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(C)opyright 2005 Vance Stevens

2005 TESOL CALL Interest Session
Academic Session: Future Visions of CALL

link to Academic Session Portal

Thursday, March 31, 2005, 8:30-11:15 in San Antonio (14:30-17:15 GMT)

The future is now: How CMC tools for professional development enhance learning environments for students

Vance Stevens presenting with online guests Michael Coghlan and Aiden Yeh

One reaction from a member of the audience: At the 2003 TESOL Convention in Baltimore, Vance Stevens was using a dialup connection for his Webheads presentation. Even though the audio was a little choppy at times, the effect on the audience was amazing as we could hear voices in realtime from all around the world!

This presentation was Webcast and recorded::
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The recording is here starting at counter 4:27:45 -
The recording was made using the Elluminate voice/webcam presentation room at
The PowerPoint slides for this presentation are here.
Feedback on this session can be found here:

08:40 to 09:10 in San Antonio

(14:40-15:10 GMT)

Vance Stevens
Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE
email: vstevens at pi dot ac dot ae

Vance Stevens has worked in ESL and CALL coordination and software development for over 20 years, often but not always simultaneously. He now teaches HTML and computing applications in Abu Dhabi, and often goes online to train others to create learning environments that foster self-value and community building.

I intend to introduce the tools we've been using in Webheads, in professional development mode within a community of colleagues, to model how teachers can set up communicative, authentic, and constructivist learning activities with students. I plan to have examples of some who have made the leap from professional development to online student activities, with virtual and guest speakers helping me to make my points.

With a little help from my friends:

Model how teachers can set up communicative, authentic, and constructivist learning activities with students

I always feel I need to explain this: Webheads was originally, back in 1997-8, an attempt to teach "writing and grammar" to ESL students online. This was the topic of a course I agreed to teach with EFI English for Internet back in 1997. The course started as an email list, and then one of the students made a web page for it. In a process which I've replicated many times over in showing other teachers how to follow in my footsteps, I learned the rudiments of HTML and applied this and other Internet skills to subsequent evolutions of the learning environment, which in 1998 I started calling Webheads. The learning in such environments takes place through interaction within the community with varying degrees of moderator direction possible. These learning environments have become more and more sophisticated but at the same time increasingly user friendly, as the free tools for delivering such courses have themselves evolved and become more widely available. Several incarnations of this model started by myself and other colleagues have focused on setting up such environments for teachers to teach themselves online IT skills, and we've seen much evidence that teachers nurtured in such constructivist environments in turn become capable of extrapolating the techniques used in their own scaffolding to the benefit of their student learners.

Tools we've been using in Webheads, in professional development mode within a community of colleagues

Suppose you want to quick-start a community of learners online. What tools can you use?

First of all, you'll need to distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous tools.

Learning management systems (LMS) are generally very good at asynchronous interactions. They usually offer a variety of threaded chat options, and encourage learners to make postings to be responded to by others in the group. LMS's are in general not good at synchronous communications tools. That is, they don't excel in putting learners in touch in real time as well as do other free and easily downloadable tools. Therefore, if you are setting up a learning environment you might be best served to augment your LMS with synchronous tools drawn from outside the LMS, if synchronous interaction is envisaged for the community. If you do that, it's important to take pains to make clear to all participants in the community what tools exactly they are to use and be quite clear on what is the purpose of each.

Asynchronous tools

Many educators are familiar with LMS environments such as Blackboard, WebCT, Desire to Learn, and etc. These cost money and are beyond the reach of a free learning community. Fortunately there are other free tools to draw on. Of these, Nicenet has been around the longest and is still adamantly free, whereas Webheads have made extensive use of another two:

I won't have time here to go into the properties of these two LMS's except to say that Moodle is becoming quite popular with people who have always wished their institutes would put up the money required to grant them use of an elaborate LMS such as Blackboard, and are finding that they no longer require the funding since Moodle serves their purposes. On the other hand, there are a growing number of institutions that are canceling their subscriptions to expensive LMS's like Blackboard and WebCT as the Moodle environment is replicating the services without the huge annual expenditure. I'm not a highly experienced user of Moodle myself but I have found it fairly easy to set up courses in Moodle and, I've discovered that I can download entire course contents into a single zip file and delightedly restore them intact to other Moodle servers in a process that even I can understand. I've also experienced Moodles used in various formats ranging from conducting courses and listservs to effective portals for online conferences.

YahooGroups has many features lending themselves to course management. They are especially useful for communities wishing to share files and photos as well as conduct listservs and interact through collaboration tools such as the wiki-like database feature.

Synchronous tools

As noted, if synchronous communication is needed in the learning community, as is usually the case in remote or 'distributed' groupings, then there is a plethora of tools to choose from.

Webheads have made extensive use of Yahoo Messenger, unique among the instant messengers, as a tool that does all of the following 'fairly' well:

Disadvantages of YM are that:

Use of two presentation systems has been graciously donated to Webheads through Alado and Learning Times. Both allow:
Client system iVocalize from Talking Communities vClass from Elluminate
Operating systems Windows and just recently, Mac Windows and Mac
Video no one camera can be shown at a time
whiteboard interactive among all participants no yes
Moderator driven web tours on the whiteboard in a separate window
Screen and application sharing no yes
Audience feedback through emoticons no yes

There is a lot I could say about these tools but what I really want to get into here is how the tools are used in learning communities, particularly those involving language learning students. There's a description of all the tools we have used in the past here:

Making the leap from professional development to online student activities

I have elsewhere given numerous examples of how teachers who have enhanced their skills in computer mediated communications through constructivist interaction in the Webheads community online have gone on to utilize these techniques when working with students; notably:

My intent in this session is not to review all of these examples, which are growing in number from the instances cited here, but to illustrate the point more palpably to the live audience by inviting two teachers and long-time Webheads members who have collaborated online to show us what they have done together, and explain how their collaboration has benefited students.

Introducing two-presenters scheduled to join us live online from Australia and Taiwan:

We'll prep the audience by playing this much of Happy Online, and showing them the lyrics

People say that I've got grey hair
I must say that I don’t care
Everyone strugglin’ to go on line
You might be a friend of mine

Tapping keys there across the world
Perhaps a lost and lonely girl
Who turns to the web to find her heart
With someone who’ll be apart
Far away

Everyone wants their own home page
Aiming to be the next web sage
I tried to find you but your site was down
You must have been out of town

What happened during the project: Michael's perspective

What happened during the project: Aiden's perspective

Before the online meeting, I prepared a webpage where all the links are and forwarded this to my students. On this page, I also gave some notes on topics/issues that could be explored. The students were instructed to post their answers to the forum Their answers were used as a springboard to get our online discussion going.

Ideas for discussion

Read the lyrics of "Happy Online". Based on your understanding, what do you think the message of this song is? What is it trying to tell us? Have you ever experienced the same situation or feelings that go with meeting friends online?

You will be meeting the singer and writer of Happy Online, Michael Coghlan, on April 21. He will be sharing with us his thoughts about his composition and his opinions regarding online friendships and more.

Implications for teaching and learning

This online discussion gave my students the opportunity to practice and use in real time the skills that they've been trying to learn and hone for the past year. It was a chance for them to actually speak in an authentic manner. Blending online technology with traditional classroom has its own challenges and limitations. This event was manageable because there were fewer than 23 students- still quite a handful compared to my other class [12 students]. Technical difficulties often occur when you least expect them- and they do happen. These glitches can make or break your session. Yet, similar to any presentations, be it f2f or online, preparation is the key. Start early and keep a checklist of things to do. Online discussions would only work if you have invited guests who are willing to spend their time with students. Planning, like what I said earlier, is important, but still, it is not foolproof. Guests may arrive too early or too late, and worst, they could miss the whole event due to time differences and time conversions. This could be extremely nerve-wracking.

Is online discussion worthwhile?
Definitely. The student feedback answers this question in more ways than I could possibly say. Here are some examples from their course feedback:

[1] What do you think are the strengths of this course?

[2] What are the most valuable things you have learnt from this course?

[3] Online chat in English provides us the environment of speaking English with foreigner.

The future is now: Pushing the boundaries of professional development

If possible I will try and air some footage from the ElderParty the evening before as an example of how interaction among Webheads might presage professional development of the future with no telling what impact on students.

ElderBob's Webheads Fiesta Blogs

Bee's screenshots of the event:

Susan’s commentary:


Stevens, V. (2004a). WFW: Writing for Webheads You can chat with us live, online, free. Retrieved August 30, 2004 from:

Stevens, Vance. (2004b). The Skill of Communication: Technology brought to bear on the art of language learning. In TESL-EJ 7, 4 (On the Internet). Retrieved August 30, 2004 from:

Stevens, V. (2004c). Voices heard having F.U.N. in online communities of practice: A Presentation by Vance Stevens, April 3 2004, at the annual TESOL Convention, Long Beach at a Colloquium on “Multiple perspectives on the on-line conversation class.” Retrieved August 30, 2004 from:

Yeh, A. (n.d.). NKFUST's listening and conversation class with Michael Coghlan. Retrieved August 30, 2004 from: .

This page updated May 6, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Vance Stevens