful because a lot of people are Google + members. So I announce things socially. When I have done my podcasts, I “scoop” them . is a very nice site because it creates kind of an archive where people can go to; for example, you can go to can see a nice display of our recent podcasts. When you announce there it is also announces it on Google+ and on Twitter what you’ve done. So you get a lot of traffic that way, and it increases the social network. And when we use Google hangouts, then that goes to YouTube, and when I put something up on YouTube, for example, if I put this video up on YouTube, if you wanted, only with your permission of course, that would create another social aspect, so you get traffic from that. People would come to your page, and people would learn about it and your network expands in that way. So this networked learning is quite powerful, and if you can get one going, this social network going — Nellie is trying to set one up now. She wants to make it social, and we’ll see if it succeeds. Crossing from the idea of it to the social aspects takes a lot of people, going viral, takes a lot of virality to make it happen. That is the magic ingredient.
Zahra:  About your student teachers, the teachers that you try to teach them how to integrate technology into their teaching, I would like to know how they develop that confidence and efficacy of using technology in their teaching?  What happens in them that they develop and gain this confidence?

Vance Stevens: That’s a very good question.  When I put training sessions on, whether it is through TESOL or electronic village online, EVO,  I guess the people who self-select to join our courses in Electronic Village Online probably are predisposed in some way. First of all, they have taken on an on online course,  so they must have some skills. They don’t usually come into these courses without already having some of these skills. Let’s take a very good example: in the TESOL courses I was giving versus the Electronic Village Online courses on Multiliteracies. Some people, Laine Marshall is a good example, she was sceptical as she went through her first course online, one of the TESOL courses. She was probably one of the only ones who actually became enthused about the method in that particular iteration of that course, out of about a dozen people there.  But I would said she is a very good example of someone who learned the power of the tools in the course and then went on to develop her expertise with these herself. Now she is kind of a guru in flipped learning. And flipped learning goes back to a kind of tool set. If you are going to promote flipped learning or use it in your teaching, then you need to have a good grasp of all of these tools because you are putting things online so that students can get it in their own time. When they come to class you can use time for discussion if possible. So you cover the concepts in the flipped part of it, or if the students are not prepared, then they can prepare in the class while you are working with the students who got it.

As far as the training that I have done another good example to illustrate this concepts, because illustration is more powerful than explaining.  I mentioned that I am teaching teachers in our program how to use Minecraft, which involves an understanding of gamification, which in turn is a very difficult concept to grasp. I said earlier that the reason we are using Minecraft is that we are trying to learn about gamification. Because you just cannot understand until you experience it. So I asked people where I work, I said look, I’ve got 20 licenses. If you want one, we are going to start a Minecraft Exploration Group. If you want one, let me know.

I got back 6 or 8 people out of the 30 or 40, and counting the aviation and not just English faculty, probably 70 or 80 teachers there. So 10% of them of them said ok I’d like to know more about this. As the group got together, half of those teachers never responded to anything I put out but a couple of them, say two to four, are really, I say biting the coolaid, they are taking the drug, they are addicted, they are getting into it now.

So there is our seed, the flowers starting to bloom. Other people might see the flowers and say oh I want to be a flower too. Or, they’ll continue to ignore it, or they cannot understand the concept. Because this small group of people are asking me now, “what is the point? … Why are we doing this? How is this going to help our students” Then I have to go back and  I can take examples of what students (in my courses) have done. Here is one student who made a house, and he described why he made the house this way. So he created it in Minecraft, he had been doing that. Then he wrote something about it, and described his process. Now that is a very clear example of using language in Minecraft. Later on, he also made a machine that did things in Minecraft. But I never could get him to write about that just because of the nature of the course I was doing, just working with students. (I should have added here that I was basically taking advantage of an opportunity to show them some tools and let them manage their own curriculum, me acting as the cat herder on the side. So the fact that this mode of learning produced an essay that the student himself wanted to write, not that anyone made him do or gave him a grade for it, speaks to the efficacy of the value of Minecraft for tapping into intrinsic motivation.)

If you build this into your curriculum, then even the teachers as they are working together, the teachers are asking me “how do I this or that?” For example, “how do I make a map in Minecraft to see the world I am in?” I didn’t actually know the answer to the question myself. I looked it up in Google or YouTube, and I found the answer. You need to get some paper and a compass. YouTube video shows you quickly how to get paper, cut down some cane that is growing all around, and from that put three canes together to make paper. To make a compass you need some ‘redstone’ which is a little harder to come by — it’s a mineral that you find in mines that provides electrical power in Minecraft. Anyway, you get that and some metal, iron ore to be exact (and heat the iron in a furnace, make the furnace from cobblestone which you easily acquire in Minecraft) and from that you get the compass. You get those two things together and hold them up in a certain way as you walk around and it puts the map on the paper, so you can map your environment. So that was a nice questions that he asked me, “how can I make a map?” and so when we looked it up together, we figured out how to do it, (so we both increased our knowledge of the game using knowledge of the game in conjunction with critical thinking and research skills). Then of course we had to build something to display the map. Just that aspect, and another question he asked was “Where is the recipe book in Minecraft?” And I said, “The recipe book is in Google. In Google you just write “how to make xxx in Minecraft?” Then just keep the browser window open and search for anything you need and replace xxx with whatever you want to make; for example “how can I make a sword in Minecraft? So you can keep that recipe book handy there (in an open browser window) as you play the game. You are always having to research and learn more about the game. 

One of the aviation science teachers where I work, he was teaching survival (a course for airmen about how to survive crash landings). He said “how can I teach or use this in my survival training?” Minecraft has two modes, ‘creative’ and ‘survival’.  Survival (as a mode of play) is right there in Minecraft.  “But,” he said, “it is too difficult for me to teach my students how to do this. How will I find time to do that?” Because of course he doesn’t want to teach them how to play Minecraft in his course, he wants to teach them the subject, about how they can survive airplane crashes since they are going to be pilots. So, well, ok, here is the job for the English teachers. English teachers can teach them how to do this stuff using the language and take that knowledge into their survival class, and the two could work very well together, I think, in  my mind; but it’s very difficult for teachers to grasp this concept.

So you basically you can talk about it until you are ‘blue the face’ like holding your breath, you can talk about it and no one will really pay much attention. Actually, the way I got it working in my courses was that one of my colleagues, Jeff Kuhn, and I wrote an article and published it in TESOL journal (Kuhn, J. and Stevens, V., 2017). I doubt that anyone where I work has ever read that but the new dean at the college is really interested in gamification, and he read our article, and he became a convert. Now he wants to push gamification in the school (as a much needed way of engaging students). So it is all the time writing and talking about it for years and nothing ever happens. It is difficult, but once it starts happening, once you’ve got the spark, you have got flame, flowers. So you have got to get people involved, get them doing it, get them interested and doing things where they might be using those tools in other things. Like putting up a web page for their students. They might think, well let’s just put a text page down, but when you start bringing in multimedia into it,  and links and where all the links go, and flipping it and using your web page to flip your classes, it just goes. You know that people learn a lot about technology just by putting that together and then once they’ve learned it,  it is theirs.


Zahra:  what do your student teachers do when they get into trouble, when there is a connection breakdown technology breakdown?  and how can they gain the confidence and efficacy of troubleshooting?

Vance Stevens:  The answer to that is community: communities of practice. You cannot do this in vacuum. I can take another Minecraft example, something that I’m doing right now. We need to get our computers where we’ve installed Minecraft in the school I’m working at now talking to each other. We want the students to play in multiplayer mode, but it is not working where we are right now. The computers themselves run Minecraft, and one computer can see this other one over there but the communication between them doesn’t happen. The students are not able to join each other’s games in order to work together.

I started with our network specialist where I am and he took the problem to the IT department and they started to talk about this, so far without result. OK, never mind, that’s going nowhere, so I need I go to my own community.  I need to write to people there and say “look I have got this problem. What can I do?” You know, some or even one of the 5000 people in Minecraft in Education (Google+ community)  might help me. Somebody there might help (and somebody has, May 6). Or even closer-knit than that, EVO Minecraft MOOC has got few hundred people there, somebody will help. 

So you have to have a PLN, or personal learning network (Stevens, 2010a).  That is part of, you know, what successful technology-using educators are doing using these devices. I’m talking about social networks, so your available resources are not limited to just you and your students, or you and your colleague teachers sitting around you, but you and experts anywhere in the world. Troubleshooting involves going outside to develop your networks. Stephen Downes says that whatever knowledge exists in the network is available to you as long as you are connected. George Siemens says that the critical feature of the network is not so much the knowledge as the pipes, or as he famously put it, “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” (Siemens, 2004). So you might not have water in your house, but if there is water over there and you’ve got pipes you can bring it in. Even for knowledge, whatever you are trying to find out about, someone knows about it, and if you are connected,  even to someone that knows that person, then you can find it somewhere in your network. So you can solve problems that way. That is the best way. However you develop your network, whether it is to a network of teachers in your institution, or whether it’s a professional organization that might be just where you are in Iran for example, where Susan I am sure is connected to other people elsewhere, in Iran or how you have found me for example, to use this in your dissertation, that is how you gain confidence and efficacy of troubleshooting.

Stevens (2009) suggests how teachers can interact with numerous communities of practice and distributed learning networks where other participants are modeling to and learning from one another optimal ways of using social media in teaching. This strongly suggests that teachers must be trained not only in the use of social media, but through its use.

Zahra: I would like to address the roles of CALL teachers.  Are there any differences between the roles of CALL teachers and roles of a teacher in a regular class?

Vance Stevens: What do you mean by a CALL teacher? Do you mean someone who teaches computer assisted language learning to other teachers, or someone who uses computer assisted language learning in their classes? What do you mean by a CALL teacher?

Zahra: It can include both.  It can include a CALL teacher, a person who teaches English language through technology, and a CALL teacher educator.

Vance Stevens: You know, computer assisted language learning, to get really to the root of that question, everything is computer assisted. So it is kind of hard to distinguish, I don’t know if you have teachers who don’t use any technology. Most teachers use at least an overhead projector.  Even a piece of chalk is technology. But computer assisted, if you use cellphones, what are your students doing? They must be, Iran is famous for its social networking. So my impression is everybody has a cell phone. Am I right?
Zahra: Yes, exactly my students are equipped with cell phone and laptops. Also I put up some of their assignments on the social network in a group, they are in a group and this is kind of flipped learning. The session after that, we discuss something, different movies and tasks. Also we have got overhead projectors, every class is equipped. They are equipped with mobile, in the class they search something,…

Vance Stevens:  So everything is already computer assisted. But the problem is when teachers’ approach this computer assisted environment, and have not made the paradigm shift — they are thinking in the old way, the old didactic models. And they are not utilizing the technology in ways that are obvious or not so obvious to some. Even students who are supposed to be so attuned to technology are famously not aware of the power of learning that can be in the tools. They use them to entertain themselves. So teachers can also assume that computer assisted language learning means creating PowerPoints in your classes. That’s good, that’s better than the old way. By old way I mean 20 years old. But say 10 years ago there would have been a shift. For making PowerPoints for example, they are just on your computer. You can either put them on the (e.g. or better, you can use Google slides instead. So you can make your PowerPoint accessible to students. And you can perhaps even invite students to write on them, or ask questions and post comments.

I suppose a CALL teacher would be someone who is aware of the multiliteracies. The multiliterate teacher is someone who is aware of all the aspects involved and who can help others to understand those aspects beyond the level they are already at. Everybody is at a different stage. For example, one thing that I talk about is I encourage people to think SMALL. Think SMALL means social medial assisted language learning (Stevens, 2014a). So instead of talking about computer assisted language learning, which doesn’t really mean anything anymore, I think of it as social media assisted language learning, and some people call it MALL, mobile assisted language learning. How do you get students to use in class what they have got in pockets? You can use polls for example, you can give students Plickers cards, they can turn it four different ways and it comes up with four different A,B,C, and D, so they select their answers by turning the cards. So you can scan with your mobile and get their answers. You can set up questions and answers to poll the state of knowledge of your class at any given moment that way, if you download the app, prepare the cards, and set it up in advance.

Games like Kahoot, pretty simple, these work well work in classes (until they get tiring) but they are one way to jazz up your class. Polls are one good example and there are so many of them. Another example is PollAnywhere (actually it’s called PollEverywhere, but if you Google either of these it takes you to There are so many poll-based learning environments; Nearpod is a good example, there is so much you can do with Nearpod. Edmodo has polls and is also a learning management system.  There are many tools and they have different affordances. The affordances — if I write that word into anything with spell checking, it never knows the spelling of affordances. I guess some people, even myself the first time I heard it, maybe 10 years ago, I did not understand what the person who used the term ‘affordances’ the first time I heard that word was talking about. But affordances are the ancillary things that using a particular device or software makes possible, those are its affordances.  

So each device has certain affordances, and you have to be aware of them. And it’s a really easy to use something and not to be aware of it its affordances and not really exploit its full power. So the role of a CALL teacher, or a CALL trainer is someone who becomes aware of the affordances and can teach them. There is a guy named David Warlick (2010) who talks about master learners. If I go back to Stephen Downes (2007, slide 22), he says that teachers model and demonstrate, and students practice, and reflect. In my opinion (Stevens, 2011) a master learner is someone who does all the 4 of those things: someone who can model and demonstrates as well as reflect and practice effectively, in a continuing percolative cycle.

I like this master learner concept because its means, especially for languages, it means that you are not a really a teacher*. You are someone who has learned how to do all these things so now you can show other people how to be master learners as well. It’s like making coffee, good coffee needs percolation. If you do all of those things, modeling, demonstrating, reflecting and practicing all the time as a teacher you’re doing that. We are doing that right now, we are learning from each other. So we are practicing, and we are reflecting on what we are doing by talking about what we do. And also as teachers we demonstrate and model. A teacher models, demonstrates, and practices and reflects. So a master teacher, a master learner (not a master teacher, but a master learner) does all four of those things models, practices, demonstrates, and reflects. And that’s what teachers need to become: master learners. That’s what they are especially good at.

*At a plenary address I gave at a conference in Egypt in 2004, I said to the audience there, “There is no such thing as a language teacher. There are only language learners.” That was a radical statement to be making at the time at a conference of English teachers.  I published the text of my talk in Stevens, 2004 (I had written it out in advance and scrolled it on one computer while I managed my slides on another). Here is the context from that talk:

Now, let’s say you want to learn a foreign language. How do you go about that? Probably if you have just now decided to learn this language you might go out and buy a book. Or whatever your level of proficiency, you might enroll in a course designed to ‘teach’ you the language. But already you’ve run up against what I claim is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a language teacher. There are only language learners. That’s you. If you’re lucky, your teacher will understand this and try to steer you in directions that will help you on your way to learning the language. But your teacher can only take you so far on this road, because this road gives only limited access to the surrounding countryside. As a passenger in your teacher’s bus, or car if it’s a private class, you are left to try and learn the language essentially by reading billboards at the side of the road. Through the windows of your vehicle you see native speakers of the language passing. How can you engage them? How do you gain access to the countryside? The key to that I think is to make use of your implicit membership in a community of practice.


Zahra: What about the constraints and different challenges that CALL teachers (those teachers who use technology in their language teaching), what kind of challenges do they face? May be your student teachers come to you and talk about different challenges and issues, like personal issues, administrative challenges, that they face. What are the major challenges they face?

Vance Stevens: Well, one of them is anxiety over their lack of knowledge. Because all of us have that. All of us lack knowledge of something. For example, there are a lot of learning systems are talking about Blockchain nowadays. Blockchain is what gives bitcoin its value, its a way of establishing through a ledger system, the validity of something, and ownership. Blockchain, in ways that escape me at the moment, a lot of people are thinking of ways of building education systems on Blockchain. As this becomes more and more important these days, some of us are going to become anxious because we don’t really know how it works.

So technology is always moving and shifting. The shifting sands (Stevens, 2010b), shifting paradigms, paradigm shifts are always going to be hard for teachers to get their footing with.

I didn’t mention the paradigm shifts that teachers must deal with in order to bring themselves in line with 21st century teaching mindsets

Presenting the shifts at GloCALL in Hanoi, 2007 Baker’s dozen of tools etc, ELTAI, 2011

Here’s a version from 2008, TESOL Conference presentation in NYC, slide 2

The one below from 2012, conference in Sharjah, slide 11 here

(More, from a Google search: )

But you have to keep trying, and keep engaging, and keep learning, and keep practicing. You have to be practicing and reflecting, then get out and model and demonstrate what you have learned, and that keeps you, if you do that enough, and don’t hide from it … About the practical aspects, I would say that a lot of teachers feel overwhelmed, and they don’t even want to get started, they don’t know where to get started. They worry that their students might know more than them. Some of the issues, itemizing technologies that teachers had to grapple with ten years ago, are addressed in Stevens, 2010c)

Minecraft was a good example of that. The best way to approach that dilemma is to go play Minecraft with your students and get them to show you. The mind shift that you need and the paradigm shift is to understand that you are not the font of all knowledge, and that knowledge is everywhere on the network. …. You could do projects where students could help you crack some of the more insurmountable problems that you have (Swier, 2014). So there are simple problems, complicated problems, complex problems, and there are wicked problems (called ‘chaotic’ in the Cynefin framework,, and see Stevens, 2014b). Simple and complicated problems are not too hard to figure out. But as we’re getting up into gamification we are getting complex, and then if you get wicked or chaotic,  that’s harder, like blockchain is the wicked problem for me I suppose

That’s the framework, which may not mean much to a teacher. The teacher would have more practical concerns. To address those, one thing I do is I put tutorials up, so for example my teachers every term have to write reports on students, so I have created Excel files, and do mine by Mailmerge and reports just come out pretty quickly and I am showing teachers how to do it. That is kind of a complicated problem, maybe even complex in some aspects. So I put a tutorial up to show them how to do it. I give them workshops or I just show them how to do it when they need to know. JIT, just-in-time learning, is very important, you have to hit people at the right time, just when they need the information. I always make tutorials and put them up in my wikis. If you want to see my tutorials, visit Then you can see the tutorials I have put up for teachers in my present work.

Also I am the chair of the professional development committee there, so here again I try to put things up online. People are always coming to me and asking what professional development did we do. I have a database, I have a Google sheet with all the information. I just point them there, and tell them they don’t really have to come to me, they can go there and find out what they want to know. So you know, there are lots of ways of working, you model, we are modelling in this case. Some people will reflect and actually learn to do it themselves, so we just keep things available. In the previous place that I worked in the Military Language Institute, the one I helped start when I came to Abu Dhabi in 1997, I made a website called Ask Vance. It was quite famous where I was working. If you wanted to know something, just Ask Vance and they would just go to my pages and find out whatever. Everything was recorded in the frequently asked questions section.

Another thing too, once one of my colleagues asked me “How do you do something with audioboom or audacity?”  I replied, “Why don’t you just Google it?” She said “What? Google it?” I said “Yeah, just put kbz or put my name, Google it” and she put it in there and Google brought up the wiki that I had prepared. So there it is, right there. So when you put things in that kind of open space, as opposed to Blackboard, where you can never find anything. Then, It just opens up a different mindset. People instead of being closed and enterprise and locked down, open it up, share it and everybody benefits. You develop your network that way.

Note: The where the search was performed had to be removed from public view due to workplace considerations. I will restore it to public view later this summer (late July 2018)

Zahra: I get to the final question. I would like to know about the ways that teachers who use technology in their teachings, as well as the educators can improve and update their knowledge and skills of using and integrating technology in their teaching. How can they improve their technological knowledge used in language teaching?

Vance Stevens: That is practice, reflect, then demonstrate … reflect on the models, so they learn how they use it when they need it. They learn how to do it when they need it. If you are trying to do something like create, let’s say … , if you want to make innovative lessons, there is something called Hot Potatoes, which is a way of creating some cloze passages. So what I do is I get some sound files, and I put them at the top of the Hot Potatoes, and students play the sound file and fills in the cloze based on what they hear.  (This works with video as well). That requires that you know a little HTML so that you can put the audio file somewhere in the neighborhood of the Hot Potatoes files. It becomes part of it as you incorporate that sound file in the package. You have to also find a player or code that will play a sound file on just about any device. And so once you do that, then you can create these exercises. If it is something that is useful to a program, then you want to get other teachers to do it. So instead of just you doing them all alone, you can teach that to other teachers. When people see if that is useful, and they want more of it, then they’ll have to learn how to do it because I cannot do them all. I think that is one way how people increase their knowledge of technology. That is just another example.

I think teachers are always modelling to each other also. What works in one class, other teachers want to know more about that. Maybe a good way to answer to that question is there needs to be a means for teachers to share what they are doing. Like we have occasional workshops, professional development workshops. We used to do something we called homegrown CALL. Homegrown means what our teachers have discovered in our environment and we could create a time they could have each week to make presentations to one another. That worked really well. They really liked hearing from one another and learning from one another. That again uses the master learner model where the teachers themselves are demonstrating to others and modeling to others what the should do, and everyone is learning about that, reflecting on it. If they want to use it, they practice it themselves, take it to the next level, and model something else for their peers again.

Zahra: Thank you so much for your great contribution and instructive comments.
Cormier, D. 2016. Rhizo14 – The MOOC that community built. Dave’s Educational Blog. Available:
Cormier, D. 2008. Rhizomatic education : Community as curriculum. Innovate 4 (5). (accessed June 2, 2008). The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher,
Downes, S. (2007).Personal Learning the Web 2.0 Way. Stephen Downes: Knowledge, Learning, Community. Available:
Kuhn, J. and Stevens, V. (2017). Participatory culture as professional development: Preparing teachers to use Minecraft in the classroom. TESOL Journal 8, 4:753–767. and
Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. elearnspace. Available:
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 Recent draft submission here:
Stevens, V. (2015). How the TESOL CALL Interest Section began (updated). On CALL (Sept 2015). Available:
Stevens, V. (2014a). 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. More information on the book can be found here:

A draft of my paper can be read online here:
Stevens, V. (2014b). What we learn from MOOCs about Professional Development and Flipping Classrooms – GLoCALL Ahmedabad 2014. adVancEducation. Available:
Stevens, V. (2013). What’s with the MOOCs? TESL-EJ 16 (4) pp. 1-14: Also available at:
Stevens, V. (2012). DIYLMS: Learner-centered Do-it-yourself Learning Management System. In Dowling, S., Gunn, C., Raven, J., Gitsaki, C. (Eds.). Opening up Learning: HCT Educational Technology Series. HCT Press: Abu Dhabi; ISBN 978-9948-16-864-5), pp.103-112. Available as pp.0-11:
Stevens, V. (2011). Reflections on a teaching philosophy. adVancEducation. Available:
Stevens, V. (2010a). “PLN: The paradigm shift in teacher and learner autonomy”.  Braz-TESOL Newsletter, Issue 4, 2010, pp.12-13. Available:
Stevens, Vance. (2010b). Shifting sands, shifting paradigms: Challenges to developing 21st century learning skills in the United Arab Emirates. Chapter 20 in Egbert, J. (2010). CALL in Limited Technology Contexts, CALICO Monograph Series, Volume 9. pp.227-239. Available:
Stevens, V. (2010c). How can teachers deal with technology overload: Reader response to Allan, J. (2009). Are language teachers suffering from technology overload? TESOL Arabia Perspectives 16(2), 22-23. TESOL Arabia Perspectives 17 (1), 22-23. Available: archive/2010teacher_tech_overload.pdf

Stevens, Vance. (2009). Modeling Social Media in Groups, Communities, and Networks. TESL-EJ, Volume 13, Number 3:

Stevens, V. (2004). The Skill of Communication: Technology brought to bear on the art of language learning. TESL-EJ 7, 4 (On the Internet).
Swier, R. (2014). Tasks for easily modifiable virtual environments. JALT CALL Journal 10 (3): 207-223. Available:
Warlick, D. (2010). Are they students or are they learners? 2 cents worth of seeking the Shakabuku. Available:

Doctoral candidates have in the past interviewed me and allowed me to post the interview at my blog; for example:
As regards follow up, researchers sometimes make reports to our community as Learning2gether events as well; for example … 



Earlier events

Fri Apr 20 1230 UTC Sheila Adams hosts her annual 7th grade webcast for Earth Day – lasts 4 hours


Mon Apr 23 1700 EDT Norma Underwood – Building Skills in Second Life – VSTE VE PLN Meeting

K4Sons writes:

Let’s build a bird house! Norma Underwood is going to lead us through the steps to make this cute little birdhouse Monday, April 23 at 5 PM SLT (8 PM EDT). You will get to practice many building skills that can help you with projects of your own! Please join us!

If you don’t have a Second Life account get one, it’s free. We recommend setting one up at the Rockcliffe University Consortium’s Gateway here: Download and install the software. While your Second Life viewer (software) is open click this link and voila! Look for an avatar on VSTE Island and say, “Hey, I’m new!” We will take care of the rest.


Sat Apr 28 Matt Miller on Classroom 2.0: 10 things to ditch in education and what to do instead

Saturday, April 28, 2018
“10 Things to Ditch in Education (and what to do instead)”
If you’re looking for inspiration coupled with practical tips and great insights, look no further than our fantastic presenter, Matt Miller! I know all of us at one time or another have wished that we could “ditch” some of the things we are expected to do but we’re not quite sure what to do instead. In today’s presentation Matt is offering us a lifeline with “10 Things to Ditch in Education (and What to do Instead)” Matt is always inspirational, passionate, humorous and filled with emotion about his desire to making learning the best it can be for students everywhere, and we are thrilled to welcome him back on Classroom 2.0 LIVE!!Webinar Description!
“10 Things to Ditch in Education (and what to do instead)” The world is changing, and education is changing with it … very quickly in some ways and very slowly in others. When we aren’t getting the results from “what we’ve always done” anymore, it’s time to change. In this webinar, we will talk about several things you might consider “ditching” — for a lesson, a week or the rest of your career. You’ll come away with practical ideas to use in class tomorrow AND some great opportunities and resources. Don’t miss it!Matt Miller is a teacher, blogger and presenter from West Central Indiana. He has infused technology and innovative teaching methods in his classes for more than 10 years. He is the author of the book Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom and writes at the Ditch That Textbook blog about using technology and creative ideas in teaching. He is a Google Certified Innovator, Bammy! Top to Watch in 2016, and winner of the WTHI-TV Golden Apple Award. Onalytica named him one of the top 10 influencers in educational technology and elearning worldwide. After trying to do the traditional “teach by the textbook” for a few years, he launched into a textbook-less path where learning activities were often custom-produced for his students as well as infused with technology. He likes the results a lot, and his students do, too.Matt has presented to thousands of teachers at dozens of workshops on a number of topics related to educational technology, world language instruction and more. He combines a conversational, engaging speaking style with loads of resources, leaving teachers equipped and inspired to move forward.

Remember to follow us on Twitter: #liveclass20

On the Classroom 2.0 LIVE! site ( you’ll find the recordings and Livebinder from our recent “Jennifer Regruth, Featured Teacher” session presented by Jennifer Regruth. Click on the Archives and Resources tab.

Visit Classroom 2.0 at:



One thought on “Zahra Shafiee interviews Vance Stevens regarding his views on the role of teachers in integrating technology with language teaching

  1. Pingback: Demonstrating EVO Minecraft MOOC at the 10th Virtual Round Table Web Conference | Learning2gether

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