Getting ready for a new academic year

Earlier this week, as I was preparing my syllabus for my introductory translation into English class, I thought I should blog a little about the changes I’m making to the course this year, in case this might interest other instructors or professors. So here is an overview of what worked well in this course last year, and what I’m hoping will work better this year.

What worked well last year and is going to be in the course again: Participation questions
Last year, I added a new component to my classes: every week or so, I would ask students an open-ended question based on either the current week’s lecture or a podcast/news article/website with a translation-related theme. I then gave them five or six minutes to write down their answers on a piece of paper, and when they were done, I invited them share their thoughts if they so desired and hand in their answers at the end of class. The discussion questions serve as a way of taking attendance, since students get full marks for answering the question and no marks if they are not in class on the day we discuss it. I liked these questions for three reasons: first, it gave me a way to digress from the main course format (short lecture, then take up homework) while still focusing on translation, second, because it allowed me to take attendance without actually doing so, which helped ensure students regularly attended class, and third, because having students write down their answers gave them time to think about the question and made more of them volunteer their answers during the discussion.

What I hope will work better: New take-home assignments
In past years, I’ve assigned two take-home translations of about 250 words, which students work on individually and submit within two weeks for about 25% of their final grade. Last winter, though, I added a new assignment and had students work in small groups to translate a large text for a not-for-profit organization. Feedback from the students after the assignment was really positive: they enjoyed translating an authentic text and liked the fact that a non-profit organization was benefiting. So this year, I’ll be having students pair up in the fall term to translate about 500 words for another non-profit, and in the winter, they’ll work in groups of 3-5 on 1000-2000-word texts so that they get more experience collaborating with others and working on longer documents. I’ll also be able to see whether students prefer working with Google Documents when they collaborate with one other student or when they work in small groups. I also want to see whether they get more out of Google Docs if they have to use it for two projects in two semesters, rather than just a large group project in March and April, as students did last year.

What’s not going to make it into the course this year: Google Wave
Last year, I mentioned my plans for comparing Google Docs and Google Wave as collaborative tools for student group translations. Early last month, however, Google announced that it would no longer be developing Wave as a stand-alone product and would instead “extend the technology for use in other Google projects.” Although they promise to keep the website live until at least the end of the year–and thus probably for my entire Fall course–I don’t want to spend the time familiarizing students with an application that is being discontinued. It’s a shame, really, as I saw some good potential in Wave as a tool for students to collaborate online on their translations, and I hoped it would make up for some of the shortcomings students mentioned last year when I asked them how they liked working with Google Docs. I’ll have to see whether there are other tools I have students use for the group assignment in the Winter term, but for now, it will likely be Google Docs again, with some more specific instructions to the students, to help mitigate the inconveniences Google Docs caused me when I was marking the assignments.

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