Authenticity in the classroom

Last year, I posted a little about my experiment with community-service learning: having students translate texts for a non-profit organization so that they could use their learning to help out an organization that either does not have a budget for translation or which could use their translation budget to more directly support their cause. When we had finished our translation last year, I asked the students what they thought about working on more authentic texts like the HR manual we had just finished for Action contre la faim. Those who answered said that they were really happy their translations would actually be used for something and that they were helping a non-profit organization.

So this year, my Introduction to Translation into English students will be working in pairs to translate texts for Eau Vive, a non-profit organization based in France that works in Africa to help improve drinking water conditions. Next term, they’ll complete a group project similar to the one I assigned last year. Here’s what I learned from last year’s experiment and how I plan to improve the projects this year:

1. Google Docs
I’ve already posted two entries (here and here) about having students work with Google Documents to collaborate on their translations for Action contre la faim. Despite the disadvantages I noted in my second entry, I decided to have students work with Google Documents again this year. Two changes should help mitigate some of the disadvantages. First, the documents students will be translating are all separate pages for the Eau Vive website. One of the problems I had last year was that we were working on a large HR manual, which I had to divide up among the students and then paste back together again into a single file as I received the translations from each group. With 10 smaller, self-contained (yet closely related) texts (instead of a 40-page manual), I should be able to export the translations from Google Docs into a Word document and then make revisions more easily. Second, I’ve pointed out to students that Google Docs has an integrated chat feature, as many students last year complained that they had difficulty talking to their group members and working on the translation at the same time. Many of them didn’t notice the integrated chat feature because I hadn’t show it to them when I talked about using Google Documents. We’ll see whether students find collaboration a little easier this time around.

2. Progressive projects
Last year, I had students work in groups of 4-5 to translate anywhere from 1000-1250 words from the HR manual. I think this was more challenging than necessary because students had never really translated in groups before, and few of them had ever translated more than 250 words at a time. Many were reluctant to act as just revisers or just terminologists because they felt they should do some translating work. And I suspect that many found collaboration hard because they just weren’t used to working with other students on their translations. My hope is that by working in pairs during the fall term, students will be better prepared to work in groups in the winter. And, by translating 400-500 words, students will gradually get used to working on longer texts so that their group project won’t seem as intimidating.

I will be asking students about their experiences working with Google Documents this term, and I’ll write a post about whether there was a difference between last year’s group project and this year’s partner project. That should help show whether Google Docs is more effective for small groups or pairs of students, and whether students find it a more helpful tool for collaboration now that they know they can chat in real-time while working on their translations. Has anyone else used group or partner translation projects in their classes? If so, what were your experiences?

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