Personal PD (cont.): Does CALL Make a Difference?

Leaky, J. (2011a). Chapter 3: Has CALL made a difference. In J. Leaky. Evaluating Computer-assisted Language Learning: An integrated approach to Effectiveness Research in CALL (pp. 59-72). New York: Peter Lang.


In this chapter, Leaky (2011) examined the various ways that CALL researchers have attempted to explore the effectiveness of CALL interventions. He carried out this work by discussing the four major debates of CALL efficacy research; viz., whether or not CALL leads to learning gains, whether or not CALL is comparable to non-CALL pedagogies, what combination of pedagogical interventions are best for learners, and what measurables should be focused on in efficacy research. His discussion showed the steady evolution of CALL research towards a greater focus on theory-based, data-driven analyses of CALL and its impacts on language teaching and learning. He concluded by offering suggestions for future CALL efficacy research, which were centered on four areas: awareness of resource development and selection criteria, clarity around the teaching context and its influences on language learning, focus on the pedagogical interventions used, and an investigation of how CALL is integrated into the language learning curriculum.


As I learn more about CALL, I’m actively seeking pieces that address one of my greatest concerns. Specifically, most CALL professionals that I have interacted with have been so excited by their work—and, it’s refreshing to see an academic passionate about their field—but, they seem to favor technology over pedagogy. I’ve seen too many presentations on how corpora tool X will revolutionize my students’ ability to acquire academic vocabulary, or how grammar checker Y will lead to professional quality writing by my novice students. In this piece, Leaky states unequivocally that CALL only works when it is a logical extension of pedagogy. That is pedagogy, and the needs of the students must come first. Then CALL should only be implemented as a support for pedagogical choices and to scaffold student learning. This is, to me, critical in thinking about CALL’s place in ELT. Also, Leaky (2011) provides a good tool-for-thought when it comes to evaluating CALL interventions through the paradigm presented in his conclusion (see summary, above)

Personal PD (cont.): The Case for CALL in a Re-mix/Mash-up World

Kessler, G. (2013). Teaching ESL/EFL in a world of social media, mash-ups, and hyper-collaboration. TESOL Journal, 4(4), 615-632.


In this invited article, Kessler provides a sustained argument for teachers to set aside their misgivings about the technological revolution in English language teaching. He adroitly points out that our students live in technological spaces that mediate not only their understanding of their ecosocial spaces but also their views towards learning and their language practices. As this is the case, teachers must come to embrace technology mediated language teaching and seek to integrate it into their practice. To help with this, Kessler provides links to many applications that teachers might find useful. He extends this data dump by providing a rationale for each item he included in his listing, weighing both pros and cons. He also provides a four-point list of actions teachers need to take to better integrate technological interventions with their practices.


For me, this was a very energetic piece by a CALL apologist that I’ve known professionally for some time. That being said, there were many useful aspects of this article. The first is the resources that he directs readers towards. To help the reader jump start their own cognition about CALL’s place in their teaching practice, Kessler provides not only a summary of the resource but suggestions for its use in language teaching. This makes Kessler’s piece infinitely more useful than other pieces that tend more towards being a wall of links. Also useful were his guidelines for approaching technology in the classroom. He encouraged educators to do four things: (1) to focus on pedagogy first, (2) to allow classroom practice to mirror real-world use, (3) to no obsess with becoming an expert of the technology, and (4) to ease into using new tech in teaching.

His second and third points are of particular importance. Allowing classroom practice to mirror authentic use allows students to more immediately see the application, the relevance, of what we’re teaching them. It can also be used to highlight how things like register and medium can influence how our interlocutors parse a message. The third part, not being expert, is instrumental. It’s a well-known maxim that our students will almost always know more about the latest tech than we do. Don’t let that hold you back. Rather, let it push you forward. By allowing students to showcase what they know and can do with new technologies in the classroom, you may be helping to actualize student agency over their own learning, a feat that can lead to increased motivation to carry out educational tasks and to buy into lifelong learning, which is what all effective language learners/users seem to understand—learning a language is a lifelong affair. There is no moment of arrival and completion.

@EduMatch Podcast: Personalized Professional Development

Yesterday, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on personalized professional development (PD) hosted by I was talking through this issue with other educators and curriculum coaches from across the U.S. and in both K-12 and higher education. It was a lively discussion, and it really got me thinking. So, I thought that I would take a moment to talk a little further about some of my thoughts about personalized professional development.

Honestly, the EduMatch panel came at a rather auspicious time, as I’m currently blogging my way through my own annual PD project—completing TESOL International’s Advanced Practitioner Certificate. Each year, NYU Shanghai provides all instructional faculty on contract lines with funds for their professional development. How we use it is relatively unrestricted as long as we can make the case that it will improve the instruction that we deliver. Some of have used it for Chinese language classes, some have used it for conference travel, or books, or publication fees, etc. This year, I’m using it to get the TESOL Advanced Practitioner Certificate to extend my knowledge of my field and to shore up my credentials as an educator, as opposed to scholar, researcher, or administrator. TL;DR, at NYU Shanghai professional development is institutionally supported (through funding), but it is all personal, and isolated, PD. I hadn’t critically thought of this situation before being invited to talk on this panel. But, the EduMatch Panel gave me a reason to dig into it a little deeper by posing three questions to me.

How do you frame personal PD?

For me, personal PD requires institutions and administrators to empower educators by giving them agency over their professional development. This happens in a few ways. First, it occurs by allowing teachers to pick the direction and methods for their continued professional development. This doesn’t mean that PD becomes willy nilly and fly by night. Rather, it means that educators must take control over their PD by making the case that their PD actions extend their current skill set in a way that will benefit the institution—by helping students to achieve, to learn. Second, it means activating the talent, skills, and competencies that are already in the building. It means treating educators as the professionals and experts that they are and having them work together to extend that knowledge to new contexts and situations. This means enabling the instructor to use their current expertise, perhaps in ed tech, to help others grow in this area. We cannot ignore the social act of personal PD. It is inherently social, and it must be so, or else growth cannot occur. Finally, and this I’m borrowing from one of the other panelists. It meets educators where they are at and allows them to meet PD requirements at their own pace and in physical spaces that work best for them.

What is personal PD such a hot topic issue?

I regularly participate in PD-style events like luncheons where I discuss working with LGBTQ students or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students. I also regularly work with disciplinary professors to address issues of second language writing in their courses. When I’m working one-to-one, I rarely have to work very hard to get buy in. However, if I’ve been invited in by the department chair, then I have to overcome resistance to PD. I think that this, resistance to standardized, top-down PD, is the reason why personal PD is such a hot topic issue and will become one in higher education in the near future. As higher ed begins to see that it owe its students quality instruction, as students increasingly demand it of us, we will have to help researchers, scholars, and disciplinary professionals become quality educators. This requires training and sustained PD. Personal PD can be a way to overcome resistance to the process. I think that this need for instruction-oriented PD is a reason why we see more and more Centers for Teaching Excellence coming online at universities across the U.S.

One of the other panelists pointed out that personal PD could also be gaining attention in K-12 because of tighter district and state budgets. I’ll voice the concern that I feel they had, yes personal PD is good, but if it’s creating additional costs to teachers, with no fiscal assistance, it’s going to backfire in a big way. To me, asking a teaching to decorate their classroom and have some supplies on hand out of pocket, and then asking them also to foot the bill for a PD seminar is…problematic.

Is personal PD a good thing and should schools adopt it?

Here, I’ll be short. Yes, it is a good thing. But, you shouldn’t view personal PD as something that occurs in isolation. It must still be seen as social. Educators must have a platform to share the lessons learned in their PD to help further professionalize others.

Should schools adopt it? Most definitely.

Personal PD (Cont.): Language Learners’ and Teachers’ Online Identities

del Rosal, K., Conry, J., & Wu, S. (2017). Exploring the fluid online identities of language teachers and adolescent language learners. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 30(5), 390-408.


In this empirical study, the authors examined how computer-mediated collaborative mentorships can be a tool to facilitate culturally responsive learning. This was carried out by having teachers that were enrolled in a master’s program serve as one-to-one mentors with language learners from the local school using a standard learning management system. Using a case study design, they presented three cases of teacher/learner interaction, highlighting the moves made by the teacher to actualize student identity to create culturally-responsive spaces that treat learner identities as assets in the learning process. Their findings suggested that digital spaces allow teachers to create spaces that are tailored to the needs of the students and that allow the students to work with teachers to challenges culturally-based presumptions. This act of enabling students to challenge teachers allows for value to be created around student experiences and identities.


This piece was most in line with my own research interests. Since I haven’t ready anything on identity in language learning in a while, it was a welcome return to familiar ground. While I don’t take exception to their methods, I do wish that they had spent more time on definitional work and interrogating their data in relation to their theoretical framework. For example, they cite Gee’s definition of identity as the “type of person that a person becomes in particular contexts (p. 392).” This is all they say about identity, a central part of their theoretical framework. This is not an operationalized definition; this isn’t a definition with which we can carry out serious inquiry, and yet these authors attempt just that. However, reading their work, I feel that the identity angle is layered on and not thoroughly explored. The yreally just barely scratch the surface.

What is useful, however, is there operationalization of culturally responsive teaching as learning to effectively communicate with students by building one’s own intercultural communicative competence, developing close relationships with students, and seeing students’ identities and experiences as assets in the learning process and to the local educational community. It’s this last bit, seeing students as assets that I think is woefully underexplored in TESOL and even more undervalued in practice. If there’s going to be a critical change in the field and in practice in the future, this is the area that it needs to be around—creating and realizing the value our students add to the system.

Personal PD (Cont.): Another View on the Flipped Classroom.

Bauer-Ramazai, C., Graney, J.M., Marshall, H.W., & Sabieh, C. (2016). Flipped learning in TESOL: Definitions, approaches, and implementations. TESOL Journal 7(2), 429-437.


In this 21st Century Language Skills piece, the authors provide a more thorough accounting of the notion of flipped learning by tailoring its definition directly to the TESOL context. They define flipped learning as moving lectures and readings out of the classroom (pre-class prep work) and using mini-projects and activities to encourage students to apply that learning in the classroom. They do this by invoking The Flipped Learning Network’s four pillars of flipped learning—flexible environments, learning cultures, intentional content design, professional educators—to the work of language teaching. This provides a framework that makes more immediately clear the potential and promise of flipped learning. The authors maintain that flipped learning allows for the integration of regular formative assessment, which can be used to modify instruction to meet the actual needs of the students. This creates a responsive teaching style. Second, they argue that these four pillars allow for the deployment of project-based learning, which they advocate as a way to build space for real-world application of language skills that may lead to increased student buy-in in the learning process. They also point to a number of challenges with flipped learning. The most notable, to me, is the increased time for both educators and students.


This piece brings me more fully on board with the notion of flipped classrooms as understood from the Instructional Technology and Design perspective. I’ll admit that I was skeptical when I read Adnan (2017), but this piece better shows the ideological and disciplinary lineage of the term. It also better executes the definitional labor necessary in sound scholarship. Specifically, their work better highlights how flipped learning can integrate with my own teaching philosophy, which has been heavily influenced by Atkinson’s sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition. That is, flipped learning very clearly has can provide a space for collaborative and joint learning, which is squarely in line with a sociocognitive world view. Flipped classrooms provide a place where students can level their individual cognition on group tasks, using their collective mental abilities to overcome challenges they may not be able to do individually—much like me and Apple Maps working together to navigate a new city. To me, it is in the extension of individual cognition (through joint cognition with others) that learning can happen and that students can take increased agency over their own learning.