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The Death of Cyberspace and the Rebirth of CALL


July 21, 2000: This message was distributed by Papyrus News, a free e-mail distribution list on the global impact of information technology on language, literacy, and education. Feel free to forward this message to others, preferably with this introduction. For information on Papyrus News, including how to (un)subscribe or access archives, see <>.



This is the text, more or less, of a recent talk of mine.  It draws on some of my other recent work, so those of you who are avid readers will notice some themes and examples from a couple of other recent papers.  As with all Papyrus News material, feel free to pass on to colleagues. Mark Warschauer



This is an edited version of a plenary speech given at the “CALL for the 21st Century” IATEFL and ESADE conference, 2 July 2000, Barcelona, Spain.


The Death of Cyberspace and the Rebirth of CALL
Mark Warschauer

The notion of “cyberspace” suggests that there exists a virtual, online world that is distinct from our real world.  “Cyberspace” is a type of fantasyland, where we take on cyber-identities and engage in virtual reality.  But then, when we leave cyberspace, we come back to the “real world”.

I would contend, in contrast, that the significance of online communication lies not in its separation from the real world, but rather in how it is impacting nearly every single aspect of the real world.  Just like there is no such thing as “speechspace” or “writingspace” or “printspace,” so there is no cyberspace.  The notion of cyberspace is thus not helpful for understanding the very real impact of online networking on our lives, and indeed the concept of cyberspace is slowly dying out.

In contrast to the notion of cyberspace, let us consider the views of two prominent scholars of human communication.  Manual Castells (1998) has written that “Information technology, and the ability to use it and adapt it, is the critical factor in generating and accessing wealth, power, and knowledge in our time” (p. 92).  And Walter Ong (1982) observed that “Technologies are not mere exterior aids, but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more so than when they affect the word” (p. 82).  Thus, according to these important views, with which I agree, information technology is transforming our societies and our lives and even, eventually, our minds, rather than creating alternate worlds.

How we think about cyberspace has consequences for our vision of English teaching as well.  If we see cyberspace as an unreal fantasyland, then we will likely choose to send our students there to engage in some practice activities so they can then come back to perform in the real world.  However, if we reject the notion of a separate cyberspace and fully take into account the true impact of online communication on real life, then we must teach our students to read, write, and communicate online as a very important medium of 21st century life.  It is this vision that I will discuss today, as I look at how the field of computer-assisted language learning must be reborn in our new century.

I will begin by examining 10 upcoming developments of information and communications technology (ICT) and then examine what impact these developments will have on the field of English language teaching.

Upcoming Developments in Information & Communications Technology

Technology itself does not determine human behavior, such as how we teach.  However, it does create the possibilities for new forms of behavior and of education.  The progress of computer assisted language learning (CALL) to date has depended on the evolution from the mainframe computer to the personal computer to the networked, multimedia computer.  Before we consider what CALL will look like in the 21st century, we must first briefly look at how ICT will progress in this century.

The first change we can expect is from phone-based to wireless communication.  Low-weight solar-powered electric planes like those pictured at will facilitate low-cost wireless communication from anywhere on earth.

A second change will be from dial-up connections to permanent, direct connections, including from the home.   For example, according to Telecommunications Research International (see,1323,5911_352761,00.html#table), cable modem access in the US grew by some 183% in the first quarter of 2000, while DSL access grew by 183%.

A third change will be from personal computers to other computing and online devices (see prototypes developed by Compaq at

A fourth change will be from narrowband to broadband.  Cable modem connections currently deliver 10 Megabits per second, shared among many users.  The next version of broadband (“broaderband”) is expected to bring up to 40 Megabits per second for each user, or 26 times the bandwidth of a T1 connection (see discussion at

A fifth change will be from expensive to affordable, certain in the developed countries, but also to an increasing amount of people in developing countries.  In Egypt, for example both the cost of purchasing a personal computer and the cost of a monthly Internet account have fallen by nearly one-half in the past two years.

Related to this, a sixth development is that the Internet will change from being exclusive to being a mass form of communication.  By the year 2005, it is predicted that some 700 million non-English speakers will be online, including more than 300 million Chinese (see chart by Global Reach at

A seventh development will be from text to audiovisual, as exemplified by the growing popularity of home video production facilitated by new Apple’s new iMovie software (

An eighth change will be from English to multilingual.  By 2005, the number of Web pages in English is expected to drop to 41% of the world’s total (Computer Economics, 1999).  However, an OECD study suggests that a much higher percentage of the Web pages used for e-commerce will be in English (as suggested by the large percentage of secure .com servers which are in English, see discussion in The Default Language, 1999).  This will create a situation of diglossia, with people using their own native languages for local or regional communication and commerce, but still using English for most international communication and commerce on the Internet.

A ninth change will be from “non-native” to “native.”  I am not referring to language here, but to comfort in using computers.  Children who grow up with computers and the Internet will communicate on them with “native-like” fluency, as opposed to our generation that had to make the transition from print to screen.

A tenth change will be from the lab to the classroom.  Computers and other online devices will be found in every classroom in developed countries, not just in computer laboratories.  At least one school in California is already using class sets of wireless iMac computers, sitting on carts and ready to be rolled into any classroom for wireless student Internet access.

Impact on English Teaching

What then is the expected impact on English teaching of these developments?  Let us examine five areas: new contexts, new literacies, new genres, new identities, and new pedagogies.

New Contexts

These developments of ICT are an important factor helping to change the entire context of English teaching.  Largely because of the increased use of English in new globalized media and commerce, there is a major expansion in the number of second-language English speakers around the world, and a corresponding shift in the relationship between native- and non-native speakers of English.  According to recent estimates (see Crystal, 1997), there are now some 375 million native speakers of English (i.e., in the “inner circle” of countries such as the U.S. and England, see Kachru, 1986), an equal number of second language speakers of English (in Kachru’s “outer circle” countries, such as India and Nigeria), and some 750 million EFL speakers of English in countries such as China, Egypt, and Israel.  This represents a huge growth in the number of non-native speakers of English around the world, and a change in the relationship between native- and non-native speaker. Extrapolating from the work of Graddol (1999), I would roughly estimate that while, a century ago, there were three native speakers of English for every proficient non-native speaker of the language, in a century from now this proportion will be reversed.  And indeed, the very distinction between native-speaker, ESL speaker, and EFL speaker will change when millions of people throughout the world, including those in traditional “FL” countries, use English much of the day every day to communicate globally and access international media.

To provide one example of this, according to a study my colleagues and I conducted in Egypt (Warschauer, Refaat, & Zohry, 2000), while Egyptian colloquial Arabic is used in much informal chatting and e-mail use, nearly all formal communication by e-mail in Egypt--even between one Egyptian and another--is conducted in English.

Continuing on the question of ICT, e-mail, and changed context of English use, one U.S. study found that e-mail is now believed to be the principal form of business communication in certain US industries, surpassing face-to-face and telephone communication (American Management Association International, 1998).  This thus necessitates a rethinking of the relationship of computers and the Internet to English teaching, as I hinted at the beginning of this talk.  Just ten years ago, for example, it was very common for those involved in CALL to say that “A computer’s just a tool; it’s not an end in itself but a means for learning English.”  How often did you hear something like that at a conference?  Yet earlier this year, an English teacher in Egypt told me this, and this is a real quotation from a real teacher: “English is not an end in itself; it’s just a tool for being able to use computers and get information on the Internet.”  The juxtaposition of these two ideas says a lot about how our thoughts about English teaching and the Internet must change.  It is no longer just a matter of using e-mail and the Internet to help teach English, as I wrote in my first book five years ago, but also of teaching English to help people learn to write e-mail and use the Internet.

New Literacies

This leads us to another important impact of ICT developments, which is the significance of new literacies.  In the era of print, to read was to attempt to understand the meaning of an external author.  In the online era, to read is to interpret information and create knowledge from a variety of sources.  Online reading and research skills include selecting the right questions, choosing the right tools, finding information, archiving and saving information, interpreting information, and using and citing information.  It’s the difference between taking a book home from the library—and assuming that the information in it is reliable because it has been vetted twice, once by the publisher and then by the librarian who purchased the book—and conducting research online, where the very act of reading cannot be done without making critical decisions at every step of the way, such as whether to scroll down a page or pursue an internal link or try an external link or to quit the page and conduct a new search. In the past, we used to discuss “critical literacy” as a special category; in the future virtually all literacy will necessitate critical judgment.

New Genres

Similar changes are occurring with respect to writing. It has been suggested that the essay will soon become a marked form, like the short story, in other words something that we may still study but that few of us will actually write, to be replaced by multimedia (Faigley, 1997).  For examples of the types of student writing of the future, take a look at some of the educational Web sites being developed by students in the ThinkQuest competition (

Students must master not only multimedia but also electronic communication.    I will illustrate the importance of new types of writing by briefly discussing a case which came up in an earlier research study I conducted (Warschauer, 1999).  The study involved an ESL writing course in an Intensive English Program in Hawai’i.  One of the students in the course was a graduate student from China. This student, who I will call Zhong, had previously conducted some research in China with co-researchers from Sweden.  Agreements had been reached about who would have the rights of authorship on the data collected.   Zhong was thus surprised to learn by e-mail that his Swedish co-researchers were going to usurp all the data under their own authorship.  Zhong attempted to write them an e-mail message protesting the situation:

Dear Svet:

How about your decision for your mothers treatment. I am sorry I can not give advice because I do not know what cancer she suffered from. As I know, tumor hospital of our university is skilled in many types of cancer while Zhongshan hospital and Changhai hospital are good in primary liver cancer. Zhongshan hospital has special wards for foreign guests. If you can tell me and Hengjin in detail, we can supply more information about hospital and doctors…..


As you can see though, the first draft of his e-mail message was highly inappropriate and would have failed to convey his message; indeed, it focused principally on the health of the Swedish colleague's mother and only discussed the disagreement in a vague manner far down in the message.  Zhong worked with the teacher of the course intensively, over e-mail, to complete two more drafts of the e-mail message until it effectively communicated what Zhong wanted to say, as seen here.

Dear Svet:
      When I received your email message of Nov 4, I was very surprised to see that you went ahead with your paper on maternal health care. As you must be aware after our discussion in Shanghai last September-October, when we distributed all the topics among us, the topic of maternal health care was incumbent on me for analysis and publication….
      In conclusion, I am afraid the only satisfactory solution I can see is to
publish my paper with me as the first author.

As a result, the problem was resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Not all students will be performing sophisticated sociological research with international scholars for publication in scholarly journals.  But many students will need to carry out some form of collaborative long-distance inquiry and problem-solving as part of their jobs and community activities.  It will be incumbent on us to teach the writing skills necessary for these kinds of tasks.  This includes both the pragmatics of written interaction as well as the hypermedia authoring and publishing skills needed for effective presentation of material (see discussion in Shetzer & Warschauer, 2000; Warschauer, 1999)

New Identities

The increased importance of online communication is also contributing to new kinds of identity.  As an example, let us look at the case of Almon, a Hong Kong immigrant to the United States discussed by Lam (in press).  Though Almon had lived in the US for several years, he performed poorly in English class in school and had little confidence in his academic English ability.   Yet Almon developed his own “J-Pop” Web site about a Japanese pop singer, and spent hours a day e-mailing and chatting other J-Pop fans around the world who were attracted to his site.  Though almost all of the fans were Chinese or Japanese, this communication, as well as the site itself, was in English.  Through this process, Almon developed self-confidence in his English communication ability, as part of a global youth movement that uses English and new media to share ideas.  Almon’s experience doesn’t suggest, of course, that we need to downplay academic literacies, but it does suggest that students who use new media develop a wide range of literacies and identities, and we need to take these into account in our English teaching.

New Pedagogies

This really brings me to the heart of my talk, which is the new pedagogies which all these changes require.  The following table illustrates some of the pedagogical changes that have occurred and are occurring in CALL.

The Three Stages of CALL


Structural CALL

1980s-1990s: Communicative CALL

21st Century:
Integrative CALL




Multimedia and Internet

English-Teaching Paradigm

Grammar-Translation & Audio-Lingual

Communicate Language Teaching

Content-Based, ESP/EAP

View of Language

(a formal structural system)

(a mentally-constructed system)

Socio-cognitive (developed in social interaction)

Principal Use of Computers

Drill and Practice

Communicative Exercises

Authentic Discourse

Principal Objective


And Fluency

And Agency


(Based on Kern & Warschauer, 2000; Warschauer, 1996; Warschauer, in press-a)

I do not want to suggest that these stages have occurred sequentially, with one following the other, from “bad CALL” to “good CALL”.  At any one time, any of these may be combined for different purposes.  However, there has been a general trend or development over the years, with new ideas and uses of computers being introduced in combination with those previous.

Let me give one example to illustrate the difference between communicative CALL and integrative CALL.  Communicative CALL was based on communicative exercises performed as a way of practicing English.  This was in line with a cognitive view of language learning: that, through interaction, learners can develop language as an internal mental system.  The content of the interaction is not that important, nor is the nature of the community, nor, really is the learners’ own speech or output.  What is important is how the interaction helps provide input to the learner to develop a mental system.

In contrast, integrative CALL is based on a socio-cognitive view of language learning. From this viewpoint, learning language involves apprenticing into new discourse communities.  The purpose of interaction is to help students learn to enter new communities and familiarize themselves with new genres and discourses.  From this point of view, the content of the interaction and the nature of the community are extremely important.  It is not enough to engage in communication for communication’s sake.

So, allow me to return to the example.  I recently spoke to a teacher who was feeling frustrated.  She kept telling her students to go onto the Internet once a week to practice English, but they were wasting their time, chatting in their own language and not really engaging in English.  From my view, this reveals the limitation of the communicative approach to CALL, that is to view the Internet as a medium of simple (and perhaps purposeless) communication practice.  I suggested to the teacher that she might instead want to use the Internet to have her students perform real-life tasks and solve real-life problems in a community of peers or mentors.  Students could conduct an international research project on an issue they are interested in (see Warschauer, Shetzer, & Meloni, 2000), or perform a service for their communities such as creating an English Web site for a local organization (Warschauer & Cook, 1999).  In these cases, English communication would be incidental to the main task.  But as they carry out the task they would be learning important new genres and engaging in new discourses.

This is related to the objective of CALL and, indeed, of language learning, which evolved originally from accuracy to, later, accuracy plus fluency.  I would suggest that we must add a new objective, together with the previous two: agency.  Agency has been defined as “the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices” (Murray, 1997), and “the power to construct a representation of reality, a writing of history, and to impose reception of it by others” (Kramsch, A'Ness, & Lam, in press).  Agency is really what makes students so excited about using computers in the classroom: the computer provides them a powerful means to make their stamp on the world.  Think, for example, of the difference between authoring a paper (i.e., writing a text for the teacher), and authoring a multimedia document  (i.e., creatively bringing together several media to share with a wide international audience), and even helping to author the very rules by which multimedia is created (as people have the chance to do right now in this time of creative explosion of new forms of online expression.  By allowing and helping our students to carry out all these types of authoring—toward fulfilling a meaningful purpose for a real audience—we are helping them exercise their agency.  The purpose of studying English is thus not just to “know it” as an internal system, but to be able to use it to have a real impact on the world.


To summarize how CALL is changing, it is useful to look at one expression of CALL from the 20th century—from the late 1970s to be exact.  A computer-assisted instructional manual of that day contained the following limerick as recalled by Patrikis (1997, p. 171)

Word has come down from the dean
That by aid of the Computing Machine
                Young Oedipus Rex,
                Could have learned about sex,
Without ever touching the queen.

In other words, the advantage of computer-based instruction is that it is completely removed from “real life.”  You can learn English without having to get your hands dirty in the real world—and then, of course, you can then come back to the real world to use it.  Note the similarity between this notion and the notion of cyberspace, whereby what is done with the computer is somehow not real.

In contrast to this, let us look at a more current expression about the value of computers in instruction, that of Shneiderman (1997), who said “we must do more than teach students to ‘surf the net,’ we must also teach them how to make waves” (p. vii).  This then provides the opposite view of that expressed in the limerick above.  We will fulfill the best use of computers in the classroom when we allow and encourage students to perform the most real tasks possible, to take advantage of the power of modern information and communication technologies to help try to change the world in ways that suit students’ own critical values and the interests of humankind.

Actually, this is not a new idea. Freire and Macedo (1987) had earlier expressed the same perspective.  They noted that literacy is not only about “reading the word,” but also about “reading the world” – and not only about reading the world but also writing it and rewriting it (p. 37). These concepts have been an important part of critical pedagogy throughout the 20th century.  But today, new forms of information and communication technologies provide a powerful new means of achieving them.

This then expresses nicely how CALL must be “reborn.”  Let us view neither the computer nor English as ends in themselves, but rather let us make them tools that our students can use to read the world, to write it, and to rewrite it. That is my vision of CALL for the 21st century.


American Management Association International. (1998). E-Mail tops telephone, say HR execs at 69th annual human resources conference. Available  (downloaded January 1, 2000).

Castells, M. (1998). End of Millennium. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Computer Economics, I. (1999). Computer Economics projects worldwide Internet users to approach 350 million by year 2005.  Available (downloaded January 1, 2000).

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Faigley, L. (1997). Literacy after the revolution. College Composition and Communication, 48(1), 30-43.

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Reading the word and the world. Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey.

Graddol, D. (1999). The decline of the native speaker. In D. Graddol & U. H. Meinhof (Eds.), English in a changing world (AILA Review 13) (pp. 57-68). Guildford, UK: Biddles Ltd.

Kachru, B. (1986). The alchemy of English: The spread, functions, and models of non-native Englishes. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Kern, R., & Warschauer, M. (2000). Theory and practice of network-based language teaching. In M. Warschauer & R. Kern (Eds.), Network-based language teaching: Concepts and practice (pp. 1-19). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kramsch, C., A'Ness, F., & Lam, E. (in press). Authenticity and authorship in the computer-mediated acquisition of L2 literacy. Language Learning & Technology.

Lam, E. (in press). Second language literacy and the design of the self: A case study of a teenager writing on the Internet. TESOL Quarterly.

Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Routledge.

Patrikis, P. C. (1997). The evolution of computer technology. In R. Debski, J. Gassin, & M. Smith (Eds.), Language learning through social computing . Parkville, Australia: Applied Linguistics Association of Australia.

Shetzer, H., & Warschauer, M. (2000). An electronic literacy approach to network-based language teaching. In M. Warschauer & R. Kern (Eds.), Network-based language teaching: Concepts and practice (pp. 171-185). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Shneiderman, B. (1997). Foreword. In R. Debski, J. Gassin, & M. Smith (Eds.), Language learning through social computing (pp. v-viii). Melbourne: Applied Linguistics Association of Australia.

The Default Language. (1999, May 15, 1999). Economist, 67-67.

Warschauer, M. (1996). Computer-assisted language learning: An introduction. In S. Fotos (Ed.), Multimedia Language Teaching (pp. 3-20). Tokyo: Logos.

Warschauer, M. (1999). Electronic literacies: Language, culture, and power in online education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Warschauer, M. (in press-a). The changing global economy and the future of English teaching. TESOL Quarterly.

Warschauer, M. (in press-b). Milleniallism and media: Language, literacy, and technology in the 21st century, Proceedings of the 1999 World Congress of Applied Linguistics . Tokyo: Waseda University.

Warschauer, M., & Cook, J. (1999). Service learning and technology in TESOL. Prospect, 14(3), 32-39.

Warschauer, M., Refaat, G., & Zohry, A. (2000, March). Language and literacy online: A study of Egyptian Internet users. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics, Vancouver, Canada.

Warschauer, M., Shetzer, H., & Meloni, C. (2000). Internet for English Teaching. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Publications.



This paper is based in part on two other recent papers: “Millenialism and Media: Language, Literacy, and Technology in the 21st Century” (Warschauer, in press-b) and “The Changing Global Economy and the Future of English Teaching”(Warschauer, in press-a).

The Author

Dr. Mark Warschauer is currently based in Cairo, where he director of educational technology on a large US-funded project for improving language teaching in Egypt.  He is the editor of Language Learning & Technology journal and the author of numerous books and papers on language, literacy, and technology.

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Last updated: July 31, 2000 in Word 2000