I’ve just returned from Monterey, Califonia, where I was at the Education Translators, Interpreters and Localizers in an Evolving World conference at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. As the title suggests, the talks focused on translation and interpreting pedagogy, and I came away with some new ideas after a number of very interesting presentations. Most of the day consisted of parallel sessions, so obviously I wasn’t able to attend everything. I’ll just summarize a few of the talks I particularly enjoyed. I’ve grouped them into three broad categories: those that discussed how to design new course offerings or fundamentally reshape the way a course is offered, those that touched on online teaching, and those that offered ideas or activities that could be integrated into existing translation courses.
On Saturday morning, I listened to Kayoko Takeda from Rikkyo University in Japan speak about developing a general education course on “Translation and interpretation literacy” for undergraduate students at her university. It focused on topics like the roles translators and interpreters play in society and professional issues translators and interpreters face without actually having students practice translation. What I found most intriguing was the way the course was designed: three instructors co-taught the course, and 14 guest speakers came to the Saturday-morning class to speak about topics like crowdsourcing and machine translation, business practices, subtitling, Bible translation, and community translation. These guest speakers would give students tasks to do before their talks (e.g. consulting a website, reading blog posts or articles), and then students would participate in the lectures, often by producing in-class essays on topics like rules, remuneration and rewards, or technology.
Methods and Activities for Online teaching
Saturday morning and afternoon included several presentations about teaching translation and interpretation in an online environment. Here are some of my favourites:
Suzanne Zeng talked about the University of Hawaii’s Interactive Video Service (HITS), which allows her to teach up to three groups of students simultaneously via an interactive closed-circuit TV system. While Suzanne teaches a group of students in one room, other groups of students at university campuses located on various Hawaiian islands sit in similar classrooms and participate in the class via video. All students have microphones at their desks, and when they push the button to talk, the video cameras are programmed to zoom in on the speakers so everyone else can hear what their peers have to say and see them clearly while they say it. The shared screens also allow everyone to see any PowerPoint presentations the instructor might use, and any notes he or she might write on the white board. I liked the way this system works because instructors can teach both in person and online at the same time. Having all students together simultaneously allows everyone to participate in discussions and group exercises, regardless of which island they might live on. Suzanne did mention that she has to monitor the video feeds while she is teaching so she can make sure the students in the other locations are fully engaged: addressing them directly helps remind these students that she is able to see them and is paying attention to them as well as the students in her classroom. She also noted that the system doesn’t allow for any flexibility in timing: class has to begin and end at a precise time because that’s when the video feed stops and starts; so if she is in the middle of a sentence with just a few seconds left on the counter, she’ll be cut off as soon as the clock reaches zero, and students in the remote locations won’t hear the end of what she had to say. That means instructors need to be very conscious of the clock with a system like this.
Qjinti Oblitas and Andrew Clifford, from my department at York University, offered some insight into how their interpretation students develop close ties with their peers, even though the first year of our Master’s in Conference Interpreting program is offered online. Through a variety of sometimes humourous examples, Qjinti and Andrew showed that students engaged with one another outside of the virtual classroom via private Facebook groups, text messages, Skype chats, and apps like WeChat, and they argued that the students felt a real sense of community with their peers—so much so in fact that many of the students found ways to meet one another in person if they lived in the same country or were travelling to a place near one of their classmates.
Finally, Cristina Silva said that every strategy for offline teaching could be adapted for the online classroom. She offered a variety of examples, some of which I use already, and others that I will consider using in the future—though I should point out that many of these ideas would work just as easily in a face-to-face classroom. Cristina’s suggestions included having students translate together via Google Docs, having students practice editing machine translations while using screen-sharing software so that their classmates can see their results, and encouraging students to use Dragon Naturally Speaking to record themselves while they dictated a sight translation to see whether their productivity increased compared to just typing out the translations themselves.
Activities for the translation classroom
Kent State University’s Erik Angelone offered a new way of having students assess their translation process. Arguing that other process-focused research methods like think-aloud-protocols and keystroke logging were too time consuming or too complicated to integrate into the classroom, Erik proposed using screen recorders like Blueberry Flashback Express to have students record their computer screens while they worked. Then, when students look back at these recordings, they would be able to see, for instance, whether they hesitated before translating a word but did not consult an electronic resource, which might indicate that the translation needs to be double-checked. Integrating screen recordings into the classroom would also allow students to learn from the methods other students or even professional translators had used: how do others deal with distractions like email alerts, for instance? Or how did others research a problematic word or phrase? I thought this was a very helpful idea for getting students to think about how they translate and whether their method could be more effective. One audience member did mention that the disadvantage of screen recordings is that it doesn’t show what students are doing off their computers (e.g. Consulting a paper dictionary), but Erik suggested that students could comment on their screen recordings afterwards in a retrospective interview. Of course, they could comment more informally as well, by adding a few written remarks at the end of their recording to describe any of their research techniques that wouldn’t show up in the screen recording. I’m going to integrate an activity like this into my introductory translation class next term, and after I do, I’ll write a short post about the results.
There were other talks I enjoyed as well, but this post is getting quite long. I think I’ll end with a link to the tweets that came out of the conference, which, though short, give a good overview of a larger selection of talks. You can take a look at the tweet compilation on Storify here.