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Russian Studies on PubPub

Looking into how other MIT Language classes use PubPub in their classroom
Published onNov 29, 2022
Russian Studies on PubPub
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Dr. Emma Teng is not the only language teacher at MIT to use PubPub in the classroom. In spring 2022, Professor Elizabeth Wood and Dr. Maria Khotimsky enjoyed experimenting with PupPub in their course, “Introduction to Russian Studies. In the class, students look at pivotal moments in the country’s past that continue to shape its present-day culture by exploring seminal historical epochs and cultural figures, listening to voices from the past and their echoes in the present. As such, this class relies heavily on visual images, music, architecture, and art in addition to historical documents and literary works, as well as scholarly articles that ponder difficult moments in Russian history.

Khotimsky says:

PubPub allowed the students to gradually develop their topics and to overcome the fear of writing. As they developed their projects, they had an opportunity to "workshop" their ideas and to discuss their work progress. The ability to incorporate links to resources and to embed visual images (such as stills and images) enabled our students to create compelling essays on a range of topics in history and culture. For example, one student worked on the representation of Saint Petersburg in films from several decades and created thematic video compilations to represent different images of the city, which were then integrated into the written narrative. Writing with PubPub definitely afforded many opportunities for creativity and exploration. [1]

As part of the course, student select a topic of interest to create their own “gallery page” to share with the class that’s expanded upon throughout the semester with their classmates. Like in Three Kingdoms, the student work is not public to protect student privacy. But some examples of student topic projects include:

  • Arcade Games in Late USSR1

  • Punk in Russia and the Soviet Union

  • [title redacted]: Russian Censorship Machine, Then and Now

  • A Fung-Guide to Russian Mushroom Foraging2

  • Saint Petersburg: A Restless, Beautiful, and Evil City3

Course description: This is a project in progress for Spring 2022 semester course “Introduction to Russian Studies” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  This class explores various topics in Russian culture, history, arts, and traditions from Medieval to contemporary period. Throughout the semester, students will work on  on their gallery pages (“pubs”) to explore a topic in Russian culture through images and texts from different epochs to tell a story about this topic. You can see two sample gallery page examples created by the course instructors below. We will launch the page during our last class on May 10, 2022. Please come back and visit then! 

Two unpublished student project Pubs (aka Galleries) are shown: Arcade Games in the Late USSR, and Punk in Russia and the Soviet Union.

Screenshot of the course homepage.

Gearing up for the class, Khotimsky and Wood experimented with their community and created their own projects. They really enjoyed how easy it was to embed images and multimedia since much of their language and culture coursework depends on this type of embedded content.

Even though they recognized PubPub’s utility in teaching and learning, the functionality they were really excited about was using their community to facilitate student final essays. At the beginning of the term, the students were asked to think of a topic that excited them and to merely write a short paragraph about it. Throughout the course as they learned more about Russian history and culture, they engaged with each other’s Pubs, asking questions and generating discussion. Khotimksy notes that they really liked the annotation feature, but “because the students were so starved for human interaction, a lot of the comments were shared during the class in person.”

At the end of the semester, students had the opportunity to share their final projects to the class. Khotimksy recounts that she “could tell how proud they [were] of their work and how it had grown” throughout the class.

Students seemed to enjoy using PubPub too for the ability to keep adding and updating content, as well as creating spaces for horizontal conversations in the margins on their classmate’s work. At the end of the semester during the course review, one student commented, "Loved how we integrated culture into our history topics. Enjoyed the PubPub project and how we were able to closely interact with a topic of our choice. "

When the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in February 2022, class discussions shifted away from traditional “Russian studies” to topics of imperialism, the development of tsarist and Soviet bureaucracy, and Russian expansionist ideology. Students were curious to know what was going on, so the teachers helped students interpret videos and memes on their social media feeds.

In addition to these darker and critical themes, the class also explored food and had sampling days to immerse the students with Russian culture. Going forward, the professors are interested in trying to expand how they’ve used PubPub and would be interested in more learning tools, like self-check quizzes, built in to assess comprehension like in e-text books.

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