Today one hardly needs to argue the merits of using video in foreign language classrooms. Most instructors would agree that video, when used properly, offers students a rich source of linguistic and cultural information. The question, then, is not "Why should we use video in language instruction?" but rather "How do we use video in language instruction?" Insofar as the traditional language classroom is concerned, there are many theoretical responses to this question, as well as an abundance of practical models. Language videos are now routinely sold with an instructor's manual illustrating how to use video to teach language and culture. Most approaches focus on comprehension and meaning-making techniques, similar to the "top-down" strategies used in reading comprehension, whereby video is simply treated as another kind of text.
The problem, however, is that video is not exactly like other texts due to the logistics of how video is shown in the classroom. Since there is usually only one VCR per class, students are forced to process this "text" together--at the same pace. Watching videos in class can thus be particularly discouraging for learners who require more time or additional pre-viewing cues to process aural input. Time constraints also force teachers to select which features of a video to emphasize (vocabulary, idioms, intonation, grammar, culture, etc.) -- even though their choices will naturally always reflect some students' needs more than others'. While standard techniques for accommodating a heterogeneous classroom, like dividing students into groups or individualizing tasks, apply to video instruction as well, the limits imposed by this particular technology make the teacher's job of leveling the playing field that much more challenging. Putting video on the web, along with a variety of thoughtful exercises, is one solution to this perennial problem. Combining media allows teachers to individualize instruction and consequently cater to a variety of learner needs and abilities. If students have access to video and multi-media exercises on the web, they can not only work outside of class at their own pace, but they can concentrate on those features of language comprehension that they find most challenging -- be it general comprehension, processing grammar, identifying intonation patterns, etc.
As a model, I will present a project that I have developed using an elementary Russian language video series, which I have digitized and placed on the Internet. I have created a variety of exercises for each episode, ranging in skill focus and level of difficulty. With the click of a button, students can access the video and multi-media exercises from a campus computer lab or the convenience of their own home. Teachers can then assign work individually, depending on students' needs, and students will no longer be forced to comply with the one-size-fits-all viewing schedule of the typical language classroom.
I do not propose my project as a replacement for traditional in-class viewing. Rather, I hope to give instructors greater flexibility in determining how, when and where video is used in language instruction. This type of on-line resource could be used in lieu of, or in conjunction with, existing methods--to be determined by the instructor.