This project aimed to use active learning and flipped classroom to provide flexible and sufficient language accuracy building, increase in-class time for communication, language fluency building, provide opportunity to apply and self-check language skills in real-world situation, and increase reflection about own learning.

  • Course: RSSN2110 Russian Language III, 2nd-year undergraduate language course (3rd semester of study - 10 students)
  • School/Faculty: School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Delivery: weekly, two two-hour face-to-face contact sessions
  • Active learning approach: flipped classroom (online weekly grammar and vocabulary accuracy building), in-class communicative activities, guided real-world communication outside of class
  • Assessment tasks: weekly online homework and quizzes, post-interview reflections, all other assessments are foundation for the major mid-semester and final oral and final written exams.

Key issues and anticipated outcomes

Students taking on Russian study and continuing to 2nd year are usually motivated to learn, but not used to doing regular homework; are generally very concerned about mastery of grammar and anxious about speaking in Russian (as is typical); have previously responded positively to some active learning strategies (authentic language tasks and assessments).

Thus, this project had the following main goals:

  • Provide sufficient self-paced practice of and timely feedback on mastery of lexical and grammatical elements of the course (language accuracy building); 
  • Increase in-class communication and engagement through pair and group-work, discussion and task-based activities (language fluency building); 
  • Support real-world interaction with native speakers, help students overcome foreign-language speaking anxiety, and increase reflection about and responsibility for own learning.

Project innovation team

Active learning approach

Activities and aligned assessments

The active learning approach in this course included constructive alignment of learning activities, course themes and skills, and assessment. It was achieved through combination of a flipped classroom and of real-world experience communicating with native speakers of Russian, i.e. by dividing student’s engagement in the course into three learning environments (“at home”, “in-class”, and “in the wild”):

Learning activities 1 and 2 “at home”: Independent work with the course textbook, textbook companion website before class (not marked) leading to aligned formative and summative assessments.

  • Aligned formative assessment:
    • 12 self-paced weekly online homework modules aimed at building grammatical and lexical accuracy of thematic content of the course (one per week, hurdle requirement, unlimited attempts but must complete correctly to get credit, immediate feedback, total 12% of final mark).
  • Aligned summative assessment:
    • four online end-of-chapter quizzes (% correct, immediate feedback, total 8% of final mark)
    • mid-semester and final oral exam (total 35% of final mark)
    • final written exam (total 40% of final mark).

Learning activity 3 “in-class”: Class time is used primarily for communicative task-based language learning activities and for checking difficult aspects of independent study.

  • Aligned summative assessment:
    • in-class participation mark (total 10% of final mark)
    • mid-semester and final oral exam (total 35% of final mark)
    • final written exam (total 40% of final mark)

Learning activity 4 “in the wild”: Four interviews of native speakers from the Russian community in Brisbane. 

  • Aligned formative assessment:
    • four post-interview reflections + one summative reflection (total 10% of final mark).
  • Aligned summative assessment:
    • mid-semester and final oral exam (total 35% of final mark)
    • final written exam (total 40% of final mark).

Technology and tools

  • Weekly online content and quizzes: To flip the classroom and provide sufficient practice and build linguistic accuracy in a flexible way with immediate feedback, we assigned online homework on the textbook companion site and created online end-of-chapter quizzes (one every three weeks) on Blackboard.  
  • Group discussions, think-pair-share discussions, role-play: To facilitate deeper engagement and build fluency, we devoted the majority of in-class time to authentic communication using the language practiced at home.
  • Guided authentic communication outside of class: To ensure authentic communication, build fluency, lower foreign language speaking anxiety and increase cross-cultural knowledge, we designed interview guides and sample interview questions thematically aligned with material covered in class (one interview topic per textbook chapter, with the interview culminating three weeks of study of each chapter).
  • Written reflections via Blackboard survey tool: To motivate personal reflection on own learning and help develop learning strategies, students were asked to evaluate on a Likert scale and reflect on different aspects of each interview and the whole interview project as a whole once the interviews were completed.

Evaluation

Methodology

Students were asked to participate in:

  • Quantitative and qualitative online questionnaire – gathering feedback on the active learning approaches embedded in the course  - pulse (Week 7) and post (Week 16)
  • Post-interview reflections assessment items

The course coordinator and tutor both engaged in reflective writing and discussion during the semester. They also gained insights from Blackboard analytics.

Key findings

  1. Effective learning as measured by pulse and post evaluations: 
    • Course materials (textbook/workbook used at home and in class) and interviews assisted students’ learning, were engaging, prepared student for active in-class participation and for assessments
      • Student feedback: “The interviews were a great logistical challenge but, although stressful and not-so-enjoyable at the time, in retrospect they were a great learning experience and really did infuse the course with a much greater speaking component for active practice. The whole process was something I can look back on and appreciate for its educational value.“
      • Student feedback: “I think that the interviews themselves are definitely worth keeping - being able to communicate with a native speaker is something really quite helpful in solidifying class-knowledge.”
      • Student feedback: “I always remembered vocabulary and sentence structures that I was able to recreate when talking about my interview partner because we often got to share in class about our partners.”
    • Online homework (“Weekly Modules“) was perceived as slightly less engaging and less supportive of active in-class participation, however, helpful for learning and preparing for assessments. 
      • Student feedback: “Whilst these modules were tedious in the beginning, by the third week I'd gotten the hang of it and did them very slowly without watching the clock. The detail and repetition was very useful and is certainly something I'll be going back to regularly in future semesters.”
    • Connection of learning to real-world situations
      • Student feedback: “My greatest takeaway would probably be increased exposure to the language. I really appreciated the chance to interact and get to know a native Russian speaker. Apart from the new vocab and practice of the language, I suppose I can say I've also made a new friend. Language does bridge worlds.”
      • Student feedback: “Greatest takeaway from this project was having the chance to test Russian fluency in an environment outside the classroom and in an unrehearsed setting.” 
  2. Reflection about own learning via:
    • Immediate feedback on homework accuracy, negotiation of language gaps during in-class communicative tasks and during interviews, post-interview reflections. In response to question “What did you learn” regarding the interviews, some reported the type of information they exchanged with their partners while others reflected about what they learned about their own learning of Russian.
      • Student feedback: ”I think it was being able to practically see where further learning was required was a big thing. It allowed a very practical type of continual assessment.”
      • Student feedback: ”I could improve on interview preparation because by the end of it, I didn't refer to the interview questions, therefore sort of limiting the depth of our discussions. I think also that the interview questions guide facilitated learning through repetition by asking the same question in different ways so following the guide would have been beneficial.”
  3. Reduced foreign language anxiety
    • All students reported that completing the interviews was a challenging, yet rewarding experience that helped them feel more confident in oral communication in Russian and helped them learn the material studied in class. In reference to the second set of interviews, the students reported not only feeling more confident speaking Russian, but also less reliant on the lists of sample questions we provided as scaffolding.
      • Student feedback: “I think it helped me be a bit less worried about making mistakes when speaking Russian, it allowed me to get to know a friend better and to comprehend Russian spoken by a fast native speaker a bit better.”
      • Student feedback: “I developed more confidence in speaking Russian and have generally overcome my fear of making mistakes. Even if I sound like a train wreck, I'll still practice my communication skills.”

Project outcomes

Benefits

The students’ post-interview reflections, summative assessments as well as anonymous feedback surveys suggest the project was a success. The flexible online practice and assessment allowed them to reuse and expand their thematic vocabulary and grammar while supporting the task-based communicative activities and active learning in class and provided immediate feedback regarding their progress. The interviews pushed them out of their comfort zone while building their confidence and allowing them to take control of what they learned in class and use it in real-world communication outside of class. 

  • Nine out of 10 students completed all the online modules, quizzes and interviews.
  • The students were more confident and engaged in class and during oral exams.
  • The students reflected on their learning and became more attuned to what they needed to work on.
  • The students reported feeling prepared for the final oral and written assessments.
  • The program became more visible to the community.

Challenges and other lessons

  • Scheduling interviews, particularly at the end of the semester, may be challenging and stressful to the students.
  • Schedules and other urgent commitments may make some partners unavailable, so activities have to be planned and scaffolded with potentially different partners throughout the semester.
  • The guiding questions were more useful at the start of the semester than in the second half as the students felt more confident to go into genuine free discussion and became less reliant on scaffolding provided by us.
  • Recruiting and pairing up students with community partners is time consuming at least at the initial stages.

Further work

  • We trialled the same approach in RSSN3130 during the same semester and with similar findings. 
  • We continued this approach in Semester 2, 2018 in RSSN2120 and RSSN3140, with slight changes to the interview project:
    • three meetings by Week 9 (to avoid end-of-semester fatigue and scheduling stress)
    • each interview followed by a short essay (to develop written production skills)
    • one PPT/video presentation of their partner in week 13 (to develop spoken production skills)
    • one final reflection (we don’t need to check in with them as much anymore).

End-of-semester feedback in these classes indicates that the extension of the project was a success and students feel the interview project should continue as a permanent feature of Russian language courses in years 2 and 3. Feedback from community partners who came to the end-of-year cohort building event was also enthusiastic.

Contact

Dr Anna Mikhaylova
Lecturer, School of Languages and Cultures