Russian Professor Receives AT&T Instructional Technology Award of Excellence

Two courses taught by Shannon Spasova, assistant professor of Russian Studies, are being recognized among the best at Michigan State University when it comes to incorporating technology in ways that enhance teaching and learning.

 

Spasova has been named the 2016 recipient of the MSU AT&T Instructional Technology Award of Excellence for Best Course in Technology-Enhanced Learning Innovation for the study abroad modules she developed for RUS 201 (Second-Year Russian I) and RUS 202 (Second-Year Russian II), which are available to all students planning to travel to Russia on study abroad.

“What I wanted to do was identify situations that I found difficult when I studied abroad in Russia as an undergraduate, and then create lessons to familiarize students with these scenarios,” Spasova said. “Some examples are buying food in a store, traveling on a train, or using the interface of a Russian cell phone. Many of them are not very difficult, but because native speakers assume that how to behave in these situations is common knowledge, they can seem intimidating at first.”

What I wanted to do was identify situations that I found difficult when I studied abroad in Russia as an undergraduate, and then create lessons to familiarize students with these scenarios.

To develop the modules, Spasova collected pictures, audio, video, and objects from everyday situations when she traveled to Russia with the study abroad program in 2014. She then recreated them as closely as possible using Adobe Captivate and a few other tools.

“The software allowed me to recreate some of the contexts fairly closely, using the pictures, audio, and video I took in Russia,” Spasova said. “For example, I took a picture of the machine that you use to buy metro tickets and recreated it, asking students to understand what buttons they need to push to make a purchase. I was also able to personalize a lot using the software.”

In the train lesson, students choose a city  to go to and then type in their name. At the end of the lesson, it shows them a Russian train ticket with their name on it and the city they chose. Spasova tried to mimic "rewards" for performing tasks correctly, like success in buying a train ticket or a virtual cup of tea when they correctly make tea in the Russian style.

“I hope if students can become familiar with and practice what they need to do in these everyday situations that they will be successful early in their experience, which will give them the confidence to take advantage of their time in Russia as much as possible,” Spasova said. “Study abroad was a life-changing experience for me, and I hope that these lessons will help our students feel at home in Russia and allow them to fall in love with the culture and people like I did.”

A technology specialist in the Center for Language Teaching Advancement, Spasova has an interest in instructional design and technology in language teaching and received a master’s degree in Instructional Design in 2015. She also has a Ph.D. and M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a B.A. in Russian from Oberlin College.

Study abroad was a life-changing experience for me, and I hope that these lessons will help our students feel at home in Russia and allow them to fall in love with the culture and people like I did.

Initiated by IT Services and funded by AT&T, the annual AT&T Faculty-Staff Competition in Instructional Technology recognizes outstanding contributions to the use and development of instructional technology for teaching and learning at MSU and encourages best practices in the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

“I'm honored that my lessons were recognized by experts in instructional technology,” Spasova said. “I had a lot of fun making the lessons and hope to continue developing my skills.”

The 2016 MSU AT&T Instructional Technology Awards of Excellence will be presented at a luncheon Thursday, April 14, at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center.