Thinking SMALL about social media assisted language learning – Vance Stevens presenting at the 2019 CALL Research Conference, Hong Kong

Learning2gether Episode #415

My proposal was accepted at the Social CALL: The XXth International CALL Research Conference at the Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 10-12 July 2019,

On July 10 at 15:30 I presented Thinking SMALL about social media assisted language learning, as seen in the program here:

The presentation was webcast in Zoom as Learning2gether episode 415. The YouTube video can be found here:

A photographer in Hong Kong snapped this view of my audience during the presentation:


Here is the abstract from a draft of the paper submitted to the 2019 CALL Research Conference proceedings. The paper submitted was reduced slightly from this more detailed, draft


This paper makes a case for a more appropriate acronym than CALL to reflect the reduced significance of the microprocessor in language learning and emphasize instead the most salient affordances computers bring to the process. Early CALL theorists note that the term might not transition to an era of network based learning. This paper describes such learning, and its use with language learners from the time the terms social media and Web 2.0 were coined. Since social media is an enabler of the meaningful and authentic communication so critically necessary to effective language learning, the paper encourages language practitioners to “think SMALL” and model for one another the use of social media and Web 2.0 in language learning. The paper shows how engagement in communities of practice spills over into changes in teaching practices and reports results of a survey of teacher perceptions of how effectively students and teachers are able to transition use of social media in their personal lives to their professional ones, for the purposes of both teaching and learning.

This blog post with its embedded video and audio mp4s from the Zoom recording during the presentation is the Learning2gether archive of the event. In addition, my presentation incorporates the following documents:

  • A blog post where I introduced and articulated what I planned to say during the 30 minute presentation – Stevens, V. (2019). Why not call CALL SMALL? [Blog post]. Retrieved from
  • The final pre-publication version of the chapter I submitted to the conference proceedings containing my findings and shared publicly here:
    Stevens, V. (2019). 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:
  • The slides I used in the presentation with all links working at The direct link is the one pointed to from the TinyURL I gave out to attendees at the session, However, this is no longer the most up-to-date version of my presentation.
  • The updated and replacement version of my slides which I had to upload to 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 here:
    I will always be able to update these slides easily whenever needed in the future.
  • The recording of my presentation in Zoom which is embedded in this blog post and is available on YouTube here:

And there are more notes on SMALL documenting my past decade of work on what I touch on here, at

Here’s where I noticed that, now owned by LinkedIn, had removed this essential functionality, in this forum:


Proposals for this conference consist of two parts, Research and Conference Theme. Here is the proposal I submitted (updated)

Part 1: Research

CALL is by definition computer assisted language learning, but computers are integrated into almost everything electronic. Bax (2003) argued that computers have become so normalized that the C in CALL is decreasingly descriptive. A better acronym would more accurately characterize the role of computers in language learning.

What computers do best is for language learners is to facilitate communication amongt them and with native speakers of a language, largely through social media. I believe that SM assists LL more than does the old C and over the past decade I have encouraged people to “think SMALL” in recognition of the diminished role of computers themselves in the process of language learning vs. how they actually help learners acquire a target language.

The purpose of language is communication, and students internalize languages through meaningful, authentic communication. Although correct form in language shapes effective communication, and developing predictive knowledge can help with understanding by helping to decode what people are saying, these are best honed through practice during authentic communication which forms the substrate for sustained language learning. Social media is a ubiquitous enabler of that.

Many acronyms have been proposed to replace the C in CALL; e.g. MALL, TALL, TELL, etc. A panel has been formed at the 2019 TESOL Conference in Atlanta to discuss the case for SMALL. This paper will extend my brief remarks as one of the panelists there, where I review my published rationale promoting SMALL since 2009 and present survey data from peers (in preparation) on their perceptions of their competence and effectiveness in using social media in language learning vis a vis that of their students. This is to establish a benchmark while drawing from observations during my past two decades using social media with peers as editor, collaborator, and founder of numerous communities of practice (CoPs). Collaboration in CoPs shows teachers how utilizing social media creatively with one another helps them model social media techniques most effective in learning, and informs the teaching practices of everyone in the participatory culture. When practices change, then novel techniques for using social media with students can develop, such as those that served as the impetus of my research.

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

Part 2: Conference theme

My professional work since the turn of the century has always had a strong social dimension. I have worked throughout my professional life in contexts where information has not been easily accessible locally. I have spent the past 20 years in countries where libraries have been poorly resourced and I have turned not just to the Internet but to the communities of practice (CoPs) that congregate there for information and professional development (PD). In order to sustain my own PD, have founded CoPs that have thrived for decades, and more importantly overlapped and formed wider networks over that time. CoPs that I have founded range from one developing our keen interest in Web 2.0 at the turn of the century, through to multiliteracies and seeding MOOCs, and more recently, to nurturing online sandboxes where teachers can experience gamification.

As I work with colleagues in CoPs I find my practice changing. I have honed my online techniques through projects online with language learners and with other teachers in our various CoPs, learning environments where social media tools figure significantly. Techniques employing social media find their way into my face-to-face classrooms as well. My paid work with students has always been face-to-face, but I always have an online component in my classes, e.g. some form of course and learning management systems, but other free web tools as well that facilitate blended learning environments. Social media tools fit nicely into blended learning and become a means of collaborating with students, and them with each other, both inside and outside the classroom.

One area where I have been exploring use of these tools lately has been in working with EFL student writers. The challenge in working with this particular cohort has been their weakness and disinterest in writing vs. the overly-ambitious level of performance expected of them in our assessment-based context.  The research reported here draws from my ongoing exploration of using voice tools with a variety of apps these past few years, in this instance using Google Docs. The study analyzes progress achieved with students in terms of attitude to writing and revision through a technique I devised where voice was used to get students using iPads, despite their having to write without proper keyboards, more quickly into meaningful revision of their writing.

My interest in the topic of SMALL, social media (SM) as opposed to computer assisted learning, is something I have been writing about for the past decade. Until now, when I have suggested this acronym, colleagues have shrugged it off in favor of their own preferences, but at the 2019 TESOL Conference in Atlanta in March, I was asked to be on a panel discussing social CALL, and after some discussion and sharing of published work, my co-panelists agreed to accept my acronym in the title of the panel. For that panel I surveyed teachers in my networks on their perceptions of their own use of SM and that of their students, to learn which group has the better command of SM and, more importantly, is more knowledgeable in using it in the learning/teaching of languages.

These are some of the threads of inquiry I hope to bring together in addressing the challenges of social CALL and possible solutions under the concept of SMALL. This work includes the following dimensions:

  • Language for specific purposes (small target groups in that the population of students I was working with were pilot cadets who were interested more in soccer and flying than in improving their language skills, writing being a particularly low priority for them) and my research used a novel technique which addressed their particular needs.
  • As the work was done in a wiki (Google Docs) and involved my giving feedback and eliciting their response, there was learner-learner and learner-NS Interaction, the teacher being a NS of the target language, English.
  • Social media was used in the form of a variety of wikis designed to guide their learning and get them interacting in multiple blended learning spaces, but the paper addresses social media used with teachers in particular, and in so doing, the ecology of the teacher working within communities of practice.

Bio Data

Vance Stevens lives in Penang and podcasts occasionally on His publications at elucidate how students use computers to learn languages, and how teachers learn to teach using technology by engaging in communities of practice and in participatory cultures. His most recent focus is on gamification in language learning through 5 years coordinating EVO Minecraft MOOC .



Earlier events

Thu Jun 27  Learning2gether Episode 413 with NileTESOL LTSIG – Hanaa Khamis interviews Csilla Jaray-Benn

Wed Jun 26-Fri 28 Learning2gether Episode 414 from Melaka at the ICCTAR conference


Postponed to Mon July 8 midnight July 9 UTC – Minecraft Monday is team-building a city in creative mode

The first Monday of every month is Minecraft Monday at 8 PM Eastern time, in Maine USA. This meeting was postponed to Monday, July 8 due to the holiday weekend in USA

You can join VSTE’s Facebook page –

and the VSTE Virtual Environments Facebook page –

VSTE are in several virtual environments, Minecraft being only one of them.

Meet at VSTE Place, VSTE’s Minecraft world; see this document for instructions

We get together in voice on VSTE’s Discord channel simultaneously. Once you are in Minecraft we will announce the Discord address if you don’t have it. Come early if you want help.


2 thoughts on “Thinking SMALL about social media assisted language learning – Vance Stevens presenting at the 2019 CALL Research Conference, Hong Kong

  1. Pingback: Vance Stevens receives the Lifelong Achievement Award for 2019 at the CALL Research Conference in Hong Kong | Learning2gether

  2. Pingback: Vance Stevens on thinking SMALL at the 2019 PELLTA conference in Penang Malaysia | Learning2gether

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