A Closer Look at Distance Learning

The other day I had the opportunity to participate in a videoconference organised through the distance learning project run by the European Master’s consortium (EMCI). It was the third such videoconference I’d taken part in, and I have to say that the experience is starting to grow on me!

The session used a live video link to bring together the students and trainers of the Master’s course (MIC) down here on Tenerife with a number of evaluators from the European Commission’s Interpreting Directorate (DG SCIC) in Brussels. Many videoconferences, including the other two I took part in, link universities with other training institutions, but in this particular case it was the SCIC at the other end of the line.

The session went more or less like this:

1) A speech was given by either a trainer in La Laguna or an interpreter in Brussels
2) One of the students in La Laguna provided a consecutive interpretation of the speech
3) Feedback was provided by the evaluators in Brussels
4) The whole process started over again, until four speeches had been done.

Basically, you could say that it was just another consecutive class – with the minor detail that there were some 3,000 km separating the students from the evaluators.

Right, so …

Why, you might ask, would one bother with all the fuss of setting up remote classes such as these? Well, there are a number of good reasons.

If you ask the students, I’m sure they’d say the best thing about it is the chance to get feedback from someone other than the same old broken-record teachers (and here I include myself) they hear from day in, day out during the course.

If you ask the participating universities, they’d probably say it’s a good way to deepen their cooperation and exchange knowledge while making the most of scarce training resources for certain less common languages (e.g. one speech yesterday was given in Greek).

And if you ask the SCIC (which I haven’t, although I imagine I could), I’d guess they’d say that it offers them an opportunity to contribute hands-on to the training of their next generation of interpreters (click here for more details of how the SCIC helps universities).

If you’d like to get a better idea of what such a videoconference class might look like ¡n practice, the EMCI has obligingly posted a number of past classes in the Pedagogical material section of its website (under the heading “Webstreamed classes”). One, a videoconference consecutive class between the University of Lisbon and Charles University in Prague, is very similar to the other two sessions I participated in, which linked the University of La Laguna with its counterparts in Ljubljana and Lisbon. If you have 104 minutes to spare and speak Czech and/or Portuguese, you might just want to click here to check it out.

Possibly more compelling for readers is the series of webstreamed interpreting master classes and lectures offered by the ETI in Geneva. Their channel is called “Live ETI / En direct de l’ETI” and can also be found on the Pedagogical material page on the EMCI site, but for the sake of convenience, I’ll just give you the direct link here. The next live master class is scheduled for February 24, 2012 (so mark your calendars!).

Live ETI also has a sizable archive of past classes, which constitute a valuable training resource. There, you can find such gems as the speech on “Neurological diseases, and a possible treatment for Creutzfeld Jakob disease using aminotiazols” as part of the class on Health Challenges for the 21st Century, as well as the much more boring-sounding session on social media entitled The Many Faces of Facebook. Many big names in the field of interpreter training, such as Roderick Jones, Barbara Moser-Mercer and Clare Donovan, can all be found on the lists of participants.

Haven’t Been There, Not Done That

So far I’ve been talking to you about the EMCI distance learning initiative, which I have been involved in directly. Of course, there are more interpreter training initatives out there taking advantage of new technologies to bridge distances.

One example that immediately springs to mind is the new series of online lectures on interpreting offered by the FTSK Germersheim. There is one series of classes is aimed at professional intepreters and another that targets beginners. Classes are held online once a week and run for 8-10 weeks through the winter term. To get an idea of what a class might be like, check out the course description for the introductory module on note-taking (all the information is in German only – sorry! – since the courses are meant for people with German as a working language).

Closer to home, the postgraduate course in community interpreting (EUTISC) offered by the University of La Laguna now offers part of its coursework via the virtual platform Moodle. The idea is to make the course more accessible to people who work during the day and can’t attend classes on a regular basis. Finally, a great deal further from home (mine, at least) is the recently announced online interpreting course in Virginia in the United States.

What other distance learning opportunities have you heard about in the intepreting world? What do you think about teaching interpreting at a distance? Take a moment between bites of turkey this festive season to drop me a line and let me know!

8 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Distance Learning

  1. Very interesting, thanks for the post. I have always been divided on this subject. I am not particularly in favour of distance learning in interpreting classes but, you mentioned the possibility of having it as an extra option to give more feedback to the students, so that they can have more points of view about their learning process, and that is something quite positive. Apart from that, I have to say this is a great post for teachers, it reminds us of all the things that we can learn to improve.

    • Thanks for your comment, Aida! I also have my doubts about the benefits of teaching interpreting at a distance, but I think if it’s done right, and is used as a complement to face-to-face classes, it can be a good thing.

      There is another plus I forgot to mention in my post: the pressure to perform is much higher in a videoconference (possibly as high as in an exam situation), so it gives the students the opportunity to see how well they perform under stress.

  2. Thank you so much.
    Very interesting piece
    i worked as cosecutive interpreter in videoconferences and televised sessions -thing i cannot tell u the pressure i worked under. .
    I think this way of interpreting teaching-if done properly-will be great oppurtunity for students in my region Middle East,where we lack proper good training oppurtunities
    thank u

  3. Pingback: Half a Kingdom « The Interpreter Diaries

  4. I teach Interpreting Theory on distance, and I find it very difficult to become interactive. For the next term I have thought about having part of the class as #IntJC with questions and discussions around a text and only in the chat forum. Because so far I have hardly get any feedback despite laborious planning to have discussions.

    • If it’s hard to get interaction and feedback when the students are sitting with you in the room, imagine the difficulty when you’re teaching remotely!

      I find the videoconferences very interactive, since it’s almost like everyone is sitting in the same room. However, teaching via online platforms like Moodle doesn’t require students and teachers to be present at the same time. It’s like those correspondence courses where they send you your assignments by post (only faster). Engagement is a real challenge in these cases.

  5. Interesting post, and I am now keen to read the latest #IntJC script based on this discussion.

    It would be interesting to get your feedback on a new distance learning course for public service interpreters (liaison/community interpreters) being delivered by Leeds Metropolitan University via an externally managed VLE, http://www.islinguists.com. You can find the course information here: http://courses.leedsmet.ac.uk/interpreting_certificate

    We have developed the Vocational Certificate in Interpreting (UK higher education level 4), which is currently live and will be followed by the Vocational Diploma in Interpreting (UK higher education level 5) shortly. These are asynchronous continual professional development courses designed to be taken alongside interpreting practice, whether this be paid or voluntary. The current levels are non-language specific, though this may change through plans to develop higher level courses. We cover a variety of topics over the two courses, with the main thematic areas being ethical and professional skills, interpreting strategies, linguistic and cultural skills, and industry history.

    It would be useful to receive your feedback and dialogue with other interpreter trainers on this initiative.

    Nathalie Thorne
    Project Coordinator/Materials Developer
    Leeds Metropolitan University.

    • hat sounds very interesting, Nathalie! You might want to get in touch with the people at the community interpreting course in La Laguna, as they also offer part of their content via a virtual platform: http://webpages.ull.es/users/experto/

      I think schools can definitely benefit from exchanging views on best practice for virtual learning, looking at what works and what doesn’t, and what these platforms have to offer interpreter trainers. If I ever hear of initiatives being developed along these lines – and it’s possible that the day might not be too far away – I will definitely let you know!

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