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.

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.