How to be “v kurse dela”: Using the Internet to Supplement Instruction in the Russian Language Classroom

There has been much talk in recent years about integrating technology (CALL, distance learning, fiber-optics television instruction, Internet, etc.) into the foreign language curriculum. The implementation of these technologies has been met with varying degrees of success, depending mainly on how well a technological approach fits into a given curriculum, and whether its users—including the instructor—have the requisite knowledge necessary to effectively work with a certain technology.

As we struggle to make our curricula more “real-world” and applicable, indeed inviting, to a variety of learners and learning styles, at the present time the Internet provides the greatest number of possibilities and flexibility to achieve this result. The very nature of the Internet itself allows for this flexibility and increased opportunities, and in this sense is truly multidimensional.

The use of the Internet to supplement—but not replace—direct, content-based instruction is both an evolving and an innovative approach. The premise of this discussion focuses on integrating the Internet and Web-based materials to significantly improve and enhance the classroom teaching of Russian language. Using the Internet as a communication tool facilitates direct instruction by adding a learner-based component for practice, review, and a real-world sense of improving contacts with Russian speakers. Students gain control over their own learning, and are responsible for it. Consequently, it appears that student interest in the study of Russian is increased.

Since 1994 Northern University High School (Price Laboratory School, University of Northern Iowa) has offered its students the opportunity to participate on numerous high school exchange programs under the auspices of ACTR. These exchanges have provided students the chance to practice what they have already learned in the classroom, and serve as models for experiential learning within the framework of the Russian language teaching profession. Our recent exchange with Smolensk School #8 on the ACTR Secondary Schools Excellence Program saw improved coordination and organization namely due to both sides agreeing to use the Internet as the principal mode of communication during the planning process. After project coordinators on both sides set up initial contacts, students e-mailed each other (Americans in Russian, Russians in English) in order to determine host family pairings. Students continued to contact each other in this fashion, thereby expediting the pre-departure ritual of getting acquainted. While in Smolensk students took part in two Internet-based teleconferences (“telemosty”), linking Smolensk with UNI and the Laboratory School. After the exchange, students continued to e-mail each other, and students on both sides are currently working on Web sites for their respective schools, highlighting the benefits of the exchange.

Some further developmental issues and problem areas should be mentioned. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

1) Issues regarding choice of platform/fonts:

a. Use and preference of most students for Windows to Mac, as with their Russian counterparts.

b. Knowledge of encodings (Windows 1251 vs. KOI-8, etc.)

c. ACTR’s Web modules (e.g.-Business Russian, Ivan Groznyj, etc.) with their own fonts within Western encoding.

d. Need for in-class or on-site practice, versus limiting the process to simple instructions.

2) Future use and potential of Web-based modules, such as ACTR’s, for both high school and college-level instruction.

3)To what extent is the immediacy of response important for younger learners, who may have shorter attention spans? For example, Internet chat programs (ICQ, etc.) have proven extremely popular among today’s youth, and have actually encouraged NUHS and Smolensk students to contact each other more often.

4)To what extent does the Web serve as the best repository and provide access to authentic literary, cultural, and mass-media sources?