Integrating Classroom and the Community: Community Based Learning and Student Outcomes

Sandra Rosengrant, Portland State University

The purpose of this paper is to describe a pilot project in community based learning in beginning and intermediate college-level Russian classes. The project, which will be piloted spring term, 1998, will involve pairing first- and second-year language students with Russian-speaking conversation partners. The students will be asked to meet with their partners once a week. At that time they will conduct a conversation on a topic related to their language class in Russian and then conduct a similar conversation in English.

In the first part of the paper, I will explain the background of the program, its antecedents and how it is structured. In the second part of the paper, I will discuss the considerations that enter into developing instructional materials for a project of this type. (Exactly how does a first-year student conduct a "conversation" on any topic?) And in the third and last section I will look at hypothesized student outcomes and their assessment.

Although the first two sections of the paper should be of interest to those who are contemplating instituting similar projects within their own programs, it is the last section that will demonstrate whether the undertaking has any practical value to the students. Expected outcomes include increased awareness of and involvement with the Russian community. Many students, especially beginners, assume that anyone who speaks Russian not only is an ethnic Russian, but a stereotypical one at that. A second expected outcome is increased sense of responsibility for the class on the part of the students. This hypothesis is based on the expectation that students themselves will generate the conversation topics for each week of the project and that they will be responsible for bringing that part of their learning experience back into the class to share with others. A third and highly desired outcome is that the weekly conversation exercises will not only increase the students' tolerance for being in a Russian-speaking environment and their comfort level with oral communication but also their command of the language itself. Finally, although not as critical at these early levels of instruction, research suggests that community-based-learning experiences may also play a significant role in the career development of undergraduate students.

Methods of assessing this project will include questionnaires, student and faculty focus groups, and pre- and post- language tests. We will compare the grades and the all-important enrollment figures of the study group with control groups from previous years.