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Is CALL outdated?

Through both my own interest and the influence of my MA course, I’ve been sending out prompts for dialogue on Twitter, on Facebook and in my office regarding the integration of technology in our classes in terms of the familiar (and purportedly outdated) abbreviation CALL (Computer-assisted language learning), which has been met with a polarised set of opinions. Feel free to chime in.

My desire for discussion stems from the Bax article, “CALL – Past, Present and Future” (2003), which responds to CALL’s phases put forth by Warschauer & Healey’s “Computers and language learning: An overview” (1998) and develops the concept of technology’s normalisation in the language learning classroom. This discussion is by no means new1, but maybe we’ve been discussing what’s not practical at this point.

So integrated into daily life that we don’t consider it special (Source: The New Yorker, 2011)

But first, I think it’s warranted to summarise one of Bax’s points. Are we at a period in the development of technology where it is so integrated into our daily lives that we hardly consider its presence as special? The iPhone I use for music, photos and calls doesn’t astound me anymore and it’s no more special to my life than my watch or slippers.  Many tasks I do–timing my walk to the bus stop, listening to music, reading checking Facebook, Twitter and blogs, and texting with friends that I’ll be a little late–are part in parcel with my phone and not something I consider isolated experiences.  I rarely (if ever) these days sit back and say “wow, this is one amazing piece of technology that is helping me with my daily life”.  It just does and I’m used to it. This is at the heart of normalisation: “when a technology is invisible, hardly even recognised as a technology, taken for granted in everyday life.” (2003:23).

Of course, unlike my early adopter attitude, some may still identify with these mobile devices as being mind-blowing experiences that are still fairly new, but what about computers and the Internet? Are they still experiences that seem special? Is using them something that is a special occurrence in daily life? I highly doubt most people in non-impoverished regions would suggest that, though I have only my friends, family, students and social networks to back that up.

Assuming I’m justified here, can the same be said of computers in language teaching? Are we using computers and their adjuncts in our daily classrooms? I’d suspect that most of us are on the teacher’s end (e.g. creating handouts, conversing via email, even projecting videos, etc.) but not so many of us on the classroom end (i.e. students using them during class for learning purposes), yet in certain contexts like higher ed, many students do on the self-study/homework end (i.e. assignments, emailing professors, research, etc.).  In this way, at least in my experience here in Toronto, it’s not normalised, though it likely wouldn’t be too difficult to expand that to many other ELT contexts.

Bax refers to five stages of normalisation , ranging from those first curious about technologies to rejecting them all out to seeing relevance but still fearing them to not noticing them as special anymore (2003: 24-25). Teachers and programs here tend to hover around the higher end of the middle, where  most see a value in using technology to facilitate learning, but are afraid to use it consistently, to change comfortable routine or to rely on what might fail unexpectedly.  Add to that its limited availability and we fall back into what’s considered ‘a special trip to the computer lab today’.

There may also be some confusion about what exactly CALL represents.  Álvarez (2011) refutes the assumption that CALL is referring to computers alone and not the study of the linguistic connections regarding “all social phenomena inherent in their use for pedagogical purposes” nor research involved in such connections.  In doing so, his suggestion that this CALL would become “extinct” through normalisation loses me.  As an example, he compares it to the idea that since we all know atoms exist that atomic physicists should also become redundant.  I know what Álvarez is trying to suggest–that the study of how computers or more broadly, technology, assists language learning should not be ended simply because technology is widely used.  Bax, however, seems to be largely referring to a more practical, classroom end in his discussion of normalisation than the ‘meta’ study of it: teachers and students find what we consider technology (computers, mobile devices, etc.) so normal in the classroom that it’s no longer represented to students nor taught in training programs as a special side of language learning (i.e. in teacher training courses here, CALL continues to predominantly represent a small module about using computer software in language labs).  This also suggests that when training new teachers, the training itself integrates technology into it without “divorcing it from the course.” (Jones, 2012) It implies nothing about research into how computers, pens, course books, music, my dog or anything else affects language learning.

1984 was a big year for computers

In the end, is it really computer-assisted language learning now? Should we, as educators, suggest to students who have computers and other technologies interwoven in their daily lives that language learning through a computer is a special option in and outside the class? Would that not now be received by a resounding ‘Duh!’?  Maybe it’s not normalisation that we should be debating per se, but the term, CALL, itself. How about moving to the more encompassing, Educational Technology (though one might argue that this or TELL are just syntactically different), which would entail the study and incorporation of any new technology into language learning.  Maybe separating out various techs into their own titles, like mLearning, would be less problematic, until they too are considered outdated?  Maybe that would get confusing (Levy & Hubbard, 2005:148). Hey, perhaps no label at all?  Or maybe it’s all moot since every language learning context is different and we all need to accept CALL because it appeals to the lowest common denominator?



1 Take a look at this 2006 discussion about normalisation from an email forum on IATEFL’s LTSIG. <last accessed February 5, 2012> for points-of-view from various teachers in various regions.  Bax, in fact, took part in the discussion.

Álvarez, J. 2011. On the concept of ‘Normalisation of CALL’, [blog post]. <last accessed February 5, 2012>

Bax, S. 2003. CALL – past, present and future, System 31,1: 13-28 [Available here].

Jones, C. 2012. The times they are a-changing, [blog post]. <last accessed February 5, 2012>

Levy, M. & Hubbard, P. 2005. Why call CALL “CALL”?, Computer Assisted Language Learning 18,3, 143-149

Warschauer, M., & Healey, D. 1998. Computers and language learning: An overview. Language Teaching, 31, 57-71.

June 2012 Edit:  On this post is my first and only interaction with a great leader in the field of CALL, Graham Davies, who passed away a few days ago.  I sadly look back at this post, his comment and my reply and wish I had had more opportunity to interact with him.  Thank you for your contributions, Graham.

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Kevin Stein

Hi Tyson,

A lot to think about in this post. For my own part I’ve started to think about how technology is used in a standard English environment and have tried to bring those uses of tech into the classroom. So I think to some extent I’ve gone from thinking of how technology can assist language learning, to how technology is one facet of the living language. How that plays out in the classroom is: students use the Internet in English to do research, students use their cell-phones/ipods to record themselves for transcription homework, students are free to download files I use in class on their ipads to do readings in or out of class. I’m also thinking about how students might be able to use dictation software to measure their own comprehensability (still working on how to try this out…). So I guess I am hoping to push students into a space where their own ideas about technology are more in line with what technology means in regards to English learning.


Brad Patterson

Fine discussion as always. This is kind of the finger pointing at the moon, is it the moon or the finger… it feels like we’re reorganizing how we label things due to the way we use them. Honest, and the good lord knows that the French government changes the names of its administrative branches every 10 years so as to give it a breath of fresh air. Does it? Maybe.

I think it was Ken Wilson that recently cited studies that showed younger students would rather look at a screen than a book. Go with the flow? Go against the flow. I think I’ll go with the experiment and pay attention to outcomes. Personally I think computers have immense power for language-learning, though I continue to see that power in an autonomous, I study on my own way. When folks are together, I tend to want that communication to be facilitated through humans, through voice. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned…

Brad Patterson

I hear it… I’ll have to play around with the possibilities. The other issue always at hand is what is available… only 2 of my 18 students have an iPhone, and the classroom doesn’t have internet access… just language lab tools that weren’t great 10 years ago. Alas… we’ll get to the moon one of these days 😉


Tyson, I’ve noticed your Tweets about CALL and I’ve been thinking about it since I saw them. As I now use my computer to teach via SKYPE I use it as both a communication tool and a learning tool. I share my documents, share my screen, etc. We also have an LMS that has features to help me connect with my students (a notepad). As for other programs and software, it is a New Years resolution to try one new technology a month in the classroom and so far (in month 2) it’s going well. But I can’t say that anything has become more than a one-time novelty. Even when I was teaching in person to my classes I didn’t use the computer a lot. Or any technology really. It not only took time to learn the technology, it also required me to adapt my lesson to the new delivery. Now, that sounds like I was lazy – I didn’t think so at the time. And I’m not sure I was afraid either. I think it just didn’t offer any improvement to my classes.

Now in my current position I am seeing a benefit to using different technologies for homework assignments. The technology offers interest and interaction without my presence. And I’m more motivated to try these things out on my students now.

As for it becoming invisible in daily teachings and learnings – that may be possible to a certain point. At one time, schools didn’t have text books, and now many teachers couldn’t teach without them (sad but true)! I think we will find the balance in technology and teaching and THAT will become invisible. All the extras and special activities, etc may always seem ‘mind blowing’. Just my two cents.


I agree COMPLETELY with what you said here. Being ‘forced’ to use technology on a more regular basis has shown me that it can genuinely add to the lesson. But I believe that, just like breaking or starting a habit, it takes continued effort in the beginning to get to the point where you can clearly see the benefits. Excellent points!

Cecilia Lemos

Reading this post made me think back an analyze how I use technology in the classroom, trying to think outside the veil of normalisation – on which I completely agree with you. And that has made me realise that first, and foremost, the students usually enjoy more classes where some technology is used. Be it to present a point (slides are always better looking than writing/drawing and saves time, since you save them for the next time), play a game to practice the language, use audio or video.

I can put my use of technology in the classroom in 2 broad categories: planned and unplanned. The unplanned is usually for student emergent opportunities for new language or reviewing old ones. Be it a search for an article on a topic being discussed, using the iPhone to learn the pronunciation of a strange word, etc, etc

The planned is not only planned activities I prepare, but also teaching students how to work with some widespread technologies around – such as PowerPoint, Excel, blogs, producing podcasts, etc We use English as the medium through to teach them something that may be useful in their lives outside the English class.

But even more importantly, I think the biggest role technology can play in learning is, like Brad said, promote opportunities for autonomous studying (and hopefully learning). I see that as a key part of my teaching especially with my adult students, who miss classes more frequently than not because of work.

So, I guess what I am thinking is: Does it really matter what we CALL it? It’s there.

Do I make any sense? Sometimes I feel I just ramble and can’t get my thought straight.

Cheers for another great post, Ty. 🙂

Graham Davies

Thought-provoking posting. It’s a debate that has been going on for some time, dating back to the research conducted in the early 1990s by Mike Levy, which led to the publication of his seminal work in which he proposed a new, wide-ranging definition of CALL:

“Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) may be defined as ‘the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning’”
Levy M. (1997) CALL: context and conceptualisation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

And this is the definition that has been adopted by most of the professional associations whose names incorporate the acronym CALL. See the list at the ICT4LT website, Resource Centre:

Have a look at Sections 1-3, ICT4LT website, Module 1.4, Introduction to CALL:

See also the Wikipedia article on CALL (Section 2, Typology and phases):

Yes, CALL is an outdated term, but it has come to mean something different nowadays compared to when it was first coined: see Davies & Steel (1981), the earliest example I have found of the use of the acronym CALL:

If you look at the range of presentations at conferences, e.g. the annual EUROCALL and CALICO conferences, you will see that CALL is interpreted as virtually ANY manifestation of the use of computers in language learning and teaching, ranging from traditional interactive exercises to the use of IWBs and virtual worlds.

Graham Davies
Emeritus Professor of CALL – I was conferred with this professorship in 1989, and now I am stuck with it! 🙂

Marisa Constantinides

You are right, snd so is Bax. I recently did some related research among teacher educators – may be your university has access to this journal and based a lot of my work on Bax’s position re normalisation.

My more recent blog post looks at solutions here and Ceri Jones talked about coming to much the same thoughts in her own post here

So, yes, I think CALL is a bit outdated in the notion of the ‘Computer Lab’ and the computer as drill master.

Great post, Tyson, adding to our collecting thinking about something so important.



I am doing research on CALL in Brazil and I decided to use the acronym CALL because of the conferences, journals, books, etc. In fact, Levy and Hubbard (2005) convinced me. The field is so fragmented that we need to have a general label. Maybe the term is becoming outdated but some colleagues here don’t even know that we, language teachers, different from other areas, have a specif field to study the relationship between technlogy and language learning/teaching. As the authors say “the term CALL is simply useful”.


I would question any attempt to normalize CALL, TELL, etc., especially an article published eight years ago. Technology is changing so rapidly, and is becoming more ubiquitous that terms like CALL, TELL, and the like soon become meaningless is not explained in context. Perhaps a more fruitful conversation would include a socio-materialistic slant that includes at least some of the following: learning theory, computing, social media, relationships, associations, connections, information flow, and semiotics.

I would instead ask some variation of How, why, when, with whom, and where is language learning occurring that is more engaging, effective, and efficient? Granted, a very general question, but one that requires a very specific (local) answer. As we gather specific answers then patterns will likely emerge. These patterns will likely include convergent and divergent opinions as to what terms like educational technology, CALL, TELL, etc. actually mean. Whether these terms converge or diverge is not as important as understanding how learning theory, semiotics, social media, etc. are associated.


Yeah, I just disagree with the premise of the CALL article. On one hand, I ask myself if those who were using technology eight years ago (and even those who were not) are integrating CALL any more today, eight years later. I would suspect they are. On the other hand, it’s not even about how integrated (or invisible) CALL is – it’s about how social media, semiotics, learning theories, and associations (among others) relate. Another way to look at it is there is too much emphasis on technology and not on higher academic, linguistic, and communicative achievement.

I would say that I integrate technology (not CALL specifically) quite a bit for my own learning, but it’s anything but “invisible” or “normalizing”. I’m very conscious of it and it is changing all of the time. I would suspect the same would (or should) go for CALL, or TELL, or educational technology, or whatever. The type of CALL will depend on context, to the degree that “types” of CALL are not categorized, identified as a paradigm, or even considered a phase – it’s much too complex for that. CALL will depend on the moment individuals are interacting within a learning ecosystem. A simple notion, but complex.

I think this article is irrelevant today because we’ve seen quite a bit of advancement in technologies in schools over the last 40 years but have seen little-to-no increase in standardized testing scores (Educational Leadership/ASCD, November, 2011).

Enjoying the exchange and welcome opposing views.

Louise Taylor

hmm, in a rush (need to be somewhere else) but couldn’t resist the urge to post… I think it’s perhaps worthwhile defining “computer” in this context. Is it that machine that sits on your desk? Or is it also the interactive whiteboard hanging in your classroom (in almost every classroom in the Netherlands)? Although I understand the reluctance some writers have to ‘abandon’ the term CALL, and perfectly appreciate the re-definition of the word, I, personally think we should be moving towards “digitally enhanced language learning” (but then you get ‘DELL’ and perhaps would rather exchange enhanced for assisted/augmented/reinforced/intensified/boosted) Just an idea (to keep the comments rolling – online CPD is great!) 😉


One way to define “computer” is to view it as anything coming through the monitor. For any given person, a computer can serve as a “teacher”, “assistant”, and “learner”.

Graham Davies

I agree that it makes sense to continue using the term CALL in the sense of Levy’s catch-all definition and in the context of the growing number of CALL professional associations that incorporate the acronym. I’ve been in this sphere of research for a long time – since 1976 – and I’ve seen a lot of acronyms come and go, e.g. CALI, CALL, TELL, CELL (Computer Enhanced Language Learning) and MUESLI. MUESLI was the original name of the IATEFL SIG devoted to using new technologies in language learning and teaching: Microcomputer Users in English as a Second Language Institutions. Nice, eh? And memorable! Interestingly, CALICO still retains CALI (Computer Assisted Language Instruction) in its name but it uses the term CALL more frequently. TESOL adopted CALL for its Interest Section in 1983.

I think that most of us who are active in this sphere of research recognise that using ICT in language learning and teaching is no longer something special – as it was in the 1980s when the first professional CALL associations were founded. And ICT has changed immeasurably, especially during the last 10 years. For example, since Delcloque wrote his mammoth History of CALL in 2000, we have seen the advent of blogs, wikis, social networking, podcasting, Web 2.0, virtual worlds, interactive whiteboards and Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) – all of which are used by language teachers. (See Delcloque:

Nevertheless, the debate on normalisation simmers on. In a Special Issue of the International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (IJCALLT) Bax questions the assumption that normalisation is both inevitable and desirable, and he asks if normalisation occurs to the same degree with each technology and if it follows the same steps for each technology. See Bax S. (2011) Normalisation revisited: The effective use of technology in language education, IJCALLT Special Issue, Web 2.0 and the Normalisation of CALL 1, 2: 1–15.

Graham Davies


Hi Tyson,
At the risk of going off at a tangent, I’d like to add a personal reflection on another personal experience of normalisation. At the weekend I led a workshop which was a variation on a presentation I’d given a year ago. In the original presentation I talked about an experiment I’d conducted with a class where both the students and I were experiencing for the first time the integration of edtech in the classroom (wifi access, IWB, email back channel, blogging, recording tools etc). In the original presentation I paid quite a lot of attention to the tech and the tools, explaining how we used them, but I also paid attention to the learning processes and the language products. One year later my workshop focused in exclusively on the learning, the use of language, the interaction, the rapport, the motivation. I hadn’t realised until looking back at it now that I had totally normalised the tech in the talk. I felt no need to explain the tools to my audience – they were familiar with them – and what we were all interested in exploring was the learning. Which ties back to Brad’s earlier comment “go with the experiment and pay attention to outcomes.”

Graham Davies

No, Tyson, I don’t get tired of hearing the same debates decade after decade. I do, however, find it interesting and sometimes amusing! My experience dates back to introduction of the language laboratory in UK secondary schools in the 1960s. The language lab was hailed as the panacea but, like all new technologies, it was only as effective as the teachers who used it. BTW, I have never been a teacher of English as a Foreign/Second Language. My career began as a teacher of German and French in UK secondary schools in 1965, and then I moved into higher education where I taught German at degree level, eventually becoming director of a university language centre. So I probably have a different perspective on CALL.

And, yes, you are probably right about the majority of ELT educators still regarding ICT as something special. This is true of language teachers in general. The problem is that the goalposts keep moving. Computers have been around in education since the early 1980s, but they do a lot of different things now. Newcomers to CALL tend to plunge straight into Web 2.0 (which, for them IS the Web), without having any idea of what has gone before and what other manifestations of CALL are accessible to them. The ICT4LT website (which I edit) tries to give a broader perspective of what CALL is all about:

This article, which I was commissioned to write for the Council of Europe in 1996 (published 1997), may be of interest:

“Lessons from the past, lessons for the future: 20 years of CALL”. In Korsvold A-K. & Rüschoff B. (eds.) New technologies in language learning and teaching, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France. Available online at

Graham Davies

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