An experiment with student-led translation games

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been integrating two Reacting to the Past-themed games into my undergraduate theory of translation class for the past three years. While I’ve found the games a helpful way to have students participate in discussions, delve into complex theoretical texts, and learn about the historical context in which translation decisions are made, I wanted to try something a little different this term. In an effort to have students take a more active role in choosing the topics of our in-class debates, I played only one of the Reacting to the Past-themed games with my class and added an assignment entitled “Invent-a-Game”, where students were invited to develop a game that would:

  • Take about 30-45 minutes to play together in class
  • Focus on one of our weekly topic
  • Engage everyone in the class by finding a way for all students to participate
  • Help the class critically engage with the topic at hand
  • Include references to texts and real-world examples that were not listed on the syllabus

This assignment was experimental: It was the first time I’d asked students to create a game, and because I wasn’t sure how well it would work out, I offered students the option of preparing a 500-word Wikipedia article instead, if they preferred. This way, only students who were enthusiastic about developing a game would opt to do so, and I’d be able to decide whether the Invent-a-Game assignment should be included again next year (with or without modifications), or scrapped altogether. About a third of the class decided to prepare a game, while the other two thirds opted for the Wikipedia assignment instead (and I’ll have more to say about that in my next blog post).

Now that the semester is over, I can safely say that the Invent-a-Game assignment was largely successful: students were very engaged in playing the games, and the groups that did develop a game had very creative ideas for incorporating practical translation exercises, discussions, debates, and examples that were related to the themes we had been exploring in class. Here’s one example of a particularly successful game:

The Censorship Mini-Games
On Week 10, two students presented a game focusing on translation and censorship. They split the class into three teams and then played four mini-games, which the teams chose by spinning a colourful (and very sparkly) arrow to see where it landed: ballin’, a mini-game where one team was tossed a Styrofoam ball decorated with debate questions and then had to prepare either the “for” or “against” side of whichever debate question was face up when they caught the ball, need for speed, a mini-game where all three teams had to compete to see who could come up with the most answers to a question in the allotted time, pick-a-stick, a mini-game in which one team member chose a popsicle stick with a word or phrase and then had to work with their team to prepare an answer to a discussion question related to this word/phrase, and yay or nay, a mini-game where the game inventors read a contentious passage from a translation studies book or article and the teams had to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

When designing their game, this group prepared not only physical props including the oversize spin wheel, the Styrofoam ball with debate questions and thumbs-up/thumbs-down cards for the yay or nay mini-game, but also digital props like PowerPoint slides with images and examples to contextualize the discussion questions in the pick-a-stick and need for speed mini-games. For instance, when a student chose a popsicle stick with the word “healthcare” on it, the accompanying PowerPoint slide reminded students of the ethical dilemma discussed in Andrew Clifford’s article “Healthcare Interpreting and Informed Consent” (which we had read six weeks ago) and linked the issue with censorship so the team could more effectively prepare their response to the discussion question. Although the mini-games involved competitions between the teams, everyone in the class won an ample supply of the chocolate, candy and bubblegum rewards provided by the students who had developed the game.

Trying out student-led games this year has convinced me that games can be a viable alternative to student presentations in the classroom. I will definitely integrate the Invent-a-Game assignment into my Theory of Translation course again next year: I’ll incorporate more game-design resources into the curriculum, share some examples of the games that were developed this year, and spread the games out over the entire semester so students have a wider selection of topics to choose from.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging more about games in translation courses, as I’m working out some ideas for integrating game components into my introductory translation course this winter. But in the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone else who has experimented with games and gaming in their translation classes: was one game technique particularly successful? Would you do anything differently next time? How have students reacted?

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