One of the components in my Advanced Russian course was the project-based learning that promoted learner autonomy. To design opportunity for autonomous learning in formal context I implemented a digital video project into my classroom. Student learning in this project was not confined to the classroom in the traditional way. Rather, as students shared their video, the traditional boundaries of the classroom broke down and learning extended into virtual spaces that were under their control, not mine. I willingly accepted a role of facilitator, moving from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”.
Careful way in which this video project was scaffolded, encouraged students to cooperate and raised awareness of important aspects of the learning process. The use of digital video provided students with a record of their own spoken performances, which they were able to view and evaluate immediately. This led students to notice their own weaknesses, motivated them to practice and improve. By viewing their video, students were able to develop the necessary critical detachment to reflect effectively on their language learning.
Students managed their own and team-mates’ roles on the project and negotiated special roles for individuals with particular skills or interests. This kind of specialization was restricted to a degree by a course requirement that every member of the team must present a (roughly equal) portion of the video. This requirement was adopted in order to ensure that all members of the team would practice Russian presentation skills as part of the project. In addition, the collaborative project created a social context for learning which provided ample opportunities for peer teaching.
The students understood that the teacher would assess their work, but it seemed equally important to showcase their best work to a larger audience: their classmates, friends via social networks, and the general public who might view their YouTube video.
The project was an assignment for a Unit primarily organized around the topic of issues of modern family and family relationships in Russia. In order to complete the project students did background research on Russian family traditions, developed a hypothesis for the reasons for a wide range of family problems, participated in the survey, in a mock divorce trial and played as marriage and family counseling psychologists. They also discussed ways in which Russian and American families not only differ, but are complete opposite. The created video project was in many respects similar to Russian dating show “Let’s Get Married” on which a man or a woman has dates with three potential partners and must pick one, with the benefit of advice from family and friends present in the studio. With the help of relationship experts and friends they will analyze each of the potential partners and eventually make their choice.