Andrea Lanoux, associate professor and chair of Slavic Studies at Connecticut College, received her Ph.D. from UCLA in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1999. Lanoux teaches Russian language at all levels and courses on Russian literature and culture. She has team-taught courses on gender in communist and post-communist societies, Modernism, and comparative Slavic cultures with colleagues at Connecticut College.
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Teaching via Teleconference:
Lessons Learned from an Experimental Course
on Russian and American Youth Culture
by Andrea Lanoux,
Associate Professor, Connecticut College
Photos by Bob McDonnell
Group presentations via teleconference.
How to best teach culture is a crucial question for all language teachers, and one that has inspired volumes on intercultural competence, cross-cultural communication, and new instructional technologies. In fall 2011, a colleague at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) in St. Petersburg, Irina Shchemeleva, and I launched an experimental course, “The Net Generation: Contemporary Russian and American Youth Cultures,” to develop language and cultural competence in Russian and American students simultaneously via teleconference (the syllabus is included below). The course was team-taught in real time and included thirteen students at HSE in St. Petersburg and eleven students at Connecticut College in New London, CT. The following is a summary of the challenges we faced teaching in a virtual classroom, as well as the successes of this format for those who are interested in forging similar partnerships with institutions abroad.
Our idea was simple: to teach a course on a topic of mutual interest to Russian and American students, and to design it in such a way that would give all of our students the opportunity to serve as native informants for their peers abroad. Since we had been pairing up our students for language practice since 2008, we knew that the topics of student life, employment, and cultural norms tended to spark lively discussion among American and Russian students. For this reason we chose youth culture as our focus: we began the course with a general discussion of generational conflict and the family, then moved on to comparative discussions of education systems in Russia and the United States, student culture and co-curricular activities, children’s literature and young adults novels, youth movements and political activism, marginalized youth (e.g., youth in poverty or in prison), gender and advertising, popular culture and media, and social networking. Students completed readings, viewed films, and contributed to an online discussion board before each class; students were additionally required to write three short papers during the semester, to complete a group project with an oversea partner or partners, and to participate actively in class discussion.
The course met twice a week for 75 minutes each class: the first meeting of the week was held via teleconference beginning at 9:00 a.m. Connecticut time and 5:00 p.m. St. Petersburg time; for the second meeting, Russian and American students met separately at their home institutions (without teleconferencing) to discuss texts and assignments, as well as the previous class. This toggling back and forth between whole-group discussion and discussions of Russian and American students separately was a crucial factor in the course’s success: allowing students to reflect, in their native language, on the cultural differences manifest during whole-group discussion created an additional object of analysis — the comments, reactions, and interactions of students from both cultures in the same space. In other words, one of the most important texts in the course was the course itself.
Challenges to Teaching via Teleconference
CC Slavic Studies major Jyoti Arvey ’14 makes
a good point.
The difficulties we faced in designing the course, and later in teaching it, were numerous and range from logistical problems (working around two different academic calendars, time zones, course approval processes, and technology resources), texts and materials selection (a lack of parallel texts, the presence of evident bias in some texts), organizational and communication problems (the need to be much more explicit about assignments, partner communications, and group projects than usual), and our own lack of expertise. Most of the Russian students in the course had advanced knowledge of English, while most of the American students had only intermediate knowledge of Russian; the language differential influenced our initial decision to conduct the course in English. By the end of the fourth week of classes, however, the lack of participation on the part of the Russian students in class discussion led us to the decision to invite students to speak Russian or English as they wished. The move to a bilingual format at the beginning of week five broke the initial communication barrier by allowing Russian students to discuss complex questions in their native language, while simultaneously constructing a second barrier— a lack of comprehension on the part of the American students. From week five on, class discussion became a dynamic interchange peppered with simultaneous translation by faculty and students as needed.
While we anticipated many of the organizational and logistical challenges (with the exception of Daylight Savings Time, which sabotaged the course schedule in week ten by adding another hour to an already large time difference), there were a number of more general, unexpected challenges that plagued the course from day one. The lack of a common understanding of what a university or college course is created different expectations among Russian and American students, especially with regard to class discussion. Similarly, a lack of common experience of such basic social institutions as the family, education systems, and political institutions made it difficult to engage in sophisticated intellectual discussion without first engaging in a lengthy definition of terms. More disturbingly, some of the films we had chosen, including Precious (2009) and Bowling for Columbine (2002), actually reinforced negative stereotypes for some of the Russian students. That said, each of these challenges provided an occasion for spirited dialogue, which was undoubtedly one of the course’s greatest strengths.
Changing Pedagogy in a Virtual Space
Multiple screens make for a dynamic classroom.
The importance of understanding cultural differences, as opposed to focusing primarily on grammar, is foregrounded in many of the foreign language methodologies developed since the decline of the grammar-translation and audio-lingual methods. The communicative approach and other immersion-based techniques (e.g., the Direct Method, Total Physical Response [TPR], Community Language Learning [CLL]) all underscore the importance of cultural context in the formation of a meaningful utterance. The CLAC (Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum) movement has gone further by privileging functional communication above grammatical accuracy and by advocating for the integration of content-based learning and cross-cultural competence throughout the entire curriculum, not only in foreign language classes. Regardless of the pedagogical approach, in all of these schools of thought the instructor serves as a primary source of the cultural knowledge, along with texts (including films, websites, ads, etc.). In other words, in traditional classrooms the instructor serves as a primary carrier of the culture being taught, and many college and university faculty devote much of their lives to studying a foreign language and culture so that they can impart their knowledge to students.
In a cross-cultural teleconference course, there are many carriers of cultural knowledge, as many as there are students in the room. With students serving as cultural informants and language tutors for their peers, the primary task of the instructors now becomes structuring as many opportunities as possible for students to convey their knowledge and points of view directly to other students. In this context, the role of the instructor is to structure intellectually productive dialogues between students, to pose instructive questions, and to provide feedback on written work that reveals underlying cultural assumptions, values, and conventions. In our course, graded essays were posted (unattributed and with students’ permission) to the course Moodle site in order to give students the opportunity to compare how their peers abroad responded to the same set of questions. Feedback on student course evaluations consistently cited this exercise as one of the most illuminating and instructive of the course.
Goals and Student Outcomes
HSE students Natalia Tanasevskaia and
Liubov Dubina lead discussion.
The following three questions were presented at the beginning of the course as defining the main spheres of inquiry: 1) How does youth culture (e.g., slang, trends, popular culture) function as a “language” to unite members of a given generation?; 2) How are people shaped by social and political forces from childhood to become members of a given culture with a shared sense of national identity, cultural values, and sense of history?; and 3) What social forces (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) shape our views and behaviors in ways that we may not be aware of ourselves?
Most students entered the course with the assumption that their peers abroad, as members of their own generation, were “just like them” — they listened to similar music, watched the same movies, wore similar clothes and faced similar problems. In other words, most students had preconceived notions concerning question one (i.e., they were aware of the generational similarities that they shared with their foreign counterparts), but they had thought less about questions two and three (concerning cultural and societal forces). By the end of the course, students were much more attuned to the different cultural values, assumptions, and experiences of their peers. This new knowledge was gained through hours of joint discussions of texts, films, and lived experiences. To give just one example, during a discussion of a text on same sex marriage in the United States, a faculty member asked “which of you personally knows someone who has two mothers or two fathers?” All of the American students raised their hands, including the American student who was studying abroad in St. Petersburg and hence sitting with the Russian students. The eleven raised hands of American students provided a clear visual cue pointing to different cultural experiences, differences that were made clear many times throughout the course.
Media specialist Frank Fulchiero (second from left)
provides tech support while learning a thing or two.
All students completed a group research project on a topic of their own choosing and design. Topics included teen suicide, racism and ethnic conflict, corruption in higher education, student internships, advertising directed at children, and gender in the music industry. Research groups consisted of two to four students, with each group including at least one Russian and one American student. Students reported that conducting research with peers abroad was sometimes difficult, often because students’ full schedules and the time difference made it hard to find a time to meet via Skype. Projects were further complicated by a lack of a common understanding of the various tasks that group work entails, and the lack of a shared method for how to best divide up those tasks. In some teams communication problems were acute, making the usual difficulties with group work (such as uneven work loads) greater than usual. It was difficult to discern, for example, who did not understand the assignment and who simply did not put much work into the project.
At the end of the course, students expressed their deep appreciation for our attempt to introduce a new kind of pedagogy to our respective institutions, which they described as “alive,” “dynamic,” “innovative,” and “relevant.” The course evaluations of both Russian and American students identified critical thinking as a key learning outcome:
[from an American student] “The Net Generation caused me to think about all of my actions throughout the day outside of class. I think I was most engaged with this class in that way. I would read articles with the awareness of the Russian perspective. Every time I read about Russia, I asked myself, ‘What would the Russian students think of this portrayal of Russia? What point of view is this article written from? What ideas is it trying to promote?’ This class has forced us to reevaluate our sources, questioning the validity of each article we read, and becoming critical individuals in and out of class. I see advertisements in a hugely different light as well, dissecting their many parts. It is difficult to watch a film without questioning what cultural ideology is being promoted and I am proud of this fact. I will no longer be a passive consumer of culture but an active participant and critic. No matter what class we are in, this is a valuable skill to have.”
[from a Russian student] “This course is strikingly different from traditional courses. It is completely based on communication, on exchanges of views, which in our educational system is not particularly developed. We are used to sticking to the texts and discussing them according to the syllabus. This course teaches you to analyze the text and interpret it and express your own ideas, connecting them to the material covered.”
Other students highlighted the improvisational nature of the course as one of its main strengths:
[from an American student] “Somehow, I feel that it would be fitting to leave this reflection blank instead of criticizing what was undoubtedly the most unique class I have taken and likely will take at Conn. This was not a class that succeeded in spite of its flaws. This was a class that succeeded because of them. That seems paradoxical, but really there’s no other way to describe the experience. The curriculum constantly changed; this gave the students an increased role in determining what would be taught as we advocated discussing certain works and ignoring others. […] Class discussions were impossible to structure; the conversation inevitably drifted to something that the students were passionate about. I think the only comparable experience I’ve had in a class was my experimental dance class this semester. Everything was improvisation, which meant that each meeting was unique to how the students interacted. In the Net Generation, the same improvisational element existed. I’m convinced that if you taught this class a hundred times, the same experience would never be replicated twice.”
Humor translates via teleconference.
After completing the course, we came to the realization that teaching culture comparatively against the backdrop of your own culture can be more effective in promoting cross-cultural competence than some study abroad programs. Many students studying overseas position themselves as outside observers, and band together with peers from their own country in an immersion environment. Few students examine their own cultural values and institutions in this context when that they are so focused on studying the target culture. Teaching in the Net Generation was like teaching in front of a mirror: we literally saw ourselves on the screen as those in the classroom abroad saw us. That environment made teaching and learning supremely self-conscious acts, and forced all of use to give voice to our own cultural norms while studying those of our counterparts abroad. If traditional language courses focus on the signifying side of the linguistic sign (i.e., learning the words and phrases of the target language), then our course focused on the signified — the culturally embedded norms, acts, institutions, and social relations that underpin such alleged universals as family, school, work, authority, and power. Having taught this course for the first time (to be repeated in fall 2014), our view is that there is no better, more profound way to analyze cultural institutions and how they are reproduced over time than in a bilingual, cross-cultural classroom.
Slavic Studies 320: The Net Generation —
Contemporary Russian and American Youth Culture
Dilley Room, Shain Library
Andrea Lanoux, Connecticut College
Irina Shchemeleva, Higher School of Economics
With the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the forces of globalization, Russians and the Americans have become more connected to each other than ever before through online communication, foreign travel, and cross-cultural influences. Young Americans and Russians often assume that their peers abroad share the same interests, hobbies, and life goals that they do. Indeed, youth culture itself—e.g., slang, popular culture, social trends—can be said to function like a language that creates a sense of community between young people, setting them apart from members of the older generation and giving the impression that young Russians and Americans share more in common with each other than they do with many people from their own country.
But do young Russians and Americans really share the same cultural values, sense of history, assumptions about their role in broader society, and self of self? How are they—indeed, all of us—shaped from birth through our childhoods to become Russian and American citizens? And what about generational differences: how are young Russians today different from their parents who grew up in the Soviet Union? What are the aspirations of the “Obama generation”? Why did so many of its members spontaneously dance in the streets after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden? What social forces (e.g., nationalism, sexism, racism, homophobia) shape our behavior that perhaps we are not aware of ourselves?
This course will examine contemporary youth culture in Russia and the United States, bringing together students from Connecticut College and the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg each week to discuss common readings and films in joint sessions via teleconference. Topics to be discussed include generational conflict, comparative education systems, student life, children’s literature in Russia and the U.S., youth movements and political activism, marginalized youth, gender and advertising, popular culture and media, and social networking practices. In addition to weekly group meetings, students will meet with their local class (i.e., Russian and American students separately) once a week to continue discussion. All materials and class meetings will be in English. Connecticut College students studying Russian may register for a Foreign Language Across the Curriculum (FLAC) section to discuss select texts in Russian.
Goals of the course:
- to examine the major facets of Russian and American youth cultures from multiple disciplinary perspectives, social positions, and points of view
- to analyze and understand the major themes and archetypes of Russian and American popular culture, political discourse, and social media over the past two decades
- to facilitate a deeper understanding of cultural similarities and differences, and of the social forces that shape the lives of young people in both countries
- to develop critical thinking, research, and oral presentation skills through work on a final project with an overseas partner or partners
Course Materials and Online Discussion Forum
We will read a wide range of materials this semester — academic articles, popular journalism, book chapters, novels, online news, timelines, essays, and social networking sites. The texts for this course are available through the course Website (moodle.conncoll.edu). All readings and films must be completed before the class in which they will be discussed.
You are required to post to the discussion forum on the course Website each Monday (by noon for American students and by 8:00 p.m. for Russian students) before the first class of each week. Your participation in this forum will count for a significant portion (20%) of your final grade. Postings will be evaluated based on their thoughtfulness and content, not length, although each posting should be at least one paragraph long. You should have at least 14 postings (one paragraph minimum each) by the end of the semester, which we will reread before assigning final grades. The purpose of this forum is to give you a place to articulate your thoughts about the material as you read and think about it. It also offers additional forum for discussion for those who are less comfortable speaking in class, although we want everyone to make a sincere effort to participate in class as well. Your postings should be written in complete sentences with proper capitalization and punctuation (no “text-speak”).
Speaking of texting: don’t do it in class—ever.
Evaluation and Grading
Attendance and active participation are required at all class meetings and are conditions for successfully completing the course. Because class sessions are based on structured interactions between Russian and American peers, attendance is crucial. There will be 15 class meetings during the semester when we will meet together as a group via teleconference, and as many separate meetings of Russian and American students each week. Students with more than one absence will have their final grades lowered, and multiple absences will result in a significant lowering of the final grade.
Evaluation will be based on the following criteria:
45% Short papers and assignments
20% Postings to online discussion forum
10% Participation in class and with overseas partners
25% Final group project
Assignments and Final Research Project
Your evaluation in this course is based on frequent written responses to the course material (45+20=65%), on regular participation in class and with your partners (10%), and on a final project in which you will work with another student (or other students) in the class (25%). The point of these assignments is for you to engage with the material on a regular basis and to learn through communication with others while doing so. The point is never for you to produce “the right answer.” We will be discussing many controversial and contested issues this semester for which there is no correct answer
On that note, never feel that you need to “find information” on a given question and present it wholesale (e.g. lifted from the Internet), and never present anyone else’s written work as your own—that is plagiarism. Always feel free to discuss others’ ideas, both in your written work and in class, and to articulate your thoughts about the material in the various forums available.
Short papers. There will be three, four-page papers (approximately 600 words each) at the end of weeks 4, 9, and 14, due on Sept. 30, Oct 28, and Dec. 2. For these papers we will ask you to compare arguments, paraphrase and analyze sources and films, and conduct an informal survey a particular issue and summarize and analyze the responses. We will discuss the purpose and design of the short papers in class.
Final projects and work with overseas partners. During the second week of class you will sign up for a topic that you will research for the rest of the semester with a partner (or partners) for your final presentation. Topics for research projects will be posted to the course Website by September 12, and you will choose a topic by September 19. You will communicate with your partner(s) each week after September 19 about your chosen research topic and about the weekly reading assignments. Your research topic can be something that we will be covering in class that you would like to explore further, or it can be a new topic. There are many fascinating topics that we will not have time to cover in class (e.g., youth and religion, skin heads, teen suicide, pregnancy and abortion, military service, employment, consumer culture, the music industry) which you may choose from. Each group will work with research librarian Ashley Hanson in Information Services to develop and research your chosen topic.
You will give a final presentation with your partner(s) on your research topic during the last two weeks of class. Your presentation should be 12 to 15 minutes in length, and it should include a visual component (Power Point, data, images, etc.). After your presentation you will submit your visual presentation, a bibliography, and a narrative description (approx. two pages) of your work on the project, including a detailed record of your communications with your partner(s) and the dates on which they occurred. The project description should detail the evolution of your research, your own work on the project (i.e., what you did to contribute to the final presentation) and a summary of your findings. We will talk more about final research projects in class.
The Roth Writing Center at Connecticut College
The Writing Center provides one-to-one peer tutoring to Connecticut College students free of charge to help student writers of all abilities during all stages of the writing process. To make an appointment, call x2173 or stop by the Writing Center at 214 Blaustein. For further information, visit the Writing Center web page.
Students with disabilities
If you have a physical or mental disability, either hidden or visible, which may require classroom, test-taking, or other modifications, please let us know. If you are a Connecticut College student and have not already done so, please register with the Office of Student Disability Services in Crozier Williams (Room 221) or e-mail Barbara Mcllarky or Lillian Liebenthal.
Dates listed in bold indicate teleconference classes (held on Tuesdays); on Thursdays Russian and American students will meet separately.
WEEK 1 Introductions, group discussion
Sept. 6 Growing up in Russia and the United States: Events of Your Generation
In class: Goals of the course; Recent historical events in Russia and the U.S.
Sept. 8 Reading: Susan Richards, Lost and Found in Russia: NY: Other Press, 2009, pp. xv-xxi.; Timeline of United States history (Wikipedia) ; Mark McCrindle and Emily Wolfinger, “Generations Defined” in The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the Global Generations (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009), 1–22.
WEEK 2 Generational Conflict and the Family
Sept. 13 Reading: Ken Roberts, “Young People and Family Life in Eastern Europe,” in A New Youth? Young People, Generations, and Family Life (Ashgate: Abingdon GBR, 2006), 203–223; Michael Rosenfeld, Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same Sex Unions, and the Changing American Family (Introduction, pp. 1-17, Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 2007).
Sept. 15 Discussion
WEEK 3 Comparative Education Systems in Russia and the United States
Sept. 20 Reading: John Meyer, “The effects of education as an institution” in Sociology ofEducation: a Critical Reader, ed. Alan R. Sadovnik (NY: Routledge, 2007);
Sept. 22 Discussion of Values in Russian and American education systems
WEEK 4 Student Life
Sept. 27 Film: Bowling for Columbine (dir. Michael Moore, 2002)
Reading: A. L. Andreev, “Cultural Preferences of Today’s Russian College Students,” Russian Education and Society, vol. 51, no. 9 (Sept. 2009), pp. 51–69.
Sept. 29 Reading: Barrett Seaman, “Introduction” in Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You (2006), 1–16.
Shelly Ronan, “Grinding on the Dance Floor: Gendered Scripts and Sexualized Dancing at College Parties,” Gender and Society (2010) 24: 355.
Hilary Pilkington, “Doing the Moscow Shuffle: An Analysis of the Cultural Practices of a Moscow Tusovka,” in Russia’s Youth and Its Culture (1994), 171-222.
WEEK 5 School in Young Adult Literature
Oct. 4 Reading: Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak
Film: Everybody Dies But Me (dir. Valeriya Germanika, 2008)
Oct. 6 FALL BREAK – No class for American students; Russian students - consultation
Sun., Oct. 9 FIRST SHORT PAPER DUE BY 5:00 p.m.
WEEK 6 Literature about Young Adults
Oct. 11 Reading: Victor Pelevin, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
Oct. 13 Pelevin (continued)
WEEK 7 Youth and Politics
Oct. 18 Reading: Julie A. Corwin, “Russia: ‘A Youth Movement Needs A Leader’,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 21 April 2005.
Anselm Waldermann, “Russian Youth and the Putin Cult,” Spiegel Online International, 2 November 2007.
Gwen Ifill, “The Obama Generation: How Youth Trumped Race,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 15, 2009 (adapted from The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama)
Oct. 20 Readings: Jeffrey Mankoff, “Rethinking Russia: Generational Change and the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations,” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 63, No. 2 (spring-summer 2010), pp. 1-18.
WEEK 8 Youth Movements
Oct. 25 Reading: V. V. Gavriliuk, “The Gopniks as a Phenomenon in the Youth Community,” Russian Education and Society, vol. 53, no. 1 (Jan. 2011), pp. 28–37.
Oct. 27 Reading: Victoria Topalova, “In Search of Heroes: Cultural Politics and Political Mobilization of Youths in Contemporary Russia and Ukraine.” Demokratizatsiya (winter 2006).Vol. 14 Issue 1, p. 23-41.
WEEK 9 Youth on the Margins
Nov. 1 Film: Miss Gulag (dir. Maria Yatskova, 2007)
Nov. 3 Film: Precious (dir. Lee Daniels, 2009)
WEEK 10 Gender and Youth
Nov. 8 Reading: Michael Kimmel, Guyland, Ch. 3 Andrea Lanoux, “Laundry, Potatoes, and the Everlasting Soul: Russian Advice Literature for Girls after Communism” (forthcoming)
Nov. 10 O.V. Pospelova, “Models of Manliness,” Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia (summer 2010, Vol. 49 Issue 1, p. 46-55).
WEEK 11 Gender and advertising
Nov. 15 Viewing: Killing Us Softly 4
Nov. 17 Hilary Pilkington, et. al. Looking West? Cultural Globalization and Russian Youth Cultures (University Park: Penn State UP: 2002), excerpts
Dana Heller, “t.A.T.u. You! Russia, the global politics of Eurovision, and lesbian pop,” Popular Music (2007) Vol. 26/2, pp. 195–210
WEEK 12 Popular Culture and Media
Nov. 22 Viewing: Dreamworlds 3
Nov. 24 THANKSGIVING – NO CLASS
WEEK 13 Social Networking and the Internet
Nov. 29 Viewing: Michael Wesch, “An Anthropological Introduction to You Tube”
Dec. 1 Reading: “Больше половины россиян все еще не пользуются интернетом” Kate Althaus, “Social Media and the New Russian Youth” (Power Point)
Fri., Dec. 2 SECOND SHORT PAPER DUE BY 5:00 p.m.
WEEK 14 Student presentations
Dec. 6 Groups 1-3
Dec. 8 Groups 4-6
WEEK 15 Conclusions
Dec. 13 Last class – group discussion
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