Monterey FORUM 2011

I’m writing from my hotel in Monterey, California, where I’ll be attending Monterey Forum on Innovations in Translator, Interpreter and Localizer Education at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Here’s a copy of the program, for those who are interested. I’m looking forward to today’s presentations on technology in the classroom; I’ll write a post or two about the parts I found more interesting or useful for teaching translation.

My presentation will look at how Google Docs can be integrated into translation classrooms to enhance collaboration. I’ll be talking about some of the cloud-based productivity suites currently available (e.g. Microsoft Web Apps, Adobe Acrobat’s Buzzword, Tables and Presentations, Zoho, ThinkFree Online, and of course, Google Docs. I’ll spend some time covering privacy, confidentiality, security and reliability issues when using cloud-based services like Google Docs, and then I’ll talk about some of the ways I’ve used Google Docs in my own classes, which I’ve talked about in this blog already (here, here and here, for instance).

I used Google Docs to create the presentation, and I’ve embedded a link to it below, in case anyone is interested in taking a look at it:

I’ll write more about the conference over the next few days.

Google Docs in the classroom (again)

After having my students use Google Documents last year to prepare their group translation projects (described here and here), I decided to have this year’s class use the application for a partner project. I asked students to answer the same questionnaire I gave out last year, as I wanted to see whether the two types of assignments led the students to have similar or different experiences with Google Documents.

The assignment this year differed from last year’s in several ways. First, the students were translating independent pages from the website of France-based not-for-profit company Eau Vive, whereas last year, students were translating a single document, which I had divided into sections for each group of 4-5 to work on. Having students share their translations with me via Google Docs worked much better this year: I just had to export the files as a Word document and then make my revisions to each one before sending it off to the client. This was much more efficient than last year, when I was trying to cut and paste from the various student submissions to put a single, lengthy document together. However, I still had to correct the formatting differences between the French STs and the student translations. This, I suspect, is the reason that, of the 16 students who submitted their questionnaires, only 5 complained about formatting restrictions, and 1 of these 5 complaints was about a feature that was not in the ST (the student wanted to add a footnote to explain a decision, but the footnote was not part of the ST), while another was about a feature that Google Docs actually did have (track changes). Only 2 students complained about not being able to format the TT in the same way as the ST because Google Docs did not have the feature (line breaks or horizontal bars), and 1 complained that Google Docs did not generally have as many options as a word processor. I suspect, though, that if I had stressed to students that I wanted their translations to look identical to the ST in terms of formatting (something I assumed they would know), then more students would have complained about the limited formatting options.

Seeing how much easier it was to translate separate documents rather than to have each group create a document with their translation of an excerpt from a longer text, I’ve decided to modify the group assignment I’ll be giving out next term. If we work on a longer text together, I will upload the entire French ST to Google Docs, share it with the class, and have them all work on their sections directly in that one file. This way, all students would be able to see what their classmates were doing, and perhaps offer feedback during the translation process. Translating like this might also improve collaboration, because last year, even though I had made the entire document available to all students, I still had students come to ask me questions about terms or concepts that were explained in the parts of the text their group was not responsible for translating. This may be because each group wasn’t able to see everyone else’s translations, or it may just be because some students need to learn to look within a text for answers to their questions before they start looking outside it, particularly when their questions centre around vocabulary specific to the organization that prepared the ST (e.g. job titles, program details).

I’ll post more about the group project in April, once students have submitted their assignments and commented on their experiences collaborating with Google Docs.

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?

Getting ready for a new academic year

Earlier this week, as I was preparing my syllabus for my introductory translation into English class, I thought I should blog a little about the changes I’m making to the course this year, in case this might interest other instructors or professors. So here is an overview of what worked well in this course last year, and what I’m hoping will work better this year.

What worked well last year and is going to be in the course again: Participation questions
Last year, I added a new component to my classes: every week or so, I would ask students an open-ended question based on either the current week’s lecture or a podcast/news article/website with a translation-related theme. I then gave them five or six minutes to write down their answers on a piece of paper, and when they were done, I invited them share their thoughts if they so desired and hand in their answers at the end of class. The discussion questions serve as a way of taking attendance, since students get full marks for answering the question and no marks if they are not in class on the day we discuss it. I liked these questions for three reasons: first, it gave me a way to digress from the main course format (short lecture, then take up homework) while still focusing on translation, second, because it allowed me to take attendance without actually doing so, which helped ensure students regularly attended class, and third, because having students write down their answers gave them time to think about the question and made more of them volunteer their answers during the discussion.

What I hope will work better: New take-home assignments
In past years, I’ve assigned two take-home translations of about 250 words, which students work on individually and submit within two weeks for about 25% of their final grade. Last winter, though, I added a new assignment and had students work in small groups to translate a large text for a not-for-profit organization. Feedback from the students after the assignment was really positive: they enjoyed translating an authentic text and liked the fact that a non-profit organization was benefiting. So this year, I’ll be having students pair up in the fall term to translate about 500 words for another non-profit, and in the winter, they’ll work in groups of 3-5 on 1000-2000-word texts so that they get more experience collaborating with others and working on longer documents. I’ll also be able to see whether students prefer working with Google Documents when they collaborate with one other student or when they work in small groups. I also want to see whether they get more out of Google Docs if they have to use it for two projects in two semesters, rather than just a large group project in March and April, as students did last year.

What’s not going to make it into the course this year: Google Wave
Last year, I mentioned my plans for comparing Google Docs and Google Wave as collaborative tools for student group translations. Early last month, however, Google announced that it would no longer be developing Wave as a stand-alone product and would instead “extend the technology for use in other Google projects.” Although they promise to keep the website live until at least the end of the year–and thus probably for my entire Fall course–I don’t want to spend the time familiarizing students with an application that is being discontinued. It’s a shame, really, as I saw some good potential in Wave as a tool for students to collaborate online on their translations, and I hoped it would make up for some of the shortcomings students mentioned last year when I asked them how they liked working with Google Docs. I’ll have to see whether there are other tools I have students use for the group assignment in the Winter term, but for now, it will likely be Google Docs again, with some more specific instructions to the students, to help mitigate the inconveniences Google Docs caused me when I was marking the assignments.

Teaching with Google: My perspective

In my last post in this series I discussed what my students thought of using Google Documents to collaborate on their group translation projects. Now that I’ve (finally) finished marking the assignments, I thought I’d write a little about what I thought of working with the application to revise and mark the projects.

First, the advantages:

  1. Having the students share their documents with me meant I didn’t have to have my inbox cluttered with dozens of emails from students sending me various files: source text, target text, descriptions of their individual contribution to the project (all mandatory) and spreadsheets of their terminology or documents containing their group discussions (both optional but frequently submitted). The documents remained on Google’s server, so I didn’t have to download them and then attach them to emails to send the corrected files back to the students.

That’s all the good points I can think of right now. Unfortunately, what’s really on my mind at the moment are the disadvantages:

  1. Google Documents does not have a record/track changes feature. This was definitely the biggest drawback to using the application. Instead of being able to indicate the corrections just by turning on the track changes feature (which, in OpenOffice then automatically marks corrections in a different colour), I had to highlight each passage that needed revisions, then change the font colour manually and type in my correction. This took a lot of time, because it meant I had to revise each document twice: once in Google to show the students their mistakes and my corrections, and then once in the final document, which I was preparing in OpenOffice. And this leads me to the second disadvantage.
  2. Google doesn’t handle various advanced word-processing features very well. These include automatically generated table of contents, and tables, bullets, and lists, all of which were found in the 40-page text we were working on. Because of this, I wanted to produce the translation directly in OpenOffice, working directly on a copy of the original French source text file. However, unless I copied and pasted one paragraph at a time, the text I copied was pasted into my OpenOffice document within a frame, which would have ruined the formatting of the final document. So, for every paragraph, I had to copy the student translation, paste it into the OpenOffice document, make any necessary corrections, and then go back to the Google Document and mark up the text so that students could see what changes I was recommending. Very time-consuming.
  3. The default font for a Google Document seems to be a sans-serif typeface, which was not the font used in the French text. Most of the groups didn’t change the default font, so I had to do it myself when I copied and pasted the translation back together.
  4. Students didn’t always work directly in Google Documents. Some of them (as they explained in their reports) typed up their translations in Word, then copied and pasted the final versions into Google. And, when they revised their translations, they often did so as a group, with one person entering the revisions after everyone had agreed on what needed to be changed. This meant I usually couldn’t use the revision history feature of Google Documents to see which students had proposed which changes. I had expected the students to work primarily from home and to collaborate online through Google Documents, but they often got together in person, with one student logged onto a computer to either translate or revise the text based on group input. This wasn’t necessarily a Google-specific drawback, however; it just shows that students used the application in a way I didn’t expect.

Overall, I would have to say that I was surprised by the number of disadvantages of using Google Documents to mark and revise the student projects. While the students had mainly positive things to say about the application (with the exception of those who had a number of bullets or tables, which did not always convert properly to and from a Google Document), I found the experience inconvenient.

While I will have students use it again next year, I think I will have them email me a final version of their translation in .doc format so that I can then use the track changes feature to mark the translation and quickly add it to the final document. They can still share the rest of the files with me through Google, as this will reduce the number of files I need to upload and download, and help me spend less time editing.

Teaching with Google: The results

Well, the winter term is over next week, and my students have just finished their group projects. (For details about the project, check out my two previous posts on the topic: This one describes the source text and this one discusses my initial plan for incorporating Google Docs into my course). As part of the project, I asked my students to fill out a short survey on what they thought about working with Google Documents, and I’ve just finished going through the results.

Between my two classes, I have a total of 35 students, although not all of them handed in the survey. Of the 29 students who filled it out, 20 said they didn’t find the application difficult to use at all, while the other nine listed a few minor problems: two found uploading files complicated, another three complained about the application being finicky (copied and pasted text took a long time to appear on the screen, and then it took a long time for fonts to harmonize; the spreadsheet application didn’t allow the student who created a document to modify it), one thought that keeping track of the various edits was confusing, three said they didn’t find the interface intuitive and one found that Google Docs just wasn’t easy to use at all but didn’t give any details.

The vast majority of the students spent less than half an hour learning to use the program: only 2 of the 29 reported spending an hour, while one said she spent a week and still didn’t feel sure about everything. The fact that most students spent just a few minutes figuring out the application is encouraging, as one of the reasons I opted for Google Docs over a wiki was that I thought most students would find Google easier to use. I had actually expected that more of them would have already used the application for other classes, at work or even for personal projects, but only five of them indicated that they had worked with Google Docs before. So the fact that nearly all the students could go from having never seen or (in some cases) heard of an application to feeling comfortable with it in under half an hour is a big advantage. Most students who found it easy to use said it had the same look and feel as MS Word, which is probably the most significant reason why the learning curve was generally low.

However, not all the students were convinced that using Google Documents had helped the group collaborate. Although most of the students enjoyed not having to email documents back and forth and keep track of which version was the most recent, a few noted that the application posed some problems to effective teamwork: one wondered whether the project had taken longer to complete than necessary because group members were able to all look at and constantly revise the document from home instead of having to physically meet once or twice to agree on a final version. This point was raised by another student, who noted that:

We worked much more effectively as a group when we met in person, where we spent over 2 hours revising each other’s work, doing research, making decisions and discussing the text. If we had done all that online, the amount of back-and-forth required would have been far too tedious, and would have spanned at least a day, if not longer (i.e. slow servers, people being offline and not seeing comments until later, etc.)

I found this view interesting, because I had been expecting that students would not be interested in physically meeting for these projects; I know that schedules usually differ greatly from one student to the next, what with part-time/full-time jobs, other courses, and family commitments, so I had thought students would work entirely online and not feel the need to meet in person. The main drawback to Google Docs in this respect was that it didn’t include a built-in chat module so that students could talk to each other and translate at the same time. Many students reported talking over the phone or email while working on the document, or working in person on various laptops so that everyone could edit the document while discussing the changes. I’m going to take another look at Google Wave as a possible alternative to Google Docs, as it does allow students to chat and revise documents at the same time, which might solve some of the inconveniences the students reported.

Over the next week weeks, as I correct the group projects, I’ll post more details about the translations themselves and what I’ll likely change next year. As always, I’m interested in feedback from anyone else who has done similar projects or is thinking of introducing something like this into a future course.

Google Wave and collaborative translation

On my jog this morning, I listened to a podcast of a Radio-Canada program called Mi5. In it, they discussed Google Wave, a new tool from Google that’s available only in a pre-beta version, which means at the moment, its accessible by invitation only. (By the way, I have twenty-five invitations to share, if anyone would like to try out this tool. Just email me, and I’ll send you one).

The hosts of the program described Google Wave as a collaborative tool that allows you to exchange ideas with several people at the same time. It’s actually a way to collaboratively email, chat, and revise/create documents with colleagues: a little like Gmail, Google Talk, Twitter, Google Documents and a wiki all rolled into one. It’s a very promising tool, but the Mi5 hosts did acknowledge that the current version has several limitations. For one thing, it’s a little complicated to use and figure out, and for another, few people have access to it.

But even with these disadvantages, Google Wave could be a tool particularly suited to collaborative translation. I’ve already written a post about how I will be incorporating Google Docs into my Introduction to Translation into English course, so it’s not surprising that I’d be interested in the Wave. It would allow students to create, critique, defend, and revise their translations together, in real-time, without having to meet in person. I hope it will soon be available to the general public so that I can incorporate it into my course and see what my students think about using Google Wave vs. Google Docs to complete their group assignments.

If you’d like to check out a video that shows 15 features of Google Wave, there’s one here on Youtube. Have any translators out there used this tool for a translation project? What about translation professors? Have any of you thought about incorporating Google Wave into a course to encourage students to collaborate on a large project? I’d like to hear what you think about how it could be used for translation.

Community-service learning

A few months ago I came across two very interesting articles in University Affairs. The first described community-service learning, a teaching method in which volunteer service is combined with academic work to help students apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real-world projects, and the second offered advice on integrating service learning into your courses.

The introductory translation courses I teach at Glendon are already very practical: together, we translate and comment on texts I’ve culled from newspapers, magazines, and Internet sources, but these translations are exercises and nothing more. The final product never leaves the classroom. The two University Affairs articles got me thinking about how our in-class translation activities could have more of an impact on a Canadian community. I had already been contemplating adding a group project to my course, as I discussed in a previous post, so I’ve now decided to have students translate texts for a non-profit organization in groups, using Google Documents to collaborate.

This winter, students will be working in groups of four to five to translate material provided to us by Action contre la faim / Action Against Hunger an international network that works to save the lives of malnourished children and their families. I’m teaching two sections of the Introduction to Translation course, which means I have over thirty students who can work together on this translation project. Since each group of four to five students will be able to translate 1000-1500 words, we’ll be able to translate over 10,000 words for ACF.

I’ll be posting more about this project over the course of the semester.

Teaching with Google

This year, I’m teaching two introductory translation courses at Glendon: one in the fall and another in the winter. Since the same group of students (for the most part) are in both courses, I’ve been thinking of how I can make the content and teaching methods a little different each term so 1) there is clearly some progress from one course to the next and 2) I can experiment with collaborative translation, which I have been thinking about for some time now.

At first, I wanted to incorporate wikis into the class so that students could work on their translations together and I could easily track the changes each student had made. I thought it might work well as an experiment in group translation and I hoped to discover whether it worked well in a classroom setting. I looked into xwiki, but realized that students would have to download, install and set up software to use the wiki. There’s also a bit of a learning curve for the software, so I would I’d have to spend class time going over the application and answering questions about xwiki even though it’s a tool students would be unlikely to work with as professional translators.

Then, I remembered reading a blog entry about two translators using a Google Docs spreadsheet to share and update their terminology as they worked on a joint project. I’ve used Google Docs on several occasions to share documents and collaborate on spreadsheets, and found it very easy to use. So I’ve decided to incorporate Google Documents into my Winter 2010 course as a way to get students to collaborate on a longer translation project while using an online tool that could actually be incorporated into their translation practice once they’ve graduated. Plus, students won’t have to spend much time learning to use the application, because the Google word processing and spreadsheet programs are similar to the ones in Microsoft Office or OpenOffice, which most of the students are already using. I’ll post more about my collaborative translation project experiment as the academic year advances. I’m planning to ask students for feedback at the end of the Winter term, so I’ll post some of their comments here, in case any other professors are thinking of incorporating Google Docs into their courses.