Reacting to the Past Game 1 completed

In an earlier post, I discussed my plans to create two Reacting-to-the-Past-inspired games for the undergraduate theory of translation class I’ll be teaching in the fall.

One of these games is based on the development of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian standard for translation. With roles for up to 29 students (though if necessary, the game could accommodate about 50 students if each role were played by partners instead of individuals), the game involves students representing the three types of organizations that sat on the drafting committee: general interest groups (e.g. academic institutions, professional associations and language technology companies), Translation Service Providers of varying sizes, and government and corporate users of translation services. Players need to present proposals for four of the six issues that were covered by the standard: Human resources, technical resources, quality management systems and the translation process. The game is organized to be played over 5 weeks, with 1.5 hours of gameplay each week for the first four weeks, and 30-40 minutes in the final week as the game is wrapped up. Descriptions of two written assignments related to the game are also provided. The goals are threefold: 1) To help students reflect on the standards for professional translations, the qualifications of professional translators, and the effects of these kinds of standards on those who work within the language industry and those who purchase language services, 2) To encourage students to critically apply arguments offered by various approaches to translation (functional theories, discourse, register analysis, etc.), in line with the position(s) of the organizations they represent, and 3) To provide a forum for students to use various argumentation techniques to debate with opponents.

I’ve just finished writing the instructions for the game, which consist of a 7-page overview of the game for students, a 16-page list of objectives for the various groups and individual players involved in the game, and a 3-page guide for instructors. To help encourage others to try out the Reacting to the Past model in a translation class, I thought I would offer to make these materials available to anyone who’s interested. Just email me or leave a comment below, and I’ll share PDFs with you, under an Attribution-NonCommercial Creative Commons license, which allows you to tweak and build upon this work non-commercially, provided you acknowledge me as the source of the materials. In keeping with the spirit of this license, I should mention again that I’ve based the format of this game largely on the Reacting to the Past session offered by University of Alberta law professors James Muir and Peter Carver at Congress 2012 in Waterloo two months ago. The session was designed to recreate (to a certain extent) the Quebec Conference of 1864, and participants were assigned roles from one of the delegations at the conference (Tories, bleus, Reformers, Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers, etc.). Muir and Carver were generous enough to provide all the documentation they’d prepared for the game, so although the context of the two games is completely different, the formats are very similar. I expect the planning would have taken longer if I had not had their material as a guide, so I’m very grateful for the experience these two professors had to offer.

I’d love to get feedback from others and/or to find someone else interested in adapting the Reacting to the Past model for Translation Studies, so please get in touch if you’d like to collaborate with me on this or other possible games. After I finish the documentation for the next game (involving Luther’s William Tyndale’s translation of the bible), I’ll write another post about it and make the materials available to anyone who’s interested.

On online learning

An editorial I came across in the Toronto Star earlier this week, via a Tweet from Marco Fiola,* pans a discussion paper recently released by the Ontario government. Heather Mallick, the Star columnist who wrote the piece, criticizes various aspects of the discussion paper. She objects, for instance, to the paper’s openness to the Bologna Process, which helps ensure university credits and degrees can be easily recognized by institutions in various countries but which also sets the length of time required to complete an undergraduate university degree to three years. More particularly, though, she is extremely critical of the discussion paper’s emphasis on online learning:

The greatest danger is the report’s warm welcome to online study. It’s one thing to get an online degree if you live in Yellowknife but quite another for the rest of us. You learn from the hard slog of long afternoons spent in classrooms with brilliant people. You learn to read and understand and read further. You learn to evaluate and criticize and think for yourself.

You won’t get this fast, alone and on the cheap, but that is precisely what the government is planning and what employers are hoping for: dumbed down labour for underpaid jobs. Professors should fear it, but students should fear it more. If you want to sit alone in a room for years “studying” online and come out pale, shaky and Fifty Shades of Dim, this report is for you.

But it is not for anyone who values genuine education. […]

I have to say that I was disappointed to see Mallick express such a negative view of online learning. I’ve spent the summer working as an e-learning coach at York University’s Glendon campus, where I teach translation during the fall and winter terms. At the moment, the School of Translation is launching a two-year Master of Conference Interpreting program, the first year of which will be offered online. As the e-learning coach, my job has been to research best practices for online learning and to collaborate with the IT department, a dozen course developers, and the program director to help find ways to adapt exercises, tests, assignments and course content to an online environment. This means I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months researching online learning, and I’ve learned a lot about both its strengths and weaknesses.

So I was disappointed first that Mallick’s editorial didn’t offered a more nuanced critique of the government’s positive view of online learning. After all, the discussion paper recommends:

online degree and diploma options to serve students who prefer to learn online, lifelong learners, and students with dependents who are unable to easily and physically attend campuses

In other words, the discussion paper acknowledges that online learning is not for everyone; however, online courses can be very advantageous for those who enjoy technology, who are looking for a more flexible learning schedule and environment, who may live far from a university or college campus that offers a particular program, etc. Many of the students in the online course I taught last year at Glendon were thrilled to be able to commute to campus one fewer time each week, to be able to (re)watch lectures whenever they wanted, and to submit their homework and responses to discussion questions within a set but flexible deadline. Some, of course, said they would have preferred to have been taught in a traditional classroom, but that just supports the discussion paper’s recommendations to encourage online learning where possible and where desired; some people will always want face-to-face interaction, while others don’t mind, and may even prefer, virtual meetings.

Moreover, taking online courses (and even online degrees) does not, as Mallick contends, prevent students from “learn[ing] from the hard slog of long afternoons spent in classrooms with brilliant people.” (As if brilliant people are not to be found in online courses). Mallick ignores the fact that online learning can take place both synchronously (i.e. with instructors and students meeting together at the same time in a virtual classroom) or asynchronously (i.e. with students and instructors not meeting together at a pre-set time). While both methods allow students to interact with one another, synchronous learning allows students to engage in discussions with their instructors and their peers in real-time, just as they would in a traditional classroom, but with the advantage of being able to do so from home, the office, an Internet café, a park, or anywhere else with a wi-fi connection. Even an online course taught mainly asynchronously allows students to reflect on the course material and engage with their instructor and peers via text (e.g. discussion boards) or audio and video (e.g. podcasts or recorded responses); however, they can do so from home at a time that is most convenient to each student. While it’s true that a discussion that unfolds over the course of a week is very different from one that takes place in person for fifteen minutes or half an hour, this doesn’t mean that online learning is disadvantageous or that online students are not learning to read and think critically. In fact, asynchronous discussions allow a student to reflect on his or her responses for a longer period of time before responding. They also allow a wider range of voices to be heard, since time in the classroom may be limited and not everyone will get a chance to speak.

Mallick also ignores the fact that online and in-the-classroom teaching can be combined into what’s known as blended or hybrid learning. In fact, a 2010 report on online learning published by the US Department of Education concluded that blended learning was often more effective than traditional face-to-face instruction. Although the report cautioned that instructors and content, rather than the method of delivery, largely determine the success of a course, and that blended/hybrid learning was preferable to entirely online courses, it did note that online courses were generally more effective than those taught in person “when students in the online condition were engaged in instructor-led or collaborative instruction rather than independent learning; and when the curricular materials and instruction varied between the online and face-to-face conditions” (2010: 72). I think this conclusion offers a good summary of what is wrong with Mallick’s sweeping condemnation of online learning for “the rest of us”: when an instructor is engaging, students are encouraged to collaborate with their classmates, the course content is intellectually stimulating and the material is delivered effectively, students should be able to “learn to evaluate and criticize and think for [themselves]”, regardless of whether they are studying in a virtual or an online classroom.

*As an aside, I’ve finally started using the Twitter account I had created last year but left dormant for months. I’m @jmdolmaya, in case anyone is interested in following me there.

Introducing Translation Studies, 3rd edition

A few weeks ago, Routledge sent me a copy of the latest edition of Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies, which I’ll be using in the fall with my undergraduate theory of translation course (in combination with the Reacting to the Past method I’ve already discussed here). We’ll be publishing a review of the book in the March 2013 issue of The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, but in the meantime, I thought I’d write a short review of my own here.

So what has changed since the last version of the book, which was published four years ago? Visually, this third edition, released in February 2012, is quite appealing: it uses both blue and black text throughout, which makes navigating through the chapters much easier. It’s also been expanded: the 2008 edition, which was also smaller in size, was 236 pages, while this one is 366. Although a new chapter, which discusses how to apply theory to translation commentaries and research projects, accounts for most of the extra pages, the other chapters generally contain new material as well.

As with the 2nd edition, a companion website has been prepared to accompany the book. There, students will find material to accompany every chapter–typically an introductory video, a series of multiple-choice questions, recommendations for further reading and suggestions for related research projects. While the book itself includes some of these same features (reading list and research project topics), the online material is different enough that students will find a visit to the website helpful. For instructors, the companion website offers free access to journal articles related to each chapter (annotated by Jeremy Munday), along with PowerPoint presentations that cover the main points of every chapter. I’m torn, though, as to whether these PowerPoints are an advantage or disadvantage: on the one hand, new instructors will likely find the files helpful; the slides can be customized, and the fact that the main points are already summarized in the presentations will help save some preparation time. On the other hand, a PowerPoint lecture is, at least in my view, a fairly boring way to present the material, and, as others have argued (e.g. Bligh 1998), lecturing alone is not an effective way to help students learn. For this reason, I would have liked to have seen Munday suggest different ways of integrating the content of his book into a translation theory class. For instance, the website could have offered activities related to each chapter’s content, additional case studies that could be analyzed together in class, or even recommendations for integrating various technologies (e.g. Twitter, blogs, wikis) into the classroom to help students reflect on and apply the material in the book. (For those who are interested, The Chronicle has published a number of articles discussing how professors have integrated these kinds of technologies into their classes, which could provide some inspiration for translation studies professors. Here’s one describing a professor’s experience allowing students to ask questions in class via Twitter, another offering advice on teaching with Twitter, and one more discussing how to integrate blogs into the classroom).

Companion website aside, this new edition of Introducing Translation Studies definitely has more to offer than the 2008 volume. In the new media chapter, for instance, Munday has been able to briefly address topics like crowdsourcing, fan-subbing and activist translation, three subjects that are increasingly popular of late, judging by the number of books and journals that have recently focused on these issues (e.g. the upcoming issue of The Translator focusing on non-professional translation, the 2011 issue of Linguistica Antverpiensia on community translation, or the 2010 book Translation/Interpreting and Social Activism). Students interested in cognitive approaches to translation will likely appreciate the new addition to Chapter 4, which discusses some of the ways of conducting observational research. While I would have liked to see additional case studies related to some of this new material (either in the book or on the companion website), the updated reading lists and discussion of new trends in translation studies make switching to the third edition worthwhile.

Bligh, Donald. (1998). What’s the Use of Lectures? Exeter: Intellect.

Highlights from Congress 2012 (Part 2)

The theme for this year’s CATS conference was “Translation, Texts, Media”, which led to an interesting and very diverse program covering topics ranging from dubbing, subtitling, audio description and oral translation to collaborative/crowdsourced translation, digital poetry, and pseudotranslation.

Unfortunately, I had to leave earlier the conference than I’d intended, so I missed some presentations I wanted to hear. Nonetheless, I did enjoy several presentations, three of which I thought I’d briefly discuss here.

The first was University of Ottawa professor Elizabeth Marshman’s presentation on LinguisTech, a website filled with technology-related resources such as tutorials for translation tools (corpora, term extractors, text aligners, search engines, word processors, etc.), blogs, discussion forums, and grammar, translation and style tips. I’ve heard Elizabeth speak before about the tutorials, as she helped develop them for University of Ottawa students. The resources are now available to the general public, and they’re definitely something undergraduate translation students should make use of. Professors will likely find the resources helpful too, as they can pass out the tutorials in class without having to spend time preparing the materials themselves.

Another very interesting presentation was by Philippe Caignon, from Concordia. As a follow-up to his earlier talk on integrating blogs into the classroom (which I discussed in this 2010 post), Philippe spoke about integrating wikis into his terminology course. As he argued, wikis are often used by companies like Hydro-Québec for terminology management, so incorporating wikis into the classroom helps expose students to a technology they might need to use in the workplace. Some of the advantages to wikis are similar to those I’ve discussed already when I’ve blogged about integrating Google Docs into the classroom: students can collaborate with one another and easily revise one another’s work. One advantage to the wiki platforms Philippe was using (TermWiki and PmWiki) is that he was able to receive alerts whenever a student modified a term entry. This meant he didn’t have to scroll through the revision history to track student contributions (something that is still a fairly time-consuming activity in Google Docs). For professors who aren’t teaching terminology courses but who would like to integrate wikis into their courses, Philippe mentioned wikispaces as a free, customizable platform. Definitely worth checking out!

Finally, I really enjoyed listening to Université de Moncton’s Mathieu Leblanc speak about his ethnographic study of translator attitudes toward translation memory systems. His work, though still in an introductory phase, is really crucial to shedding more light on the workplace practices of professional translators and how these practices have changed over time. Mathieu conducted interviews with salaried translators and on-site field observations at three Atlantic-Canada translation companies. In his presentation, he discussed some of the respondents’ views about segmentation in translation memories, as well as their perceptions of how their translation habits have been affected by the software. Since Mathieu had only begun to analyze the vast amount of data he collected, I’m looking forward to his future publications on the topic, as this is an area with important implications for translator training and workplace practices. It even contributes to creating a history of contemporary workplace practices, which would be invaluable for future Translation Studies researchers.

All in all, the conference was a great experience this year. I’m looking forward to next year’s conference in Victoria, B.C., on science in translation. I’m hoping to have time to return to Wikipedia’s translators, and study how scientific articles have been translated and revised within the encyclopedia, given that my 2011 survey indicated many English Wikipedia translators have no formal training in translation.

Highlights from Congress 2012 (Part 1)

I’ve just returned from the 2012 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which I attended mainly for the 25th annual CATS conference. This year, Congress was held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. Now that I’m back, I thought I’d write two short posts about some of the presentations I enjoyed. This post will focus on a session I attended outside CATS, and the next will focus on three presentations I found particularly interesting during the CATS conference.

To follow up on my earlier post about role-playing in the classroom, I was particularly happy to have been able to get to Waterloo a day early so I could attend the Reacting to the Past session offered by University of Alberta law professors James Muir and Peter Carver as part of the Canadian History Association’s annual meeting. The session was designed to recreate (to a certain extent) the Quebec Conference of 1864, and participants were assigned roles from one of the delegations at the conference (Tories, bleus, Reformers, Nova Scotians, New Brunswickers, etc.). Something I really appreciated about the session–apart from being able to see a Reacting to the Past game actually being played–was the fact that Muir and Carver provided participants and observers with detailed documentation that outlined the rules and goals of the game, the objectives of each group, the points and voting mechanisms, and the grading system. I also had a helpful chat with James Muir after the session to ask some questions about game play mechanics, such as how much class time should be spent on a game (he recommended between 1.5 and 2 hours per session) and how instructors could assess a student’s participation (he recommended, for instance, marking students on their engagement with the game, their attempt to understand their character, their attempt to consult texts other than assigned readings, and their effort to respect the pedagogical purpose of the game by playing fairly rather than trying to gain points without caring about the content of the proposals they submit). On a less positive note, however, the documentation they provided really opened my eyes to the amount of preparation involved in creating a game: The document students receive is nearly 20 single-spaced pages long, and any game that follows a similar format will require nearly as much detail before it can be integrated into a classroom.

Nonetheless, based on this session, and the documentation Muir and Carver helpfully provided, I’ve been working a game for my undergraduate Theory of Translation course this September. It will be based on the development of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian standard for Translation Services and will allow us to consider questions like what qualifications professional translators should have and what effects standards have on the language industry and its clients. It will also allow students to apply theoretical approaches like skopos, and discourse or register analysis when they make their arguments.

I’ve also realized that a game like the one demonstrated at Congress takes about 4-6 hours to play, spread out in 1.5-2 hour sessions spanning about 4 weeks. That means I’d need to create 1 or 2 other games if I want to focus the entire 13-week Theory of Translation course on learning through role-playing. The other two scenarios I’ve been mulling over are one of the early controversies over biblical translation (e.g. Luther) to help students debate the source- vs. target-oriented approaches to translation and consider the various effects translation can have in a society, and the the controversy over a Galician translator’s “sexist” translation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which I mentioned in my last post on this topic. This particular controversy would allow the class to explore not just feminist approaches to translation, but also ethical, cultural and linguistic issues.

My main idea behind having three different games is to ensure that each one focuses on themes from specific chapters of Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies, allowing us to apply the concepts discussed in the books via the game that unfolds over the course of 2-4 weeks. I’ll lecture for 1-1.5 hours, and then we’ll play the game for the remaining 1.5-2 hours. I think this will be a good way to apply translation theories and to help students develop their argumentation skills. I’ll write a follow-up post in April, once I’ve had a chance to use the games in the classroom and see what the students thought.

Role playing in the classoom

A message I received via the H-Canada listserve piqued my interest the other day. It invited anyone attending the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Kitchener/Waterloo later this month to participate in a session demonstrating the Reacting to the Past model of game-based teaching. Having never heard of game-based teaching, I did some searching and came across Bernard College’s Reacting to the Past website, which describes the approach. In addition to including videos demonstrating game-based teaching in the history classroom, the site contains various documents that explain the pedagogical approach in detail, such as this PDF.

Here’s how the website explains the approach:

Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills.

As the above quote suggests, the goal of the games is to have each student defend a position consistent with the historical person they have been assigned to play. Each student must therefore learn to express his or her ideas persuasively not only in oral presentations to the class, but also in written assignments that are shared with the class (e.g. via discussion boards or hard copy) in an effort to sway the opinions of other students. While the official RTTP program involves teaching with published games books that focus on specific historical people and periods (e.g. Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament, Athens in 403 BCE), the general approach could be adapted for other contexts, including an undergraduate translation studies course. I can think of many translation-related situations that could be taught via the game model. For instance, instructors using books like Introducing Translation Studies or The Translation Studies Reader as part of the curriculum probably spend at least one class discussing translation theories prevalent prior to the twentieth century. A game focusing, for instance, on Martin Luther’s or William Tyndale’s translations of the bible would allow students to explore the source-oriented vs. target-oriented arguments from the point of view of the translators, the religious institutions and the public at a specific point in history. As the game rules stipulate, students would be required to study texts from that period to help them formulate opinions and arguments. During the game, students are permitted to cite only sources published prior to the historical period they are enacting; however, during the “post-mortem” phase after the game is over, students are expected to reflect on the game and its results from their own, more modern perspective.

The pre-twentieth-century cases are not the only ones that could be adapted to the games model. One could also, for instance, select a controversy that has been discussed in the news, such as the lawsuit launched over a Galician translator’s “sexist” translation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and create a game that revolves around the historical and cultural context in which that controversy arose. Students would then have to play the roles of the people involved in these events, defending their views based on the first- and second-hand sources the students have consulted. The goal is not to reconstruct the exact chain of events: Reacting to the Past games “may depart from the actual events and outcomes of the past”, as the Pedagogical introduction explains. To win the game, each student is attempting to achieve specific objectives associated with the person they are pretending to be–objectives that are assigned by the instructor at the start of the game and which are known only by the instructor and that specific student. The players must win debates and sway characters whose opinions have not been pre-defined by the instructor but who are instead representing a “typical” person of that historical period. In a case like that of the Galician translator, one way to incorporate a game into the classroom would be to have the translator and the publisher plead their case to a judge. Students would then be able to take on various roles: that of the translator, the publisher, the author, the lawyer(s), the judge, the representatives from professional translator associations, etc. Players would be trying to persuade the judge of their position, and he or she would render a verdict at the end of the game. Consistent with the guidelines for Reacting to the Past games, students would be marked on their oral presentations and their written work, with a focus on the suitability of references that were consulted, whether these texts were interpreted in a way that is consistent with the role the student is playing, and whether the student’s arguments are strong.

The entire course needn’t rest on the game, which could, depending on the number of students involved, require six or seven hours of classroom time, spread over several weeks. One option is for the game to replace traditional student presentations–since a large component of the game involves oral debates–and help make the classes more dynamic. One advantage of the games approach is that students should be able to develop their argumentation skills because their work is shared with their classmates, allowing each student to build their own arguments on the basis of the work their classmates have submitted (either on the course website or in oral debates). I hope to attend the session at Congress to see how the game approach works in practice, but I am considering integrating at least one game into the undergraduate translation theory course I’ll likely be teaching next year. If I do, I’ll prepare another post to discuss how the games worked in a translation studies–instead of a history–course.

Student presentations in the classroom

Whenever I’m getting ready to teach a translation course, at either the graduate or undergraduate level, I run into the same problem as I prepare my course outlines: I spend several hours debating whether to incorporate student presentations into the course requirements. This happens mainly when I’m teaching theoretical courses, but it’s a dilemma that also used to come up as I was planning practical, undergraduate courses, until I abandoned student presentations as a classroom technique about two years ago.

On the one hand, presentations help students develop skills that will serve them well in the future. For undergraduate translation students intent on pursuing a career in the language industry, practicing presentations in the classroom should (ideally) help them after they leave the university and find themselves in situations where they need to speak to small or large groups of people. Someone who has grown comfortable doing a presentation in front of a classroom of students should be able to more confidently offer and justify their opinions in boardroom meetings, talk with potential clients, employers or co-workers at social functions, and be more conscious of how to express their ideas clearly and succinctly. For graduate students, who may also want to pursue a career in academia, in-class presentations are good practice for conferences, thesis defenses, teaching assistantships, etc. On the other hand, many students don’t seem sure how to do a presentation that will engage their audience and succinctly explain their ideas.

After several years of students reading directly from PowerPoint slides, handouts, or computer screens as they tried to show the class a new tool, website, or research technique, I abandoned in-class presentations in practical, undergraduate classes; I felt classroom time could be more effectively spent via group discussions or question-and-answer sessions than by presentations. I hesitated for quite some time this year as I planned my graduate courses, and I eventually reserved some classroom time for student presentations. I still feel, though, that the presentations weren’t as effective as they could have been, and I think that if I take a few steps to guide students through the process, the results could probably be much better next year.

Until now, I’d been assuming that students would take the initiative of attending one of the university’s various workshops on presentation skills if they felt unsure of themselves. But I think a more proactive role on my part is needed if student presentations are to become a valuable classroom tool. Next year, when I teach two theoretical translation courses, I will have students briefly present some of the texts we’re studying. As always, I will explain the goals of the presentation (to summarize the key theoretical ideas from an academic text, and to present these key ideas in a way that will engage their peers). But I will also suggest some specific presentation techniques they should follow. Here are two I’m considering:

The first is called Pecha Kucha. This Wired magazine article (and its accompanying video) provides a brief overview of this type of presentation, which involves speakers presenting 20 slides in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. In Pecha Kucha presentations, PowerPoint slides are automatically set to advance every 20 seconds, so speakers must carefully rehearse to ensure they’re keeping pace with the slides. In addition, each slide is supposed to contain not a summary of the points the speaker will cover, but rather an image that will help listeners focus on the point in question. I see some good potential for this technique in the classroom. Although the suggested 20 sides x 20 seconds format results in a presentation under 7 minutes, there’s no reason why students couldn’t be allowed to work with a few more slides or a few more seconds per slide. A 10-15 minute presentation could therefore adhere to the following format: seven or eight minutes to present the material, and seven or eight minutes of discussion.

The second is a question-and-answer format. The presenter would have to devise 5-6 questions that address key theoretical issues arising from an academic article. The questions would then be posed to the class so the student could discuss the author’s views while giving students a chance to offer their own perspectives. For instance, someone presenting James Holmes’ “The name and nature of Translation Studies” might ask students “Can you think of any categories we could use to describe the kind of research involved in Translation Studies?” The presenter could then compare the categories devised by the class with those proposed by Holmes. In theory, the student should summarize the main arguments in the article in about 15 minutes without having to lecture non-stop to the class.

I’ll be looking for additional presentation techniques so that I can compile a list of them to offer to my students next year. We may also spend some time together in class watching one or two language-related TEDTalks so we can discuss what makes a presentation effective and students can then offer some of their own ideas for the in-class presentations. Part their presentation marks will be based on how well they have applied one or more of these techniques. I’ll follow-up on this post next year, to discuss whether the in-class presentations were a more effective classroom tool than they’ve been in the past.

A Tale of Two Online Courses, Part II

In my last post discussing my experiences teaching two online courses in the Fall semester, I looked at audio vs. video delivery of content, as well as strict vs. flexible deadlines. In this post, I’m going to discuss the various methods I tried for giving feedback to and getting feedback from students, and I’ll also look at some of the suggestions students offered for future online courses. I hope either (or both) of these topics are useful for others who may be preparing to teach an online translation course in the near future.

1. Feedback
Over the past few years, I’ve attended conference presentations by instructors who have integrated online feedback mechanisms into their classes. I blogged about Philippe Caignon’s presentation at CATS in 2010 and Barry Slaughter Olsen’s presentation at the Monterey FORUM in 2011. Both talks were very helpful while I was planning out how I would have students provide feedback to one another in the online courses, and how I would then mark this feedback.

First, the online undergraduate specialized translation course. Student participation marks (25% of the final grade) were broken down into three components: responding to discussion questions (10 marks), posting translations of the weekly homework assignment (8 marks), and leaving feedback on another student’s translation (7 marks). Marks were awarded based on completion, although I did include a few stipulations in the course outline. Students were expected to provide one negative and one positive comment about another student’s translation, and were asked to be respectful of other students when posting comments. I suggested that criticisms be constructive but also highlight something good about the translation (e.g. “I like how you tried to capture the oral nature of the source text, but I don’t think your translation of the word “québécois” works here because it doesn’t reflect the speaker’s separatist leanings”). I also indicated that no marks would be awarded for rude or irrelevant comments. As long as a student’s comments meet these fairly broad criteria, the student was given a mark for participation.

Initially, I did try to suggest specific aspects of the translations students could try to comment on, but as the semester went on and I got busier, I often forgot to provide those suggestions, and students were mainly left to try to find something to discuss when providing peer-to-peer feedback, which can be challenging, as several students noted:

While I understand it’s difficult to measure participation in this class, I didn’t really like the “comment on other people’s work” aspect, because we’re all very Canadian and as such unlikely to really criticize or say anything too strongly (not that anything needs to be said necessarily, but it’s all touchy feely as a result).

I felt that there was a few too many participation marks focused on giving feedback on others’ translations. I felt a bit forced to search through others’ translations and find something wrong with them, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I also wasn’t comfortable with posting my discussion questions for all to see as I generally prefer to keep some parts of my work private, especially those that involve opinions, reflections and analysis. I personally would have preferred to submit my answers to discussion questions directly to the professor. At the same time, I did like the fact that we posted our homework translations and could see the translation work of others because it was helpful to see the countless other ways that students translated source texts. These, to me, are the downsides of this course and probably many other online courses.

The concept of giving feedback on our peers’ translations was a good one, but I don’t think the method was as effective as it could be. Personally, I feel that some of the comments I received (and gave!) were not that helpful. Perhaps many of us, in commenting, had to search the translation for good/bad elements to report that otherwise would not have stood out to us. I don’t think this method was as effective as our classroom discussions on our peers’ translation (when you showed them on the screen projector via WebCT) because here, there was no obligation for us to read through multiple translations—we found one, commented on it, and forgot about. Also, I never received a notification telling me when someone had commented on my translation, so there was no incentive (or reminder) for me to look back and see what the other person wrote.

Overall, I did feel the feedback aspect of the course worked, although not perfectly. First, it took quite a few hours to mark this aspect of the course. Although I had a teaching assistant to help, she spent about 60 hours over the course of the term adding up participation marks and leaving comments for students who had not received feedback from their peers. I’m very grateful for her help, because that meant I was able to focus on other aspects of the course, but if I’d been doing this on my own, adding up the marks would have been very time-consuming. Second, as the above quote illustrates, the limitations of the forum plugin I was using meant that students did not get notifications when someone left a comment on their homework. Thus, some of the comments may not have even been read, particularly if they were posted four or five days after the translation was submitted. Finally, some students felt a little lost as they were commenting, so they probably would have appreciated more regular guidance from me about what specifically they should look for. Here are some of the suggestions students had for resolving some of the peer-to-peer feedback problems:

One improvement I might suggest is to try a different method for us to comment on other students’ translations. Maybe you could post two discussion questions per week, one would be the same type of question you usually post and the other would be an exerpt of our translation work for the week (from maybe three students). Then, all students could post a comment on this translation in the same interface as we currently use for the discussion questions.
If you retain the current structure for commenting, another suggestion would be to have notification messages sent to us (if possible) to let us know when someone has commented our work. As for the incentive, you could require students to physically click on the response they receive on their translation (if this can be tracked in the current interface) before they receive their participation mark.

This might be difficult to coordinate, but in the future I think it might be a good idea to pair people up to review each other’s work. Let’s say we all get a partner for three weeks and we review each other’s work, that would also give us good exposure to someone else’s style. As opposed to picking a random person every week, which can be a little less personal.

While I like the first suggestion because it would provide a way of focusing the discussion on specific problems, the second suggestion would be a little harder to coordinate. I had considered pairing students up, but I wondered whether it would end up causing too many headaches since one of the partners might not post their homework on time (or at all), which would inhibit the second student from commenting (and receiving their participation marks for the week). Assigning students to groups of 3-4 might help solve this problem, but it would still require coordination on a regular basis–something I’d be ready to do in the future, now that most of the course material has been prepared.

As for the feedback in the theoretical master’s course, it didn’t work out as well because of the deadline problem I mentioned in my previous post. I asked students to respond to weekly discussion questions (10 questions worth 5% of their mark), to leave feedback for their peers on the critical summaries they were required to post on the course website (3-4 comments worth 5%), and to respond to any feedback they received (5%). Unfortunately, because I hadn’t set deadlines for submitting the critical summaries (students were required to prepare 3 of them over the course of the term), most students didn’t post their summaries until the last week of class. This meant, of course, that students didn’t post feedback for their peers (since virtually no summaries were posted) and that it was therefore not usually possible for them to respond to the feedback. To really have peer-to-peer feedback work, I think it requires set deadlines, and significant percentage of the final mark earmarked for the participation. Otherwise, there isn’t much incentive to participate, particularly given the extra self-motivation an online course requires compared to a course that takes places in a classroom.

2. General suggestions for future online courses
While I didn’t get the detailed feedback from my master’s students that I got from my undergraduate, I think many of the suggestions the undergraduates made could apply to various online courses: several students asked whether future students could be automatically notified by email about new posts and other important content. The fact that several of them raised this same point and no one mentioned that they had subscribed to the website’s RSS feed made me realize I will have to more clearly point out this feature in the future. I’ll also have to look for a discussion forum plugin that provides more notification options than Mingle Forum, the plugin I’m currently using.

Another suggestion that came up was for more collaborative homework assignments, such as when I asked students to contribute to a Google Docs spreadsheet glossary one week. These take a while to plan, so I didn’t include many, but it’s definitely an area that could be improved, and it would help take advantage of the online format of the class, allowing students to collaborate on their own schedule.

Another student suggested having students comment on their own homework periodically so they could explain how they were trying to apply the theories and strategies we discussed in class. That would provide a good way to extend the discussion questions for each topic.

Overall, I think the online undergraduate course went well. Most of the student comments about the online experience were positive. Only a few students said they still would have preferred to have had learned in a classroom. The others were happy about the flexibility the online option offered them to fit another class into schedules that already included full- or part-time jobs, family and other courses. The master’s course was less successful, and I think if it is offered online again, I will adapt some of the suggestions and successes (particularly those that apply to deadlines and peer-to-peer feedback) from the undergraduate course for use in this one. Has anyone had similar experiences in the virtual classroom?

A Tale of Two Online Courses, Part I

Now that the fall term is over and I’ve (finally!) finished marking the tests, assignments and essays that were submitted during the last week of classes, I’m ready to sit down and write a few blog posts about my experiences in the (virtual) classroom over the past 13 weeks. Among the courses I taught this term were two that were offered online: one, a practical specialized translation course for undergraduate students, and the other, a theoretical Translation Studies course for graduate students. Although they were designed and delivered in a similar way, I thought the undergraduate course was much more successful. In this series of posts, I’ll be discussing why the two courses had such different results.

In this post, I’ll focus on two aspects the courses: content delivery and deadlines

1. Content delivery: Video vs. audio
As a platform for the two courses, WordPress worked out better than WebCT or Moodle, both from my point of view (creating and uploading the content, managing discussions, organizing information, etc.) and from the student’s (finding information, accessing videos, leaving comments, etc.). In the undergraduate, practical translation class, I mainly uploaded a series of two to five 5-minute videos every week to go over the homework and/or briefly lecture on the week’s topic. In the theoretical master’s course, I mainly uploaded an .mp3 file each week with a 10-15 minute recorded lecture.

In my last post about tools for the classroom, I mentioned that I was using Screenr to record the 5-minute videos, and now that the term is over, I can say that I’m happy with the results. The videos were easy to record and upload, and with the WordTube plugin for WordPress, I could integrate a video player onto the relevant webpage, and organize the videos into playlists so that each video focused on one short segment of the week’s lesson (e.g. one part of the translation homework, one or two slides from a PowerPoint presentation) and they were arranged in a relevant order. Here’s an example of a video I posted in the first week, describing the requirements for submitting assignments and tests:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Feedback from students about these videos was generally positive, thought they did point out some shortcomings as well. Here’s what some of them had to say:

I wasn’t a big fan of the fact that the videos were short and that there were many of them. However, as the course went on, I found it less bothersome because if you are trying to go back to a video to reference material within it, it is much easier to find what you are looking for in multiple […] 5-minute clips as opposed to one long clip. I was also glad that the videos were not removed from the course website, allowing me to go back and watch them again at my convenience or if/when I needed them.

I am glad you posted videos because I prefer listening to lessons instead of reading them on a screen. However, I feel like if we had in class time I would have learned more and feel like I was improving more as the semester went on.

What I disliked about the class was the weekly videos. I’m sure they work well for some people but I like having notes I can reference as opposed to go back and listen to the video every time I forget something.

I liked watching the videos because you could always go back and watch something over again if you didn’t understand something too well or if the discussion question was relevant to something in the lectures, it was always a good option to watch it again.

I liked the videos, however, I would have loved to have a podcast option I could take with me anywhere. The videos required both an Internet connection and Flash, which limited their portability. I would have loved to have listened to the audio while following the PowerPoint on my iPad on the train.

If I taught this course again in an online format, I would definitely integrate a podcast option–probably a downloadable .mp3 file. It was something I had thought about but just didn’t have time to implement. But the videos were a good fit for the course, allowing me to verbally and visually illustrate points much more effectively than I could have with just written notes.

Audio recordings
In the theoretical master’s course, I didn’t use the videos because the 5-minute limitation was too restrictive. In addition, I didn’t really need the visuals in this class, since I wasn’t going over homework or pointing out relevant websites. The disadvantage to the audio recordings is that I wasn’t able to see how often they were accessed, unlike the videos, for which I could access viewing statistics. Moreover, I found it difficult to sync up audio with a PowerPoint presentation, so I ended up just providing the audio recordings each week. I don’t know whether students found these hard to follow, although some did tell me they found the recordings helpful. In the future, if this course is offered online again, I would probably make a greater effort to match up the lecture with slides so that students could download the recording if they wanted to listen to it on the go, or they could listen to it while flipping through the accompanying slides.

2. Deadlines
Teaching these two courses helped me learn about the importance of set, enforced deadlines for online courses. When preparing the syllabus for my undergraduate course, I decided to encourage weekly participation by setting strict deadlines on when work could be submitted: almost every week, students were expected to respond to a discussion question, submit a short translation, and comment on one other student’s translation. They were awarded one mark for completing each of these homework components, and together, these participation marks were worth 25% of their final grade. If they submitted everything, every week, they would earn a full 25%, which just over half the 26 students did. However, they were not allowed to go back to previous weeks and make up missed participation: I wanted to make sure students were keeping up with the course on a weekly basis, so I didn’t award any retroactive marks. Even so, only a few students earned 15/25 or less on this aspect of the course. The mean participation mark was 21.62/25.

By comparison, in the master’s course, I set aside 15% of the final mark for participation, divided evenly among three tasks: responding to weekly discussion questions, providing feedback to other students when they submitted a critical summary of one of the theoretical texts, and responding to the feedback they received from other students. In this course, however, I did not specify that no marks would be awarded retroactively, as I had assumed master’s students would be more motivated to keep on top of the work. The result? On a weekly basis, participation could best be described as abysmal. Only 2-3 of the 7 students originally enrolled in the class regularly posted their responses to the discussion questions, and no student responded to all 10. In some cases, students answered none of the discussion questions until the final week, which of course prevented other students from engaging with these responses. Because I had offered too much flexibility around the deadlines, participation was lacking, despite my weekly emails to the students reminding them about the work to be completed. (The flexible deadlines may not have been the only reason, but they certainly played a part).

As students in my undergraduate class noted, an online course requires much more self-motivation than one taught in the classroom:

You also have to be somewhat more self-motivated in an online class, because I find that while you’re aware of the submission dates, you might not set aside the same time for it each week, since you don’t have to be there. So it can feel disjointed, in terms of “did I pay enough attention to that material” before answering.

I understand that participation marks are required and I know it definitely motivated me to stay engaged in the course

I really enjoyed the discussion questions as well, which you don’t always get to in the classroom when you only have an hour and a half to take up a translation. I think I got more out of this delivery method than I would have from a classroom experience where you painstakingly go through a text line by line and everybody asks about all their word choices. for my learning style, I found this method more engaging and more stimuating. That being said, it did definitely require a lot more self-motivation, so I think the participation marks were essential.

I really didn’t like the fact that the course was online. I’m a lot more involved when I go to a classroom and discuss course material as a group. In fact, I missed many of the participation marks because since I didn’t have to go to a physical classroom, I would sometimes forget about this course for a few days. I’m usually a better student than that!

These comments, along with the differing participation in my two classes, have really clarified for me the importance of encouraging student participation in online courses by setting clear, enforced deadlines for any work that needs to be submitted. It may also be helpful to remind students early on about the importance of keeping up with the coursework. Encouraging them to meet in person, perhaps in small study groups, might also help them remember to complete the homework each week.

In my next post, I’ll look more specifically at feedback to/from students and how it differed in each class, and I’ll discuss some of the suggestions students offered for future courses.

Electronic tools for the classroom

In the lead up to September, I spent quite a bit of time tweaking the course websites for the three classes I’m teaching this semester. And as I resolved last year, I’ve stopped using WebCT and moved to WordPress instead–not just for my in-the-classroom course (Introduction to Translation into English), but also for my two online courses (Specialized Translation and Translation Studies). Thus far, I’m happy with the platform, and I think it will work well, but I’ll be sure to post a follow-up article in April, once I’ve had a real semester to test out the websites.

For this post, I wanted to share some of the tools I’ve been using for my online specialized translation course, in case other instructors are looking for solutions they can apply to their own courses.

I found this online tool when I was looking into options for posting audio or video recordings for my two online courses. Powerpoint, of course, allows you to create narrations to accompany a presentation, but what happens if you want to show students how to use the course website or an online tool? It’s a lot easier to do this if you can simply record what happens on your own computer screen as you demonstrate the process. Screenr allows you to record screen-capture videos, along with your audio commentary, and has several advantages: first, you don’t need to create an account to use it, since you can log-in using your Google, Yahoo, Twitter or Facebook account. This means you can start recording screencasts almost instantly. Second, it allows you to either link to the video hosted on screenr, post the video to YouTube or to download the .mp4 file (and, if you want, to delete the video from the screenr server).

There are, however, several restrictions. First, you can record a maximum of 5 minutes for each video, second, the videos need to be uploaded to the screenr server before they can be used, and third the videos are automatically shared with the community, whether you want them private or not. I’ve been able to work around these restrictions with very few headaches though. In the first case, I just record a series of videos on a topic and then load them up in a playlist. The students may even like being able to commit to watching just five minutes at a time… I’ll have to ask later in the term.

The uploading problem is a little more annoying. Every time I record a five-minute video, I have to upload the 8-10MB file to the screenr server just so that I can download it to my own computer and then re-upload it to the course website. Total prep time for a finished 5-minute, 8-12MB video posted onto the course website: about 15 minutes–or more if I need to re-record the video a few times to get it right. I just do some other prep work while I’m waiting for the uploading/downloading to finish. Of course, if I didn’t mind sharing the videos, I could just post a link video stored on the screenr server; other people may not find this problem as much of a hurdle as I do.

As for the third problem (automatic sharing of videos), I just download the video as soon as it’s finished uploading to the screenr server, and then I delete it from the screenr site. It’s generally available to the public for 30 seconds to a minute (though of course it may hang around on the screenr servers for a little longer… I’m mainly interested in ensuring the videos aren’t available for public viewing.) Other instructors may have different preferences, so maybe this particular screenr feature isn’t seen as a drawback by everyone.

A few months ago, I came across a very interesting blog post on showing how wordle takes a text, removes common words like “the” and “a”, and creates an image that uses different font sizes, according to the frequency with which each word appears in the text: the larger the font, the more frequent the word. While the original blog post discussed how to use Wordle to visually represent word frequencies in historical or political texts to help show changes in political vocabulary over time, the application can be used for translation classes too. For instance, here’s one I generated using Jean Charest’s February 23, 2011 inaugural address in French and in English:
jean charest-discours d'ouverture-23 fev 2011
jean charest-inaugural address-23 feb 2011

As you can see, the images (which can be generated in just a few seconds, with no need to create an account) help show differences in the most common words from the two versions of Charest’s address. Some of the largest words in the French image are Québec, développement, québécois and gouvernement, just as largest English words are Québec, development, Quebecers and government; but words like new, future,and better are different sizes in the two texts, though this is also due to the fact that wordle does not distinguish between variations on a root word (e.g. “nouveau,” “nouvelle,” “nouveaux,” etc. are treated as two different words, but they could all be translated by “new”). Obviously a corpus-analysis tool like WordList would give more accurate results, but wordle offers a quick visual representation of word frequency that could be used to help students look at a source text in a more analytical way. It allows them to do this very quickly and without needing to purchase or learn how to use any specialized software. I’ll be using some wordle-created word clouds of political manifestos that we’ll be translating later this term to have students think about the importance of lexical choices in the ST and to look for trends. But I can certainly think of other applications. For instance, students could use it to compare adapted texts to see what keywords have changed between the ST/TT versions. They could also use it to look at texts on the same topic to see how keywords change over time, from one organization to another, from one language to another, etc. For an undergraduate class, this tool could be a helpful way to get students to start reflecting about text function and lexical choices, which would then allow them to think about how to deal with these choices when translating.

Has anyone already used wordle in a translation course before? I’ll update in a few weeks, once I’ve had a chance to try it out with a group of students. What other tools have you found useful in translation classes?