Using the Web-Based Forum CULTURA in Intermediate-Level Russian

Lynne deBenedette, Brown University

How do cultural values (however defined) influence thought, expression and action? The issue is crucial for any FL class claiming to "teach culture." Much of what we can do with available time, however, offers at best "slices" of target culture life, with the instructor often the sole authority on what is "authentically" Russian, Spanish, etc. The problem is especially acute at lower levels and in languages regarded as "harder" for English NS (ACTFL Category III/IV). How can we offer intermediate-level students (who generally have not studied abroad) access to a greater range of cultural texts or to the diversity of opinion generated on any subject within the TC? In Russian even 5th semester students have relatively limited experience with texts of any length or complexity and, increasingly, are accustomed to working with glossed texts.

The presentation examines implications for teaching intermediate Russian using a version of the web-based forum CULTURA. Originally developed at MIT for use in French by Furstenberg, Waryn and Levet, CULTURA pairs a US FL class with one studying English in the TC (here: ___ Univ. students of Russian, ____ Univ. students of English). The project involves web-based questionnaires highlighting issues of probable cultural difference; student analysis of the results; exchanging viewpoints with students in the TC via a web-based discussion forum (asynchronous whole-class dialogue, not "pen-pals"); classroom and individual discussion/analysis of the communication generated. Points to be considered in this paper include: rationale of design; viability for Cat.III/IV languages, analysis of student reading and spoken/written production and implications for classroom work.