Project Report By: Christine Boyland, Russian, Trinity College
Irina Aleshkovsky (Wesleyan) and Christine Boyland (Trinity) received a CTW Mellon grant to create a computer-based annotated text of Leo Tolstoy's story "Prisoner of the Caucasus" for use by intermediate level students of Russian. Traditionally the Tolstoy story is part of the third semester Russian language curriculum at Wesleyan, and in Spring 1997 it was included in Trinity's second year course work as well. IN addition to being a classic example of Russian literature by a great author, the story offers and excellent glimpse into the use fo Russian verbs of motion, a complex conceptual system which is difficult for speakers of English to master. The hope is that these computer-based exercises will be used not only in conjunction with intermediate Russian courses, but that they will help students who are not enrolled in coursework to refresh their knowledge of the language.
The project utilizes the Hypercard software package, and it includes the glossed and illustrated five-chapter story along with a recorded audio track and multiple-choice reading comprehension questions for teach of the five chapters. These fill-in exercises focus primarily on verbs of motion. As a separate but related module, there also are eight brief video clips from the popular 1996 film Prisoner of the Mountain, a contemporized adaptation fo the Tolstoy story directed by acclaimed Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov. These excerpts range in duration from 15 seconds to 3 minutes and current work is being completed on creating listening comprehension and dictation exercises for each video segment.
What we learned:
Cyrillic fonts pose special problems in using some of the software packages available for designing guided reading applications. In early experimentation we found that Guided Reading, MacGALT and Errata all exhibited irregularities when non-romanized fonts were used, so we opted to design our own Hypercard-based application. This required that we write some basic programming codes with Hypercard to create the multiple-choice and fill-in exercises we wanted to accompany the text. Since neither of us had previous experience in this area, we found ourselves working by trial and error, sometimes have to redo earlier work as we progressed and learned more about the software package. Some basic errors included inconsistent placement of buttons for he text and exercise stacks, since these had been made as part of the foreground rather than background on each card. Finally, with the help of Lisa Frumkes, we created templates for the reading comprehension and grammar questions which gave us a more uniform and visually appealing screen format. For the video component of the project, Avid Videoshop was used to digitize scenes from the film. Since these video clips require hundreds of megabytes of memory for their use and storage, Trinity's FDS experienced problems with handling the digitized excerpts. IN addition, we find that the sound quality is not optimal and seems to degrade slightly over time. I f we were to begin the project now, there are several changes we would consider making. First, we would use Libra as the main software package rather than designing our own screens. This would have simplified our work considerably, while still allowing use to accomplish all of the same tasks. We also would have selected a video digitizing package with a better sound quality or recorded the audio track of the film separately using SoundEdit 16.
What we accomplished:
Those students on whom these multi-media material have been tested all have been enthusiastic about its use. They find that the text and accompanying exercises are easy to work with and engaging, and they enjoy the immediacy of the feedback when doing the exercises. Further, since they have access to a full audio track and can listen along with the story, pronunciation and listening skills have improved along with their reading levels. Many of them seemed to be willing to spend more time with this mode of learning than they would have with a printed copy of the same materials. Specific testing has not been performed yet to compare the level of mastery of verbs of motion and vocabulary acquisition for those students who have used the computer module versus students who have studied exclusively with hard copies of these materials, but that could be performed next fall.
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