September 2020
On Call



Jennifer Francois, Edmondson Elementary School, Brentwood, Tennessee
Maria Tomeho-Palermino
, EFL/ESL consultant, Massachusetts, USA

Jennifer Francois

Maria Tomeho-Palermino

This past year, needless to say, was eventful from reviewing presentations and planning for the Denver conference to innovative initiatives for the Electronic Village (EV) to managing and preparing for the virtual conference during this pandemic. The presentation review took place as usual during the summer and early fall, and the leadership team discussed and chose some cutting-edge presentations for Denver. Subsequently, we sent out acceptance letters to those presenters selected, some of whose topics included teaching online, user-friendly apps for speaking, writing, and other skills. What’s more, some Hot Topics presentations focused on digital citizenship, TESOL’s The 6 Principles Through the Lens of Technology, gaming, and others.

We are proud of some important accomplishments this year including fine tuning leadership roles, examining the evolution of our communication within and outside of the interest section, and reconsidering the Electronic Village (EV), Tech Showcase and other sessions to engage our community better and entice newcomers more effectively. First, we needed to clarify definitions and responsibilities of the leadership within CALL so that we could be more efficient in resolving issues. Moreover, the ad hoc committee to streamline our media outlets was able to consolidate multiple sites for more direct communication within our community and outside of the interest section as well. Finally, probably, one of most significant feats was to brainstorm and analyze novel designs for the Electronic Village.

To appeal to a much broader audience to the Electronic Village and Tech Showcase, the CALL-IS was tasked with redefining our mission and concept. Therefore, the Electronic Village Planning team along with Jennifer, myself and the incoming chairs conducted meetings and discussed how to come up with potential transformations to put in place in the EV in 2020-2021 under the new leadership team. This team proposed a new exciting space with a “Tech Guru bar” to showcase apps and websites designed for 21st century technology use and learning. In addition, “Makerspaces” formerly known as workshops have evolved into shorter, hands-on interactive sessions in which participants can use and explore some widely used tools. We are looking forward to implementing these exciting changes this coming year.

Another very meaningful endeavor for us was determining how to participate in the virtual conference as soon as TESOL cancelled the Denver conference. Jennifer, myself, and the incoming-chairs had to turn on a dime to determine how our interest section could best contribute to the virtual conference. Our direction became focusing on online instruction presentations that we had already evaluated and accepted. As a result, we contacted numerous presenters whose topics aligned with this goal; we ended up with approximately ¼ of the presentations in the virtual conference. Therefore, CALL was well represented this year. We would also like to note that we have kept all acceptances originally slated for the Denver conference and that we will reach out to those presenters soon for TESOL Houston, 2021.

In 2020-2021, the leadership team is enthusiastic about our initiatives that we will implement in TESOL Houston including the new space design, the Tech Guru bar and Makerspaces in the Electronic Village. What’s more, with the streamlining of our media sites, we sincerely hope to reach out not only to our dedicated community but also newcomers who are curious about using technology in the 21st century classroom and how they can exploit some tools easily to facilitate interactive learning. For TESOL Houston, we encourage the community to watch for new initiatives for the CALL-IS and for next year’s conference.


Jennifer François, EdS

Literacy Studies PhD Student, MTSU

Mariat Tomeho-Palermino

Adjunct Professor
Northeastern University
Boston, MA. 02115


Suzanne Bardasz, University of the Pacific, International, Stockton, California, USA
Larry Udry
, IELI Instructor, Divine Word College, Epworth, IA, USA

Suzanne Bardasz

Larry Udry

Hello CALL-ISers!

What a crazy few months this has been! From the abrupt transition to remote learning to the continued changes of fall school opening plans, CALL and online teaching has been of increasing importance to ESL/EFL teachers throughout the world.

This newsletter includes highlights that we feel will be of use to you as many continue remote teaching and learning this fall. New to this newsletter edition are submissions from authors who never met each other, but collaborated with each other online in order to write this article. These interactions symbolize what many of us are going through right now, where we are working and collaborating together from our respective places to get things done. We hope that this newsletter will provide new ideas and inspiration for continued teaching this fall.

If there is something that you would like to see in our newsletter, or if you’d like to join the newsletter team, please feel free to contact us.

Suzanne and Larry

Suzanne Bardasz is the Academic Coordinator at University of the Pacific, International. She previously taught at UC Davis for 6 years and at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, South Korea for nearly 5 years.

Larry Udry has worked at Divine Word College, a small Catholic seminary in Epworth, Iowa, since 2003. He has published the CAL- IS Newsletter and has served on the CALL IS Steering Committee since 2009. Recently, he published an environmentally-themed ESL e-text with Kendall Hunt. Prior to his position at Divine Word College, he worked in UT Martin for eleven years, where he published the TNTESOL Newsletter.



Valerie Sartor, DLIELC Lackland Air Force Base

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered every aspect of human life around the globe, including education. Universities, colleges, language schools, and other educational institutes are currently transitioning from a majority f2f modality toward teaching to a 100% online format. Administrators and IT support staff are scrambling to offer their faculty workshops and seminars to support their transition to remote instruction. This article offers a positive outlook for online teaching via a panorama of best practices for creating an effective online teaching presence.

Online Teaching Requires Teacher Presence

A significant issue educators will encounter when teaching online is the difficulty of creating online presence (Stone & Springer, 2019). In the Teaching English Online course offered by Cambridge Assessment English, instructors define online presence as humanizing themselves and helping students to do the same with their teachers and their peers is a huge challenge when interacting online. This is especially hard to do if you have never met your students f2f in a physical classroom.

Various ways exist to create a positive teacher presence. Using videos helps students to visualize the instructor as a real person, and personalizing virtual background, as well as offering a personal introduction is key to building rapport (Bialowas & Steimel, 2019). One colleague stated: “I start every course by requiring a video introduction, and I model this intro by posting one about myself. I also give clear directions.” He also posts video tutorials, and uses Flipgrid as his video platform for introductions and other activities as well.

Additionally, we can effective online teaching presence by projecting empathy while helping our students to understand our teaching style and expectations. Teachers are all unique and have different teaching styles. Some instructors like to personalize their group emails. Other instructors emailed their students frequently, and some used the smartphone app, Remind. One TESOL writing professor uses an animation program Powtoon and makes GIFs because these types of messages are attractive, as they move and wave, making them more likely to catch her students’ attention.

It is possible to be friendly online without losing your professional demeanor. A language teacher said she would embed a few tidbits of innocuous personal information in the content and offer students bonus points if they noticed and responded; “Wish me a happy birthday by March 1st and receive two bonus points.” Her students loved seeing her as human. Moreover, they always appreciated a few extra bonus points.

Remember to pay attention to the students. They need to be encouraged and monitored online, just as they need support in f2f classes. Students want to know their teacher is reading and assessing their work; they want the teacher to interact in discussion threads and comment (Nami, Marandi, & Sotoudehnama, 2018).

Teacher participation also helps with tracking students’ login history so the teacher can understand both their efforts and something about their lives. If a student does not log in regularly, find out why. Balanced content in terms of timing and amount motivates students to pay attention. If many students cannot keep up and stay on task, revise accordingly.

To further establish teacher presence, let students see you - albeit virtually, via your talking head on a video or via a live lesson. When using a synchronous format, open your WebEx/Zoom/Team/Meet meetings a few minutes before the class begins. Just as you may come early to a classroom you can open your virtual classroom and allow students chances to chat with you or each other before class. Most platforms have private chat rooms and chat functions that allow you to communicate one-on-one in confidence with a student.

About Course Design

Remember: no matter how organized and careful you are, students are going to ask you questions. This is not a reflection on your organizational skills, or upon your attention to detail. But it is true that any well-planned course, taught f2f, hybrid, or 100% online, takes careful planning. We constantly revise, tweak and sometimes conduct major overhauls on our courses, as new information, ideas and concepts are brought into the field. Students, too, impact the way we teach.

Online courses, in order to attract and appeal, must present content in a variety of formats. Unsurprisingly, contemporary students are visually oriented. Many watch more video than read text (Twenge, 2017 Consequently, placing a focus on the visual could be beneficial. Oakley (2016) advocates chunking information, linked with step-by-step directions. Instructional designers also propose having information, especially instructions, in more than one place in a course module such as the weekly html page, and in a specific area, e.g., a discussion thread box. Make sure your module design is consistent and that your instructions are explicit.

But don’t forget to mix it up: There are excellent digital tools for visuals other than YouTube videos, and many have basic versions that are free. For example, Adobe Spark is a simple and elegant pre-set storyboard. VoiceThread is an interactive visual - video or image - that students can write upon via podcast, text or video. My personal favorites are Flipgrid, an accessible video grid, and H5P , a free platform that allows you to add popups, hyperlinks, and text to videos and images. H5P also allows instructors to create all kinds of assessments. There are also dozens of software programs, such as Classtime and Formative, or Kahoot, Quizlet, and Peardeck, which essentially serve as online quiz banks. They offer diverse subject content in lively formats. Many are available in multiple languages.

Online Potential

Many TESOL instructors who have been teaching for decades, such as myself, are excited about the potential that online teaching offers. It is possible for you to transition from skeptic to adventurer. “I saw students who never said a word in a f2f class suddenly explode with ideas on my discussion threads,” reported one ESL tutor, adding, “It took me a long time to create a satisfactory online course, but once I did, my own learning curve went down, and now I simply tweak the course every semester.”

“The challenges are different when you teach online,” said a professor. “At first I hated it and thought it was an intellectual desert – but then I saw that some of my students loved it. When I learned to use the interactive whiteboard Explain Everything to present information and uploaded these mini lectures, I suddenly saw a new beauty in teaching.” With Explain Everything she felt more creative when organizing and delivering linguistic information. A writing teacher commented:

At first, students’ responses to assignments seemed anonymous and not connected to a body of work. But then I started asking for papers in the form of blog entries. Students designed and submitted their own free websites in Wix. I could scroll through their blogs and see progress; even better, I could recognize the way each student’s mind was processing a concept. Blogs and websites are part of our professional and scholarly lives; they’re relevant. And they allow students to insert different types of media as well, videos, podcasts, images, hyperlinks, etc.

I’m not asserting that it is easy to teach English online. The challenges and the tools are different. Yet, the premise remains the same: If you strive for excellence in teaching, you must adapt to the reality we are in today, and you must accommodate the learning styles of this generation. Moreover, online courses reach more people, especially those students who cannot afford the time to sit in a f2f course scheduled at a certain time. This cyber-environment also appeals to many of today’s students, who may be more literate in these digital tools than their professors.

One caveat: Some students are not literate using online platforms. Most universities have training programs - intro to online learning workshop - for new students. You might require that your students pass this course before they can enter your first week of class. You may also have to consult with an instructional designer yourself and rethink your subject - break it into chunks, in effect, distribute the content from a broader perspective. Make key concepts and ideas concrete and noticeable, perhaps by font color, or pop-ups, or repetition in different media formats.

Another idea is to consider generating a detailed outline of what you want to teach before the semester begins. Explore universal (backward) design techniques. And don’t forget about dogfooding – the idea of doing your own assignments. This is useful not only for language teachers such as myself, but also other fields as well because it will help you judge the amount of expected time and required cognitive effort. It will also give you new ideas about trying different ways to present content effectively.


Online teaching and learning has become the new norm. Finding ways to adapt to this reality is imperative. However, as Naomi Kline (2020) warns, technology is a powerful tool, but it does not solve all our problems. We must also participate in deciding how language education is evolving.


Bialowas, A., & Steimel, S. (2019). Less is more: Use of video to address the problem of teacher immediacy and presence in online courses. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 31(2), 354–364

Kline, N. (2020). How big tech plans to profit from Coronavirus pandemic. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Nami, F., Marandi, S., & Sotoudehnama, E. (2018). Interaction in a discussion list: An exploration of cognitive, social, and teaching presence in teachers’ online collaborations. ReCALL, 30(3), 375-398. doi:10.1017/S0958344017000349

Oakley, B. (2016, March). Keynote speaker: Learning how to learn. In 2016 IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference (ISEC) (pp. 1-5). IEEE.Stone,

C., & Springer, M. (2019). Interactivity, connectedness and “Teacher-Presence”: Engaging and retaining students online. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 59(2), 146–169.

Twenge, J. M. (2017). IGen: Why today's super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy--and completely unprepared for adulthood--and what that means for the rest of us. Simon and Schuster.

Valerie Sartor has been a TESOL educator for decades. She served as a Fulbright Scholar to Kazakhstan (2019-2020) where she taught English and presented TESOL teacher training workshops.


Andy Curtis, Anaheim University, California, USA (online) based in Ontario, Canada
Dave Dolan
, Veative Immersive Technology Solutions, Shiga, Japan

Andy Curtis

         Dave Dolan

Virtual and Augmented Reality: From Modest Interest to Exponential Growth

Although the coauthors of this article have been actively involved in developing new language education technologies for decades, we still begin by questioning the idea that more or newer technology is “the answer.” Instead, we believe that a key question should be: What would this new technology enable us to do, as language teachers and learners, which we cannot already do now? Too often, new technology is bought, for example, because if the technology funds for that fiscal year are not spent in time, those funds will no longer be available. As a result, the technology can end up driving the pedagogy, rather than the other way around. One of the more specific questions that we have been grappling with is: How can we use newer technologies to create an immersive, simulated, and stimulating target language environment? One way to answer that question is to use virtual reality (VR), which we believe is set to grow exponentially after steadily increasing—but still limited—interest in recent years.

In 2016, Becker et al. wrote in their report Innovating Language Education: “Immersive technology such as online games, virtual and augmented reality, and telepresence allows students to be transported to settings that simulate situations [emphasis added]…providing them with realistic opportunities to practice and learn” (p. 2). Ideally, all language learning practice should be “realistic,” but these immersive technologies can create a heightened sense of realism. Do you remember when we used to bring realia into our classrooms (i.e., physical objects often used to help students concretize their vocabulary learning)? In a similar way, these technologies can be used to bring our learners to settings that are real, but in a virtual world, without the high costs and potential risks of physically travelling to or being in a target language country such as, in the case of English language teaching (ELT), the United States or the United Kingdom, both of which have been struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Becker et al. (2016) also stated that “Immersive technologies can help higher education institutions overcome economic and geographical restrictions [emphasis added] that keep students from participating in authentic language learning situations” (p. 14). Four years later, in 2020, the greatest “economic and geographical restrictions” in a century have come about as the result of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In recent years, the interest in augmented reality (AR) and VR in ELT has grown, albeit somewhat slowly. For example, in a TESOL International Association blog post in 2019, Greg Kessler wrote about “Virtual Field Trips for ELT” and noted that the cost of VR and AR technologies—which many educators have seen as being prohibitively high in the past—has come down considerably in recent years. That posting was followed in 2020 by Jeff Kuhn’s TESOL International Association post titled “Increasing Immersion: VR Becomes Classroom Ready.” Kuhn wrote about the potential of VR “to revolutionize training and education by placing users in computer-generated environments where they can move around, interact with the environment, and feel as if they are really there [emphasis added].” As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that gradual buildup of interest in AR and VR in language teaching and learning may well grow exponentially in the near future, as global travel restrictions, economic constraints, and safety concerns all come together in some kind of “perfect storm.” We are already seeing increased interest in AR and VR in medical education, and we are expecting to see a similar surge in language education soon, as a result of the pandemic, making the idea of “being there without going there” a potential game-changer in ELT.

Challenging Some Assumptions About Augmented and Virtual Reality

Considering the potential exponential growth in the use of AR and VR in ELT, we believe it would be helpful to challenge some of the assumptions we have encountered regarding AR and VR, namely:

  1. 1. AR and VR are new
  2. AR and VR are the same
  3. AR and VR are the answer to language teaching and learning

Although “new” is a relative, chronological concept, AR and VR are not new, as they have been in existence for as many as 30 years by now. For example, a former Boeing Aerospace researcher, Tom Caudell, is credited with coining the term “augmented reality” in the early 1990s. A key distinction between AR and VR is that AR is based on using the technology to overlay additional digital details onto an image being viewed through a mobile media device, such as a smartphone camera. However, instead of that overlaying, VR is based on the individual being surrounded by and immersed in a realistic, simulated, virtual environment. In AR, the key term is “augmented” (i.e., what the viewer can see and hear is added to). This is different from VR, where the person is surrounded by a virtual environment, the perception of which changes as the person alters their position.

According to the Interaction Design Foundation (IDF; 2019), VR was “first achieved…by a cinematographer called Morton Heilig in 1957.” Helig was a filmmaker and pioneer in VR technology. Together with Howard Rheingold, Helig invented a mechanical device that they called a Sensorama, which “delivered visuals, sounds, vibration and smell to the viewer” (IDF, 2019), and although it was not computer controlled, it was “the first example of an attempt at adding additional data to an experience” (IDF, 2019). In the Sensorama, the simulated experience was riding a motorcycle through New York City streets, with the additional data being the noises and the smells of the city, which were simulated by chemicals that smelled like gasoline fumes and pizza parlors being wafted by fans over the person sitting in the machine. In the Sensorama, the person sits in the machine, whereas in VR, the machine sits on the person (on their head).

By the late 1960s, the American computer scientist and computer graphics pioneer Ivan Sutherland “invented the head-mounted display as a kind of window into a virtual world” (IDF, 2019). However, the technology of the late 1960s made Sutherland’s invention “impractical for mass use” (IDF, 2019). Following Sutherland’s work, in 1975, the American computer artist Myron Krueger developed the first VR interface in the form of an artificial reality he called Videoplace, “which allowed its users to manipulate and interact with virtual objects and to do so in real-time” (IDF, 2019). Building on Sutherland’s work in the 1960s and Krueger’s in the 1970s, the Canadian computational photography researcher Steven Mann “gave the world wearable computing in 1980” (IDF, 2019). The advent of “wearable computing” constituted a major step forward in the development of these technologies.

One of the most clear and concise descriptions of the distinctions between AR and VR was given by Johnson (2016), when she reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at the TED 2016 conference. Johnson (2016) explained that “Virtual and augmented reality tend to get lumped together, with both abandoning the two-dimensional screen for something that appears to be right in front of – or around – you [emphasis added]. The big difference is whether the images join you as holograms in your living room (augmented) or transport you to another world (virtual) [emphasis added].” In relation to learning second/foreign languages, the ability to be “transported to other worlds” is especially important, as that kind of simulated, stimulating immersive experience can help to bring the target languages and cultures to life much more effectively than words and pictures on a page, in a textbook. It is, however, important to note that none of the main applications of AR and VR listed by Johnson were educational. The uses of AR and VR were instead “conquering fears” (IDF, 2019), such as the fear of flying; “living a story,” including using VR for journalistic storytelling, for example, virtually experiencing a Syrian refugee camp; and everyday computing, such as word processing and checking email.

An Important Part of the Future of English Language Teaching

In relation to the aforementioned third AR/VR assumption, although AR and VR are not the answer to language teaching and learning, a major benefit of VR is being able to place learners “in” environments such as an airport, a coffee shop, or an office to create an in situ sense of presence in a specific setting, which can be customized and even individualized, for in-class and out-of-class student-driven learning. In terms of contextual authenticity, a strong sense of time and place can be achieved inside a virtual environment, which enables learners and teachers to feel as though they are really there.

However, it is important to leverage key aspects of these technologies that may not be found elsewhere. For example, some of the most powerful elements that VR can bring to language learning include a safe, multisensory, nonjudgmental environment, where learners can play with and explore a new language to help them develop their listening and speaking competencies, as well as their confidence with the language. One size does not fit all in ELT. Therefore, AR and VR are not the answer to language education—any more than moving everything online during the pandemic was theanswer. However, AR and VR, especially the latter, are likely to provide many new and exciting possibilities for ELT in our postpandemic world, as a safe, secure, efficient, and cost-effective way of “being there without going there.”


Becker, S. A., Rodriguez, J. C., Estrada, V., & Davis, A. (2016, February). Innovating language education: An NMC Horizon project strategic brief (Vol. 3.1). The New Media Consortium.

Interaction Design Foundation. (2019). Augmented reality - The past, the present and the future.

Johnson, L. (2016). TED 2016: Virtual and augmented reality steal the show. CBC News.

Kessler, G. (2019). Virtual field trips for ELT. TESOL Blog.

Kuhn, J. (2020). Increasing immersion: VR becomes classroom ready. TESOL Blog.

From 2015 to 2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has been researching and writing about online technologies in language education for 20 years and teaching online for 10 years.

Dave Dolan holds a master’s in TESOL from Anaheim University. He established an English language school in Japan in the early 1990s, and he currently travels the world talking about edtech solutions.


The following articles on speech-related applications are based on sessions from TESOL’s July 2020 Virtual Conference.

Alison Larkin Koushki

Alaa Dehrab

Poetry Collage via InShot: Video, Voice, Music, Text, Photos
Alison Larkin Koushki, American University of Kuwait, Salmiya, Kuwait

Alaa Dehrab, American University of Kuwait, Salmiya, Kuwait

Poetry is uncharted territory in English language teaching (ELT; Gonan, 2018). Though project-based learning is well known to TESOLers and digital literacy has taken center stage in the pandemic, poetry as a medium of language education has remained behind the curtain, peeking out only occasionally.

“I Am” Multimodal Identity Poem Project

The intensive English program (IEP) classroom project we developed on personal and cultural identity combines poetry with project-based learning and digital learning—launching leaps in language, multimedia savvy, and self-discovery. English learners (ELs) dive into their identity, capture it in a poem on paper, and digitize the poem using the free, easy phone app InShot. They voice-record the poem via the app and upload music, photos, text, and video clips. Voila! They share and enjoy.

Why Poetry?

A goldmine of benefits unique to this genre awaits ELs. Enhancing vocabulary, they search for the right words. And because poetry is written to be recited, ELs listen for the music in language—intonation, stress, rhythm, and rhyme. Emotionalized language is meaningful and memorable, and unlike academic writing, poetry kindles myriad emotions. Once poetic devices enter the picture, student poets and peers feel the images by way of words through their five senses. Unlike prose assignments, through poetry, ELs can play with language, loosening the confines of grammar/mechanics.

Why Identity?

In a word, relevance. Mining the riches of oneself is deeply engaging. Sharing the results is riveting and builds community, self-respect, and self/peer-acceptance. By dispelling stereotypes and humanizing the individual, sharing identity—whether personal or cultural—is what the world needs now: an antidote to racism (Hanauer, 2012).

Why Media?

Like students everywhere, ELs are wedded to their phones, and particularly to photos, videos, and social media. This project harnesses that fact. Instead of consuming media, ELs produce it through their InShot video. By putting phones to work rather than switching them off, the “I Am” digital poem links ELs’ class life to real life, dramatically deepening engagement (Buckingham, 2006).

Approximately 100 students in our classes have created InShot video poems. Anecdotal evidence hints tantalizingly at the power of this project to boost language skills, e-competence, and self-knowledge. The digital poem creation process, whether straight to the InShot video or stopping en route to perform in class, is enriching if not transformative.


Buckingham, D. (2006). Defining digital literacy - what do young people need to know about digital media? Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 1(04), 263–267.

Gonen, I. (2018). Implementing poetry in the language class: A poetry-teaching framework for prospective English language teachers. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 9, 28–35.

Hanauer, D. (2012). Meaningful literacy: Writing poetry in the language classroom. Language Teaching, 45(1),105–115.

Alison Larkin Koushki is cofounder and community manager of TESOL’s Arts and Creativity PLN. Twice a reviewer for TESOL Convention proposals, she is Assistant Strand Coordinator for TESOL’s Materials Development and Publications Strand. Senior language educator at American University of Kuwait, Alison celebrates language through literature, drama, and the arts.

Alaa Dehrab has been teaching ESL courses since 2016. She is a full-time instructor in the Intensive English Program at the American University of Kuwait. In her classes, Alaa equally focuses on academic and social growth with emphasis on critical thinking, project-based learning, and digital literacy.

Sarah Lowen

Katy Meren Fuchtman

Zoom Interviews for Functional Language

Sarah Lowen, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA
Katy Meren Fuchtman
, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA

When we proposed this topic for TESOL 2020, we had no idea Zoom would be dominating instruction during the year. Now, we assume the reader to be Zoom-literate, so we can move directly into implementation. Here, we provide a definition for functional language, rationale for Zoom in the classroom, three tried-and-true activities, and best practices.

Why Zoom?

First, we use Zoom as a video conferencing platform because it has good features for our purposes (recording, screen sharing, breakout rooms, cohosting, etc.). Surprisingly, we’ve found these activities to be more efficient in Zoom than in person. Furthermore, everyone—from employers conducting job interviews to families calling grandma—has been using video conferencing for a decade, indicating it’s a valid form of communication. Finally, Zoom offers greater accessibility, with the important caveat of internet access, leveling the playing field for diverse students. We hope professionals will advocate for Zooming in the nonquarantined future.

A brief Note on Functional Language

We define functional language as any language English speakers use to introduce or communicate the purpose of their speech. Academically, examples include language for interrupting, asking for clarification, rephrasing, and giving opinions. Functional language can be especially hard to teach, being particularly vast (how many functions does so have?), nuanced, and dynamic, and using Zoom offers new tools for language development.


  1. Instant Feedback: This activity uses Zoom to give instantaneous feedback. Let’s say you have introduced functional language for interrupting in group discussions. Tell the class to discuss and that you will be on mute. Ask students to open and monitor the chat. As you listen, type comments in the chat, focusing on the target structure. Students see your positive or negative feedback, can apply it, and solidify the skill. This is a busy activity for students, requiring practice to be effective.
  1. One-on-One Discussions: Have a one-on-one discussion between you and each student, using specific parameters, such as a recent topic or text. Encourage the student to lead and support the conversation. Beforehand, students prepare questions for the one-on-one discussion. Make sure students know that they are in charge of guiding the conversation, moving it along, and ending it. Again, this may be awkward at first, but quickly it becomes a welcome change of pace for students (and teachers!).
  1. Podcasts via Interviews: A true interview, like in a podcast, requires students to clarify, argue with nuance, develop ideas, and untangle misunderstandings. Pair students and provide a specific interview topic (e.g., first impressions of [your institution]). Have students prepare questions and follow-ups. Allow interviewees to preview and reflect. Students interview on Zoom (with or without you) and record. Repeat this task over time (with editing and intro/outros), and you have a podcast!

Best Practices

  • Provide functional language needed for the task (screenshare during). 
  • Prepare protocol for worst-case scenarios: Zoom bombers, poor audio quality, poor internet connection, etc.
  • Foster a growth mindset, allowing for mistakes and questions.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Focus assessment on target structures.
  • Rehearse with low stakes.
  • Record the activity for students to self-evaluate.

Sarah Lowen loves designing the learner experience and has been teaching ESL courses since 2009. She loves learning new technology and applying it to the classroom.

Katy Meren Fuchtman loves languages—both learning and teaching them. She’s been innovating her academic English teaching at the University of Iowa for the last 5 years.

Minsun Kim

Flipgrid: Improving Language Skills Through a Social Online Platform

Minsun Kim, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

With the rapid developments of the internet and related technologies, video blogging has recently become a popular strategy to improve students’ speaking skills. As Burns (2012) notes, teaching speaking should take on a holistic approach to develop this highly complex and dynamic skill. Video blogging is similar to an interactive journal and can be an effective pedagogical tool in teaching fundamental language skills.

What Is Flipgrid?

Flipgrid is a social learning platform that lets students interact with peers and teachers by recording and sharing short videos online. In the Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange (PLaCE), we use Flipgrid as a new learning space outside of the classroom where students test learned concepts and explore their experiences with language and culture. Students not only record their videos but also view their classmates’ and leave recorded replies. Through these blog conversations, students collaborate by building upon their peers’ voices. In the process, students apply and develop their “speaking fluency, pronunciation, reading/listening comprehension, background knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge” (PLaCE, 2020).

How and When to Utilize Flipgrid?

Flipgrid is free for educators and learners and easy to use. Their website provides step-by-step instructions, and tutorial videos are available on YouTube. Basically, teachers create grids for courses, add topics, and share flip codes. While responding to given topics, students share their ideas and collaborate on this grid, which works as a message board or meeting place. Flipgrid is helpful to facilitate challenging conversations and maintain student engagement while maximizing students’ self-regulated learning experience.

Examples of Grids

The following examples show a grid created for one of my courses and a list of added topics ranging from language development to intercultural awareness. Students record and post their 3- to 5-minute videos. They respond to each other by recording voice replies up to 60 seconds for asynchronous collaboration. Teacher feedback can be written or recorded.

Figure 1. Examples of a course grid.

Flipgrid and Online Instruction

This asynchronous nature of peer-to-peer collaboration is useful for online instruction and can also scaffold synchronous discussions on other platforms, including Zoom. Dr. Allen, associate director of PLaCE, stated that Flipgrid also integrates well with a learning management system (personal communication, June 25, 2020). Teachers can make a homepage on their learning management system with a subpage for each week to organize everything in one place. They can insert the link to Flipgrid for easier use. Many options are available for teachers to create prompts and rubrics. Student response data can be exported as video or as CVS Excel sheets, including “a machine-generated transcript” of their response. This seems to have great potential for evaluation and research as well. Flipgrid is managed by Microsoft and integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft platforms, which works well with schools using Microsoft products. Others can still use Google for Flipgrid.


Burns, A. (2012). Teaching speaking: A holistic approach. Cambridge University Press.

Purdue Language and Cultural Exchange. (2020). PLACE.

Minsun Kim holds a PhD in English from Purdue University. She has taught second language learners for more than 10 years at Purdue and Miami, Ohio. Her research interests include second language writing with a focus on multilingual and multicultural contexts.


Carlos Alvarez

        Branca Mirnic

Diego Navarro

Collaborative work through the application of information and communication technologies has changed educational settings. In EFL and English for academic purposes contexts, the application of current educational technologies has helped students to work collaboratively to achieve different language writing outcomes. Synchronous and asynchronous models of online discussions improve student involvement in an online community. This anytime, anywhere access can also help shy or weaker students who need time to formulate their thoughts. Unfortunately, students’ personal online interactions influence the approach to online writing: The postings are often short, superficial, and lack critical thinking. Therefore, the goal of this article is to provide information about how to create online assignments to reinforce online writing, collaborative work, authentic feedback, and high-order cognitive learning in our students.

1. Improving Writing Skills Through Collaboration: Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based word processor tool that allows users to share documents and collaborate on an online platform. In EFL contexts, it has been applied by English instructors because of its benefits in monitoring students’ progress and helping them to foster their writing skills by performing interactive and meaningful writing tasks through collaboration (Nurmukhamedov & Kerimova, 2017). Similarly, Lawrence and Lee (2016) state that Google Docs improves the students’ collaborative autonomous language learning by allowing students to provide authentic feedback and comments to their classmates’ work; correct language use, spelling, and grammar; and interact with classmates and instructors to improve their tasks.

Before starting to use Google Docs, make sure that both instructors and students have a Gmail account. To integrate Google Docs in class, it is important to plan the desired results and students’ learning objectives at the end of the application of this tech tool. Furthermore, when planning, instructors should consider that in order to use Google Docs efficiently, they need to provide explicit and sequence instructions that allow their students to focus on improving their writing skills in collaborative learning.

2. Enhancing Written Communication Tasks With Padlet

Padlet can also motivate students in writing. It is a web and mobile application that provides a blank canvas where text boxes or media can be uploaded by instructors and students in order to create visual aids that support learning, and more specifically, writing. According to Rashid et al. (2019), tools such as Padlet help learners to work within an environment that stimulates collaboration and enhances language accuracy.

To start using Padlet, create an account and start a new Padlet. Once it is set and shared through any of the sharing options, you are able to post instructions about the task. Padlet allows collaborators to post different kinds of media. Written tasks on Padlet can be adapted to any level, from simple sentences to more complex paragraphs, depending on the specific students’ level of production. According to Rahmawanti & Umam’s (2019) “...the use of Padlet in the classroom allows students to learn about their errors in writing and how to solve them” (p. 58).

In addition, when students are asked to write and show their pieces of writing online, they care about accuracy.

3. Asynchronous Online Writing

As with any writing project or task, it is important to set clear directions and rationales for it. Invest some minutes prior to use of these online tools to demonstrate how Google Docs or Padlet works and let the students interact with it to assure the success of this tool in class. It is important to remember that these digital tools are just a resource to empower the students’ motivation, but they will never replace your role as an instructor. Therefore, it is the instructor’s responsibility to create focused tasks that will emphasize the application of class materials, engage students, and allow feedback to promote further collaboration (Graham et al., 2001).

The following paragraphs explain three different strategies that can be used and adapted in order to apply synchronous and asynchronous writing tasks in the classroom.

Set up for Writing an Online Synthesis Paragraph

  1. Students are organized in pairs or in groups of three. They receive a different article to read, make margin notes, and choose good evidence for the writing question.
  2. Students share ideas from their assigned articles, paraphrase or summarize the source information as evidence for the supporting points, cite properly, and write together an outline for a synthesis paragraph. The outline is done in notes for two to three supporting ideas.
  3. Students write a complete, well-developed paragraph online individually based on the outline.
  4. Once the paragraph is done, the students read each other’s paragraphs and evaluate according to the criteria: topic and concluding sentences, the use of source information, and the writing style. In this collaboration, a peer can provide scaffolding while completing a shared task. In addition, by being able to see each other’s work and evaluate according to the same criteria the instructor uses, the students become better aware of the expectations of the assignment.

Three-Day Online Written Practice in Preparation for the Oral Debate

The following activities are done at home over a 3-day period. The purpose is to allow students to gain experience in the language of argumentation, source attribution, and acknowledgment of the opposition as a preparation for a high-stakes assessment of the oral debate.

  • Day 1: Students are organized in groups to present their side of the argument: Introduce it in two different points with good evidence and attribution of sources.
  • Day 2: Once the students read each other’s presentation of the argument, they ask clarification questions to get a sense of the opponents’ strengths or weaknesses. Then, they answer the questions and, if possible or necessary, cite the source. In the afternoon, the students start the rebuttal. Being asynchronous, it gives them time to think, address points directly, and find good sources that will likely have stronger evidence than their opponents. Students practice the language by showing effective communication skills.
  • Day 3: The rebuttal continues in the same manner until arguments are exhausted. In the evening, the students summarize their argument.

Criteria for evaluation include the guide for online written practice and writing consisting of clear statements for the main points, as well as well-chosen and synthesized source information. In the rebuttal, the points should be addressed directly and convincingly, as well as with source attribution, good debate language, and writing style.

Writing a Touristic Blog

In this activity, students can apply Google Docs to increase their writing collaborative skills. Even though it is demanding and needs a long time period to be conducted, it provides positive student writing outcomes. Thus, the following activity allows students to develop an authentic piece of writing that involves students’ reality and a need to offer truthful information for international students.

  1. Divide students into groups of three or four. After that, assign them group numbers, and ask each group to create and work together in a one Google Doc file.
  2. Assign them a performance task, such as making a touristic blog for international students who want to visit three touristic places in the country. Also provide a rubric based on the parameters you want students to achieve at the end of the task (e.g., ideas, language use, layout, headlines and captions, and final product).
  3. After this process, ask Group 1 to send their link to Group 2, Group 2 to Group 3, and so on until the last group sends their link to Group 1.
  4. By using the comment tool of Google Docs, the groups can provide authentic feedback to their classmate’s files.
  5. In the end, each group checks their classmates’ feedback and improves their final document by making changes according to their perspectives.


Google Docs and Padlet provide various benefits for EFL and English for academic purposes students. First, they allow instructors to monitor their students’ work and to identify common mistakes throughout the short- and long-term tasks they have to complete. Second, these platforms help students to improve their collaborative writing skills by providing different tools to share their ideas, comments, and suggestions, as well as provide authentic feedback to their partners in learning files based on real-life contexts.


Graham , C., Cagiltay , K., Lim, B-R, Craner , J., & Duffy, T. M. (2001, March-April). Seven principles of effective teaching: A practical lens for evaluating online courses. Technology Source.

Lawrence, D., & Lee, K. W. (2016). Collaborative writing among second language learners using Google docs in a secondary school context. International Journal on E-Learning Practices (IJELP), 3, 63–81.

Nurmukhamedov, U., & Kerimova, I. (2017). Google.Docs: Writing practices and potential use in ESL/EFL environments. In P. Hubbard & S. Ioannou-Georgiou (Eds.), Teaching English reflectively with technology (pp. 207–221).

Rahmawanti, M., & Umam, A. (2019). Integrating web 2.0 tools in writing class to promote assessment for learning. JEES (Journal of English Educators Society), 4, 53.

Rashid, A., Yunus, M., & Wahi, W. (2019). Using Padlet for collaborative writing among ESL learners. Creative Education, 10, 610–620.

Carlos Alvarez Llerena holds a master’s degree in language pedagogy. Currently, he is a PhD student in language pedagogy at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. He has been teaching EFL since 2009. His interests lie in curriculum design, computer-assisted language learning, and classroom-based research.

Branca Mirnic is an English for academic purposes instructor at Langara College, Vancouver, British Columbia. She holds a BA in English language and literature, a TESL diploma, and an MEd in English education (UBC). Her interests lie in academic competence, content-based instruction, and examining types of feedback which optimize language learning.

Diego Navarro holds a BA in education with English major from Universidad de Carabobo, Venezuela. He has more than 10 years teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language. He currently works for Avanti Language School in Colombia. His main areas of interest are computer-assisted language learning and emotions in teaching.



The CALL- IS Newsletter, On CALL, encourages submission of many types of articles related to CALL: software, website or book reviews, announcements, reports on conferences, presentations or webcasts that you might have participated in. If you have suggestions, ideas, and/or questions, send them to Larry Udry or Suzanne Bardasz.

General Submission Guidelines

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on how it could be improved upon? Does it lack in any way, or have any shortcomings? Book review readers expect to hear both the pros and the cons of a book so they know that the review is unbiased and so they feel prepared to determine whether to invest in the book themselves.

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