Online Interactive Technologies and the Russian Classroom: A Case Study

Nowadays, for some strange reason that I fail to grasp, people in our profession assume that the use of computers implies some kind of interactive learning. Thus, the language lab director who asks for a new computer lab mentions interactivity as the new dimension that this kind of facility would add to our instruction. Likewise, the language teacher promoting the use and development of computer-assisted exercises, does not miss the opportunity to talk about the interactive element. Interactivity, though, the way I understand it, does not necessarily mean using a machine to produce something. For me, interactivity means, above all, the access to some kind of feedback. The student writes or talks and he/she gets a response or reaction. This is something that does not necessarily happen when you are reading, for example. On the other hand, this is something that always takes place in the classroom. The student says something and the teacher reacts to it-he/she asks another question, he/she answers the question, he/she models the right answer, he/she corrects, he/she explains, etc.

So, not every page in the web or every computer exercise fullfils the requisite of interactivity. As a matter of fact, most of the materials available through the use of computers are very mechanic, and do not go beyond a simple automated action like going to the next page, providing all the answers to the exercise at once, or giving a lengthy grammar explanation on one page. The computer literati have it right when they distinguish between static and dynamic web pages, for example. If the static page becomes simply a sophisticated extension of the printed page, the dynamic aspires to be close to a dialogue between the user and the machine. Needless to say, the dynamic web page presupposes feedback, i.e. interactivity.

For approximately one year I have been working on the development of educational materials for the computer in Russian and Spanish, having as my main focus the production of interactive materials. I started with a simple web page, which served mainly as an addition to the textbook. But very quickly, I moved to designing challenging computer exercises that demand active student participation. I found out that Javascript language allows you to easily create dynamic web pages and exercises, and, following in the steps of other people, I created an array of templates for interactive exercises. A semester later, I implemented the use of these exercises in my Russian classroom.

In this paper, I would like to discuss the results of the enterprise by following three steps. The first step is to establish the advantages and disavantages of computer languages for internet browsers (HTML vs. Javascript) as well as their actual use by different people in the field. Second, I will introduce my own computer materials. Finally, an assessment of the project by the students will be presented.