Russian Students Make a Global Connection

Once a week, a handful of students at UT Arlington fire up their computers just before 8 a.m. and blink sleepily at the screen in front of them. On the other side of the planet, a group of Siberian law students sit in front of their video screens, stifling yawns that signal the end of a long day and impending bedtime.

Over the next 30 to 40 minutes students and faculty from universities in the U.S. and Russia work on textual translations, word pronunciations and word definitions in this international workshop. Dr. Lonny Harrison, Assistant Professor and Russian Section Head for the Department of Modern Languages, said students in the virtual class are developing “communicative and intercultural competencies through interaction.”

“They create various kinds of text documents, videos and audio files,” Harrison said. “The English and Russian speakers are paired to work on communication and translations. It allows them to have more hands on experience and be active learners.”

A version of this teleconferencing workshop was begun years ago by Dr. Pete Smith (now an associate vice president in the Office of the Provost), Dr. Jan Marston and several professors in Russia through Drake University and a federal grant. When the money ran out, Harrison said, the program was put on hiatus. Last year, a lone Russian major decided to volunteer her time by reconnecting with the department’s Siberian counterparts. Through the work of Dr. Konstantin Shestakov and his students at the Omsk Law Institute, Harrison said a new iteration of the program was begun.

“It’s completely voluntary,” he said. “This is an extra-curricular project for their own benefit. Students discuss the assigned text, then work on the translations with their partner.”

Harrison said the department is looking to make the program a formal course (RUSS 3304: Topics in Russian Language Study) soon. The course content would allow UT Arlington students to strengthen their knowledge of the Russian language, and bolster the translation certification they can earn.

Harrison said the students also communicate with one another outside the classroom through email and social networking.

“[Our students] need to communicate with their peers in Russia in the target language,” he said. “They need to discover the linguistic formulas to use in collaboration with a native speaker. In dialogue, they discover more things than they would if they were only taking a class, listening to lectures and doing assignments.”

(Story by James Dunning, COLA Communications)

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