September 2015
Stephanie Korslund, Jack Watson, & Aaron Schwartz

Jack Watson
2016 TESOL CALL-IS Chair-elect
Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada

1. Jack Watson: Our Past Roots/ The Early People

For the most part, anyone trying to write the history of anything will likely be dogged by a persistent sense of inadequacy, borne of the probability that they weren't there in the first place. Fortunately for this article, the organization now known as the TESOL Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section is relatively new, with many long-time members still contributing to the CALL-IS' organizational development and outreach, and with some original members having documented the roots.

Three interesting and illuminating articles on the emergence of the CALL-IS provide insight into its earliest days: Roger Kenner's A Short History of the Founding of the CALL-IS Interest Section; Vance Stevens' How the TESOL CALL Interest Section Began; and The CALL Interest Section Community History, a Kenner-initiated project with numerous serial contributors and a current history. The third pleasantly invites contributions on an annual (i.e. per convention) basis (and that means you too can record some observations and be a part of history!). The first two eloquently and passionately illuminate and inform those early days of the CALL-IS. The sense of collaboration, camaraderie, and communication that we CALL-ISers enjoy today was no less present then.

I quickly discovered that there were no experts. In fact, there was no field. -- Roger Kenner

The late 1970’s and early ‘80’s saw a burgeoning interest in microcomputers, and true to their nature, educators were among the first to look for applications for the new medium. At Concordia University (Montreal QC Canada), Roger Kenner and his Learning Laboratories staff were building what would become an inventory of self-authored programs to address the learning needs of various educators. Creative processes often lead to the desire to learn more about those processes, but Kenner’s search for experts, readings, and conferences on the topic of microcomputers in ESL led to an unsettling and unpopulated landscape. Kenner then collaborated with David Sanders (methodology professor at the TESL Centre at Concordia) to produce a study examining “students’ reactions to the computer-based material,” whose results formed the basis for Sanders’ proposal for TESOL ’82 (Hawaii).

The ensuing 1983 Toronto Convention pre-convention symposium is well-documented in Kenner’s account. Presented at the invitation of Jean Hanscombe, then TESOL president, suffice to say a public, open session had to be hastily arranged to supplement the scheduled closed-door symposium. In a recent telephone interview, Kenner stated, “What made TESOL ’83 important was we were talking to each other (italics mine). It gelled.” Such was the momentum of the time; the popularity of the sessions undoubtedly led to the first Software Fair (1984) in Houston, with Vance Stevens as the first official Chair of the CALL-IS.

Some things change, more robust technologies replace their predecessors, but one thing is certain: the collaborative, caring spirt of people interested in improving other people’s lives is what makes the entire volunteer effort worthwhile. Asked to identify the most memorable aspect of his involvement in the CALL-IS, Roger Kenner asserted without hesitation, “Fellowship with the people [there].” And so it is today for every participant: a spirit of adventure and togetherness, and an interest in making lives better through education.

Aaron Schwartz
Lecturer, Technology Coordinator
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio, USA

2. Aaron Schwartz: Our Past- Technologically Speaking

Earlier this year, I was given the daunting task of writing an entry in the TESOL Encyclopedia for the Electronic Village. As I have only been involved with the steering committee and EV planning for the last few years, I had to dig through the archives to find more information about how it all got started.

Luckily, there turned out to be a wealth of resources saved in the archives of our IS webpage. I was amazed to read Roger Kenner and Vance Stevens’ firsthand accounts of the first meetings of the Interest Section and the first “Software Fare” that evolved out of TESOL’s hospitality rooms. (Kenner 1996, Stevens 2003)

As someone who came of age during this time, I felt nostalgia for the early Macs, IBMS, and Commodores that are described at some of the early “fares.” During the early years, the membership brought in their own machines (foreshadowing today’s attention on BYOD strategies). As a there was no readily-available Internet through which software could be downloaded, it was important to maintain software libraries so during the 80s and 90s, disks containing “freeware” were distributed during the early incarnations of the Electronic Village.

As the Internet started becoming more ubiquitous, the Electronic Village changed with the times. The Interest Section started using listservs to communicate, and a web presence was established. While CD-ROMs were still present, the old floppy disks ceased to appear. Presenters in the EV came to require Internet connections, and the choice of platform (at this time Mac or Windows) became less important to presenters as more web-tools became available.

CALL came to mean many things…all with their place in the Electronic Village. Taking advantage of the interconnectivity of the Internet, the Electronic Village (EVO) spun off of the original EV and became one of the original MOOCs (even before that term had been coined). Mobile devices, including digital cameras, smartphones, and tablets all found their way into our halls. It was during this time, when the “Hardware Fair” was established to differentiate devices from software (It was also during this time when I became involved). The mobile revolution also led to the establishment of the Mobile Apps for Education showcase, an increasingly popular event every year.

Stephanie Korslund
Director of the Language Studies Resource Center
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa, USA

3. Stephanie Korslund: Our Future

As an interest section we continue to grow every year. We’ve multiplied our membership from those early days and now boast 381 primary members and almost 1,500 non-primary members. We continue to create new partnerships both in and outside of TESOL, such as our partnership with IATEFL’s Learning Technologies Sig. This collaboration has been particularly fruitful with joint webinars, a book, and annual exchanges between our two organizations. We hope to continue to build on these collaborations and form new ones as we move forward.

Another aspect of CALL-IS that continues to grow each year is the Electronic Village Online. Developed years ago by leaders within the CALL interest section, it continues on as an annual series of online discussions and workshops open to all language teachers. This past year alone the event was supported by over 10 different TESOL interest sections as well as IATEFL’s Young Learners and Teenagers Sig. A point of pride for our interest section, we continue to support the EVO and recognize it’s importance as a means of professional development for all teachers wanting to learn more about technology and language learning.

CALL-IS continues to serve as a leader within TESOL. Looking towards the future, we hope to continue the trend of being TESOL’s source of information for technology in teaching and learning. One way we are currently doing this is with TESOL’s Classroom of the Future, a series of presentations held in the main exhibit hall during the annual TESOL convention. Classroom of the Future allows instructors to see where technology is going and explore what instructors on the cutting edge are doing with the latest and greatest technologies.

As we celebrate TESOL’s 50th anniversary next year and 32 years of the CALL-IS, it is important for us to take a step back and reflect on how far we have come. The field as a whole has gone through some major changes, for what many were doing on mainframes can now be done through the internet. We’ve come a long way and it’s really exciting to see where we are going. While technology will continue to change and evolve one thing is certain- there will always be a place for CALL and the CALL-IS.

Aaron: Yet despite all of the technological changes, the one thing that has remained the same as the community has grown and changed is that the passion for teaching, for staying abreast of the latest trends, and for motivating students through technology has passed from that core group in 1983 (many of whom are still active today) to the thousands of participants of our IS and others who look forward to visiting the EV year after year. Jack: Strong, knowledgeable, and dedicated contributions are a hallmark of the CALL-IS, and the contributors’ numbers are legion. Today the CALL-IS welcomes volunteers, presenters, and participants from almost every continent around the world, sharing made possible through these people. Stephanie: CALL-IS has come a long way from that very first software fair in Houston in 1984. In the past 31 years the fair has grown from a single event to a variety of presentations and workshops covering a range of technologies. What was once a hospitality room has turned into two dedicated spaces to CALL, now known as the Electronic Village and Technology Showcase. However, at our core we still remain the same. We are language teachers with a passion for integrating technology into teaching and learning and sharing that passion with others.

NOTE: This article has not been copy edited due to its length.

Stephanie Korslund is director of the Language Studies Resource Center in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. She is currently working on finishing her PhD in instructional technology with an emphasis on CALL at Ohio University and hopes to graduate in May of 2015. She and her husband welcomed a new little one to their family in January 2015.

Jack Watson is the e-learning coordinator at the University of New Brunswick English Language Programme in Fredericton, NB, Canada. With more than 30 years of experience in ESL, his professional interests include online and blended learning, language learning through community contact, and teaching beginners. Extracurricular interests include blues guitar, amateur website building, photography, and playing with Siamese cats.

Aaron Schwartz has taught in Japan, China, and the United States. He is currently a senior lecturer and technology coordinator for the Ohio Program of Intensive English at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, where he lives with his wife Sarah and three cats. He likes camping, kayaking, and all kinds of gaming.