At a time when communicative competence is increasingly emphasized, film can provide a rich and attractive source of authentic material for language learners. Yet the challenge of actually understanding a feature film can discourage even highly motivated students. Incorporating annotations for video and audio clips can help comprehension, but often poses technical challenges for instructors. In order to make video- and audio-based material more accessible to intermediate students, I created VidViewer, a template for computer- based exercises which integrates short digitized video or audio clips with pre-viewing questions, multiple-choice questions, cloze exercises, and vocabulary quizzes. Funded by a 1998 grant from our university, VidViewer allows instructors with no programming experience to incorporate any or all of these elements using only a word processor. The exercises are compatible with Macintosh and Windows operating systems.
The template has been used extensively for two years in our third-year Russian courses, where short film clips from the ACTR text Chto vy ob Ėtom dumaete? are regularly assigned. Students have generally preferred viewing the clips in the context of VidViewer exercises, rather than simply viewing the videocassettes, and I have found that showing digitized clips on a laptop in class is more convenient than using a VCR.
Researchers at Baylor University, to whom I am indebted for their assistance in testing the project, recently studied the effect of VidViewer exercises on student comprehension using video clips from the widely used courses Destinos and Fokus Deutsch (Lahaie and Norden 2000). Their results showed that VidViewer provides significant improvements in listening comprehension as compared to paper-based support materials for video. While VidViewer was created with authentic materials in mind, these studies suggest that VidViewer may be of value with video materials prepared for beginning learners as well.
I plan to give a brief demonstration of sample VidViewer exercises based on a clip from a Russian feature film. I will then discuss the results of the Baylor studies and my own experiences using VidViewer to teach third-year conversational Russian. In conclusion, I will consider how this technology might evolve in the future and its implications for teaching with audio and video materials.