Living Russian Language Modules

The Living Russian Language Modules are a set of online exercises developed by Don Livingston to complement current Russian textbooks, specifically В пути and Beginner's Russian. Anyone may use them as a student at no charge. Teacher-level permissions are also given at no charge to anyone who works as a language teacher at a recognized educational institution and has a publically verifiable e-mail address. The e-mail addresses and other data collected will never be distributed for any commercial reasons nor for advertising purposes.

When students begin a particular module, they are given the opportunity to specify what registered teacher may have access to those results for a particular session. The teacher then may verify the student's completion of the exercise and view the student's data track.

The long-term goal of the modules is to present rationally-sequenced material that will take the average non-heritage student about 50 minutes to complete; thus a module will a suitable substitute for an in-person class on a day when the instructor is ill, and it would also make one half of a reasonable homework assignment for a 50-minute class. The modules are still under development, so the 50-minute is not yet met with them all. Students are required to go through the pages in order, not jumping forward and back; the “next page” button does not appear until the student has successfully completed all the exercises on the page. On pages where typing is required, there is a hint function that will help students who get stuck. Each page has a feedback link in case teachers or students detect problems or typographical errors on that page. Students are also required to go through the sequence in a single sitting; they cannot log out and restart the lesson part of the way through. Audio time on each page is tracked, and if the student has not spent enough time on the page, the module will require the student to return to the page to complete the allotted time.

Those with teacher permissions are not required to listen to the whole of each audio; they can rapidly look through the lesson without completing it themselves using “show all answers” “show next page” functions that are not available to students. Teachers have access to one line summaries of the students' work to see if they have completed the module, and there are also links to detailed tracking reports that show how much time the student spent on each page.

Each module ends with a link to a "musical reward" which consists of some popular Russian song in video or audio form on YouTube, along with the lyrics of the song and an English translation. YouTube has a plethora of lawyers to deal with copyright issues to deal with the audio/video, so I am not concerned about those links.

The modules are designed to be used on a laptop or desktop computer, not on tablets or cell phones. The modules are being updated to HTML5 for audio with fall back to Adobe Flash Player. Both JavaScript and cookies must be enabled for student interactivity and tracking.

Design considerations and possible objections

The modules violate certain ‘best practices’ for online classes, particularly in that the student cannot jump back and forth between pages.
While it is certainly helpful to jump back and forth between pages when consulting online references, there is also a place for encouraging students to go through a logically sequenced set of materials in a particular order in a single sitting. Multi-tasking is not good for promoting the concentration necessary for learning, so I have adopted a fixed-sequence, single-sitting approach that, I hope, will make it more likely that the students will focus a bit better.
The pages are not pretty. They are so web 2.0! Modern students are visual learners and they get much more, say, out of a video that show cultural aspects like a wedding video with people shouting: «Горько! Горько!»
I have heard each one of those criticisms, and I must say they surprise me. The design of these pages is deliberately minimalistic and clean. It is the author's opinion that such is helpful for students to focus on one task at a time. A video of people shouting «Горько! Горько!» never helped a student learn the accusative case. I wouldn't even use such a video to teach the word горько. That is way too much effort to teach a single word... although it would be fine to provide it for focus-relief, if that were your purpose. But it is reasonable to expect 50-minute periods of concentration from adult learners, so even that reason strikes me as unconvincing for an online module of reasonable length.
The audio is not produced by a native speaker.
The modules were developed without any university financial assistance, so money for native-speaker voice talent was not available. If any native speakers would like to volunteer their time in upgrading the audio, that would be greatly appreciated. Nonetheless, these modules are made to complement first- and second-year Russian classes, so the speaker's pronunciation is adequate for those purposes.

Instructions for your students

Here is an instruction set I often use for my own students to help them set themselves up for module usage. Feel free to cut/paste/change any of it.