Using Multimedia Materials in the Language Classroom: Creating a Digitized Version of “The Gentle Creature” by Dostoevskij for the Advanced Russian

Julia Titus, Yale University

In my presentation at AATSEEL, I would like to talk about possible advantages of multimedia in language learning and give a demonstration of my work on creating a digitized package of “The Gentle Creature” with a support grant from Yale Center for Language Study. Understanding student’s growing interest in computer-assisted learning, and thinking of many benefits that this medium presents for language learners, I decided to convert one component of my fourth-year Russian course at Yale, Dostoevskij’s short story “The Gentle Creature,” into a HTML format. This replaces the existing printed material with a hyper-media package. The text itself (about thirty-five pages in length) is fully digitized and enhanced with sound and pictures. The package includes a full audio version of the text. To further facilitate the process of reading, extensive glosses are added throughout the text, and these glosses contain not only the English translation of each word and synonyms in Russian, but also correct pronunciation of the given word (both on its own and in a phrase) in audio clips. Grammar notes are provided where applicable, and cultural commentaries and pictures where necessary. All of these features are accessible through the buttons on the screen.

I decided to pursue this project because I believe that introducing technology into the classroom is a very helpful tool and it has a tremendous potential. It has a lot to offer to the teachers and the students alike because now students rely on technology more and more, and while technology will not replace the teacher in the classroom, it gives students more freedom and flexibility while promoting active learning. It allows students to absorb materials at their own pace, to go back and review it and even do a self-test such as vocabulary quiz. It is also very helpful to the foreign language teachers because all four skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) can be further developed by using hypermedia materials.

The introduction of a multimedia presentation of this story allows a unique learning setting that can benefit the students in many ways. The use of multimedia creates an interactive learning environment, where students can select their own pace for their work with the material. The digitized format makes the process of reading the text in the original considerably easier since it allows students to look up the words on the screen immediately, and the students are able to work on more difficult linguistic problems, such as syntax and cultural significance of language. The sound component of the electronic glossary not only helps improve pronunciation, but also further increases listening comprehension. Finally, the electronic media allows the opportunity to introduce students to the culture of nineteenth-century Russia through a number of links—pictures of St. Petersburg at the time, a short biography of Dostoevskij, existing illustrations of the work and excerpts from the literary criticism.

While “The Gentle Creature” provides the opportunity for a teacher to expand its general themes into a larger upper-level survey course (e.g., a course on nineteenth-century literature or culture), the text itself could be used as a free standing unit to language and culture. The visual component mentioned above not only provides many ways to connect the text to an already existing course, but also allows the students flexibility to add a variety of cultural, historical, and literary elements to their own reading. I envision many benefits from introducing electronic media into our language courses. On the one hand it would allow for a truly interactive learning, where students would take an active role in the process and select their own pace of getting through the material. On the other hand, it would free a significant amount of time in the classroom which is taken now by supplying routine vocabulary explanations, or cultural details, which in the digitized form would be easily accessible to students before class. As a result, they would be better prepared to participate in the discussion and to gain a much better understanding and appreciation of the text.