Flipping a Russian Classroom – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Flipping a Russian Classroom

This spring, students in Russian 102 will experience a “flipped” classroom, thanks to funding as part of the Mellon Presidential Discretionary Grant for the digital pedagogy project.

The idea of “flipping” a classroom was developed by high school teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. Traditionally, time in class has been reserved for lectures while homework has been a time for exercises and problem solving, the pair argued that perhaps this was not the most effective approach to education. Instead, exercises are reserved for class time, when a teacher may supervise or interact with a student one on one.

“Instead of being a passive experience, being in the classroom will require every student to use Russian for a substantial amount of time by interacting with classmates and the instructor,” says Associate Professor of Russian Area Studies Kristen Welsh.

It is this personal interaction that Welsh feels dovetails with the Colleges’ mission and liberal arts philosophy. It is the connection between faculty and students that separates Hobart and William Smith from other private universities, and allows students to deepen their studies.

Grammar lectures, which account for a large portion of most Russian classes, will be delivered to students in the hours after class through various technological means including live streaming, Power Point, ShowMe, and other applications; students will be required to complete a short, written exercise in order to gage immediate comprehension. These lecture were captured and created by Welsh during summer 2013, thanks to technologies obtained through grant funding.

In class, time will be devoted to more active learning – speaking and reading activities with classmates, written and oral grammar drills – giving students more time with the actual language. Students will also be able to receive more immediate feedback on their work, rather than waiting several days to determine their errors and points of weakness.

“It is crucial – especially in Russian 102 – to maximize active practice time,” says Welsh. “Doing so not only helps students achieve as much as possible during the semester, but gives them a sense of accomplishment that encourages them to continue to the intermediate level.”

In addition to these more formal interactions with the Russian language, students will be able to experience culture through pop videos, reading about Russian sporting events and enjoying short stories.

“Russian is a highly inflected language, and its six-case system poses a challenge to English speakers who have not previously encountered case in foreign-language study,” explains Welsh. “Presenting grammar in class, while retaining time for practicing it, is always a challenge. Doing so while carving out time for the culture-related activities – songs, games, stories – that keep students engaged in the course is even more of a challenge.”

Perhaps most importantly, this digital pedagogy project will allow students to develop new language skills that can be carried beyond the Russian 102 classroom.

Says Welsh, “Flipping the classroom makes effective study skills visible by bringing them into the classroom; this may be the most important, most transformative characteristic of flipping.”

With materials for at-home digital lectures captured, edited and uploaded, students will begin their first experience in a “flipped” Russian classroom in January.