UNI class welcomes Russian partnership thanks to technology - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UNI class welcomes Russian partnership thanks to technology

CEDAR FALLS (KWWL) -- Technology is helping drive innovation in classrooms at the University of Northern Iowa.  Professor of Communication Studies Victoria DeFrancisco had never held a class through videoconferencing before Spring 2010, but connections she had made with educators in Russia, in addition to new technologies, sparked her interest.

"The Russian students are mostly language students learning English and interpretation and translation," DeFrancisco said.  Students in St. Petersburg and Moscow use the Internet twice a week to share a classroom with dozens of students at UNI.  The UNI students are in a class called Intercultural Communication held at the ITTC on the Cedar Falls campus.  DeFrancisco says the main focus of the class is to have conversation partners with people from another culture.

"We're actually doing intercultural communication while we learn about intercultural communication," DeFrancisco said.  Each student in the UNI class is partnered up with a Russian student.  They communicate via email, skype, facebook, etc. for a variety of reasons.  The UNI students get to learn about another society while breaking down stereotypes and the Russian students get to practice their conversational English skills.

"I've learned not only about Russian culture but a lot about our culture and how we communicate," UNI Senior Liz Cooney said.  Cooney is preparing to graduate and never thought she would be interested in visiting Russia.  However, after taking this class and learning about the culture, she would jump at an opportunity to see it for herself.

Maria Nifakina is a Graduate student at UNI.  She is a native of Russia and came to the U.S. for school.  She has been studying English for ten years and is excited to come to class and hear what is happening back home.  She says there have been hardships to overcome in the class, but that's to be expected with anything new. 

"This is the first time where I've used so much technology in class and not everything goes so smooth but it's understandable because three sites.. it's so far away," Nifakina said.

Videoconferencing with Russian classes at UNI started four years ago with a Russian History Class.  Intercultural Communication is a course only offered in the spring. 

"We're using the Internet and video conferencing technologies," Director of ITS Educational Technology Marilyn Drury commented.  "They're actually seeing and speaking and working with students in all these other communities."  Drury says the road to building this infrastructure began before the turn of the century.  The renovation project of the old East Gym, turning the building into a center for educational technology opened the doors of imagination in the classroom.

DeFrancisco says she plans to continue teaching with these new tools and hopes the connections overseas remain strong.

"So appreciative of the technology folks at UNI for making it possible and making sure the kinks are all worked out and that we're able to communicate. It is truly a team project and it wouldn't be happening if all the parts weren't working together," DeFrancisco said.

"I think this type of technology is going to be available in many more classrooms on campus here and that it's going to become something that's thought of as someone writing on a chalkboard years ago," Drury said.

Online Producer: Mike Verlo

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