Since its inception in the wake of World War II, the language laboratory has struggled to contend with the vagaries of rapid technological change. With the rise of inexpensive mobile devices, ubiquitous wireless connectivity and a dizzying array of cloud-based applications, the language laboratory finds itself once again in danger of becoming a repository of underutilized technologies and multimedia resources. Yet this democratization of technology also provides the opportunity to escape the obligation of maintaining technological infrastructure. With this new cognitive (and financial) surplus, the language laboratory can now forge partnerships with language instructors focused on the production of Open Educational Resources (OER), broadly defined as materials distributed to the public at no cost.
This presentation will highlight work on Mezhdu nami (mezhdunami.org), a complete curriculum for first-year Russian organized around the experiences of four American students spending an academic year in the Russian Federation. The curriculum is the creation of faculty at three universities (Brown, Portland State and Columbia) working in close collaboration with the staff of the Academic Resource Center at the University of Kansas. It includes a multimedia-rich online textbook, a workbook in both paper and electronic formats, and a host of teacher materials, including lesson plans and sample tests.
As part of a larger group of OER projects, Mezhdu nami has helped to create an ecosystem that fosters both voluntarism and inter-institutional collaboration, allowing the project to be completed using existing budget lines. It provides a platform to train the first generation of born digital instructors and an opportunity for hands-on technology training for undergraduates. The production of these types of materials has also served as a catalyst to improve online teaching and to reconsider the nature of the 21st century classroom.