Games, games and more games II

In my last blog post, I described The Twitter Race, the game my Introduction to Translation into English students most enjoyed playing last semester, and I promised to follow-up with a post about the game my students enjoyed the least: Wikipedia Level Up. Since I’m presenting a paper about the games at the didTRAD Conference in Barcelona this afternoon, I think now is a good time to write this post, so I can share a few thoughts about why this game was not as effective as it could have been and how I will improve it in the future.

Wikipedia Level Up

For this game, students had to edit and revise a translated Wikipedia article I had selected from a list of articles needing cleanup after French translation. To complete Level 1, students had to identify and correct at least five language errors in the English version, without consulting the source text. Once they had finished, they could then move on to Level 2, where they had to compare the French ST and English TT to identify and correct at least four transfer errors. Level 3 involved identifying at least three violations of Wikipedia’s core content policies, and Level 4 involved identifying and correcting at least four instances where the English translation did not conform to Wikipedia’s Manual of Style. To successfully complete each level, students had to show me the errors they had identified and the corrections they were proposing. I would then award points for each error they had correctly identified and resolved: they earned 1 point per Level 1 error, 2 points for Level 2 errors, etc.

Students could win either by completing all four levels in 45 minutes or by accumulating the most points in 45 minutes. This meant we could have multiple winners.

So what went wrong? Well, when designing this game, I had assumed students would try to get through the levels as quickly as possible, finding just the minimum number of errors (or perhaps one or two more to earn a few extra points) and then moving on–particularly since I had weighted the points to make Level 4 more lucrative. After all, a student who whipped through all four levels resolving just the minimum number of errors would finish with 38 points, whereas a student who stayed at Level 1 looking for as many errors as possible would have to find and correct 39 problems to beat their classmate. As a player, I would want to head to Level 4 as quickly as possible so I could accumulate points up to four times faster than students in lower levels and be guaranteed to win the game. As it turned out though, some students focused on correcting as many mistakes as possible mistake at each level, and since I had purposely chosen a translation that had a lot of problems (to give students a better chance of finding errors quickly), only 2 of the 10 students who attended class that day were able to win the game. When I surveyed my students about the games after the course had ended, I wasn’t surprised to read a comment that the Wikipedia Level Up game was too complicated to be easily completed in the time allowed.

For next year, I will double the time I had allotted for the game (from 45 to 90 minutes) so that students are better able to complete the existing levels. I will also add “Level 5: Enter your corrections into Wikipedia”, so students become more familiar with the platform, and a bonus “Level 6: Decide whether the translated content should be adapted to better target English-speaking readers” to help students develop their subject-matter expertise.

Finally, since the most important objective of this game is that students are exposed to as many aspects of Wikipedia translation as possible, I will change the criteria for winning the game so that points are collected only as an extra challenge: students will be trying to set a high score that future students may want to beat, but the points won’t count toward winning the game. Instead, students will win if they successfully complete all five levels within the allotted 90 minutes, and they will earn an additional 50 bonus points if they can complete the bonus round.

Next year, after I’ve implemented these changes, I’ll write a follow-up post about whether this game was more successful with my next group of students, and I’ll offer a few thoughts about how the rest of the games fared the second time around.

Games, games and more games I

For the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to incorporate games into my translation courses: last term, I asked my Theory of Translation Students to try making their own games, which we played in conjunction with a Reacting-to-the-Past-inspired game related to the drafting of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian Standard for Translation.

So this year, I wanted to see whether I could create games for some of the other classes I teach, and I started off with my introductory translation into English course, where students are expected to acquire translation strategies, increase their knowledge of research tools and learn how to resolve translation problems. With these aims in mind, I created a series of 10 games, and we played a different one almost every week of the course. Most took somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes to complete. Each had different rules and aimed to develop a different combination of translation skills: In some games, students competed in teams, while in others they worked individually; sometimes, students competed against one another, but in other cases, they competed against an external foe (such as a published translation). Some games were designed to develop documentation skills (e.g. learning to use online tools and reference materials), some aimed to help students improve their ability to work under pressure, and quite a few focused on specific translation challenges (e.g. wordplay) or specific types of texts (e.g. comics).

After the course was over, I surveyed my students to see what they thought of the games (and the leaderboard where everyone could see their progress). I’ll be talking about the games and the survey results later this month at the CATS conference in Calgary, and then in July at the PACTE conference in Barcelona. I try not to repeat in my blog things that I’ve already said at conferences or in publications, so this post won’t cover the survey results. Instead, I wanted to write two complementary blog posts: one that talks about the game students enjoyed the most, and another that discusses the game they enjoyed the least. Today, I’m starting off with the game most students identified as their favourite.

The Twitter Race

Four weeks into our twelve-week course, we played a game I called “The Twitter Race.” Before we began, I reviewed some of Twitter’s conventions and constraints, just in case students weren’t familiar with the platform (e.g. tweets must be 140 characters or less, URLs and images are included in the character count but require a maximum of 23 characters, hashtags are commonly included in tweets). I also showed a few examples of translated tweets from bilingual organizations like the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Students then had to break up into groups or partners, since not everyone in the class brings a laptop and this activity required access to a shared Google Document. Each team chose a Twitter handle (e.g. @GoTeam1), and then worked together over six rounds to translate a total of six tweets. I used PowerPoint slides to project each tweet to the class and describe the context in which it was being translated:

Sample Twitter Race instruction

For each tweet, the teams had a few minutes to collaborate and then add their translations to a shared Google Document (signing their submissions with their twitter handles so we could tell which team was responsible for which translation). Once all the translations were submitted, I gave feedback on each version and awarded points in the following way:

Requirement Points
First to submit a complete translation 1 point
Shortest translation 2 points
Translation includes a relevant hashtag (e.g. #onpoli) 1 point per hashtag
Translation includes a relevant Twitter handle

(e.g. @radioCanadaInfo)

1 point per handle

I updated a Google Speadsheet with the points after every round and posted the results to the course website so the teams could see where they stood. At the end of six rounds, the team with the most points was declared the winner. A lot of strategizing took place: one team, for instance, was less interested in being the first to get their translations in because they wanted to have the shortest version and as many hashtags and twitter handles as possible. They ended up accumulating 33 points and winning the game.

Why did this game work well? Although the students who responded to the survey didn’t comment on why they liked the game, their comments on how the games could be improved in the future (more on that in my next post) have led me to some of my own conclusions. First, this game took about an hour and a half to play (including the time for establishing groups, going over the rules, etc.), but each of the tweets we translated presented a different challenge: some were almost 140 characters long and would therefore be harder to keep under the character limit; some had several hashtags or twitter handles that might need to be adapted; some were supposedly being translated by the same person who had posted the original tweet, while others were supposedly being retweeted by another user for a different purpose, etc. This meant that students had to adopt different translation strategies each round. Second, the students had to work under low-stakes pressure: each group was conscious that another group might post their translation first (and therefore win 1 point), but they also wanted to make sure they had a short translation and relevant hashtags, so they were constantly trying to translate quickly and succinctly. The stakes were low, though, because the students’ performance in the games was extremely unlikely to affect their final grade in the course since 90% of the course grade was based on assignments and tests, and the 10% set aside for in-class participation was based largely on attendance and homework rather than performance in the games. Finally, we were able to spend about 15 minutes setting up the game–that is, going over the rules, reviewing the context in which tweets might be translated, and thinking about the constraints Twitter users work with. This helped students feel more comfortable with the game before it started.

In my next post, which I hope to be able to write later this month, I’ll talk about one of the less successful games and why it didn’t work as well as this one.

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?