Working with interpreters

It was a fascinating afternoon at the H818 The Networked Practitioner Online Conference 2020, a global tour of open education projects, as one of the other students explained on Twitter:

The H818 conference of MAODE has taken me to Nigeria 🇳🇬 Bangladesh 🇧🇩 Myanmar 🇲🇲 Dominica 🇩🇲 Netherlands 🇳🇱 Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 Uganda 🇺🇬 Rwanda 🇷🇼 .... and we are only just over halfway through! @OpenUniversity is brilliant! — Anna Sue (@AnnaGreathead) February 15, 2020

Anna Greathead’s tweet about H818 online conference 15.2.2020

Thankfully my 10 minute presentation ‘A rabbit in the headlights! Learning from doing: open practices, interpreters and educational colonialism‘ with 5 minutes for questions went smoothly and the other presentations all came through, one with the assistance of a pre-recording because of local electricity supply problems, though he was able to join us for the questions. There was huge variety in the projects presented, because each student had their own projects to work on which used one of the three H818 themes:

  • Inclusion
  • Innovation
  • Implementation

The conference presentations were not meant to be a summary of the conclusions of our projects because many of them have longer lifespans than the length of the module, instead we could talk about  what we had done so far, any difficulties we were facing or had overcome and future plans, using the conference as an opportunity to invite the H818 network of current and former students as well as MAODE educators to help us with advice, collaborating on new projects or sharing our work with their networks.

In my project I’ve got as far as analysing observational notes and feedback data to start formulating scenarios to illustrate in my videos about educational colonialism. I need a wider range of experiences of teaching with interpreters to inform the scenarios I have started compiling, to make them more credible and engaging. So I have designed a short online, anonymous survey which I have been sharing via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and within H818.

If you are an educator who has worked with an interpreter to help you communicate with learners, please complete the survey:

Working with interpreters (translators) for teaching and learning

My conference presentation (script with some illustrations):

Slide 1

Slide 1: A rabbit in the headlights! Learning from doing: open practices, interpreters and educational colonialism

Slide 1 image

I am interested in educational colonialism, and the development of inclusive, sustainable educational practices to support diversity and equity.

For my H818 project I am focussing on the theme of inclusion. My project output will be a video series illustrating good practice examples in cross-cultural education situations; to be published as OER – Open Educational Resources – on YouTube.

I am using an international development project led by the Open University as a case study. This has given me my first experience of teaching in Myanmar with the help of an interpreter.

I felt a bit like a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ the first time I lead a TIDE workshop, despite all the preparation beforehand.

Slide 2

Some context about TIDE.

TIDE Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education

Slide 2 image

Slide 3

Slide 3: images of Myanmar Ministry of Education website, TIDE collection, UNESCO sustainable development goals website and UK Aid website page about TIDE

Slide 3 image

The Myanmar Ministry of Education aims to improve Higher Education following years of under-investment. There is an increasing demand for skilled graduates. Traditional lecture and classroom practices, introduced when Myanmar was Burma, a British colony, places teachers as subject experts, and students as receivers of knowledge.

TIDE: The ‘Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education’ project aims to introduce new approaches to teaching and learning in Myanmar, aspiring to meet the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. TIDE is UK Aid funded.

TIDE has been running online and face-to-face events since May 2018 for Higher Education staff on a two year education programme, including webinars, residential schools and reusing existing OER. The topics are chosen with the universities and are mostly taught in English.

Residential Schools have two strands:

  • Academic focussing on environmental management and climate change topics.
  • ICT support strand teaching online and distance education practices and assessment methods.

Slide 4

Slide 4: table showing residential school participants and image of TIDE residential school registration

Slide 4 image

At the five day November 2019 Residential School hosted by University of Yangon there were 150 higher education staff learners from several Myanmar Universities. 73 were ICT support staff.

The sessions were in a lecture theatre and classrooms.

For the ICT support strand there were 6 ICT tutors and 4 Academic tutors for Assessment methods. There were 11 tutors for the Academic strand.

TIDE teaches collaborative learning practices for learners to try, potentially adopting in their own context, changing traditional dynamics between teachers, learners and technical support staff.

To reduce colonial bias, the crucial element of this practice is informed choice:
what they adopt must not be imposed as ‘the way to do it now’ but needs to be critically reviewed by learners for their context.

Tutors were encouraged to try new approaches, making sessions as interactive as possible, adapting activities in response to feedback.

Collaborative planning discussions reflected on previous residential schools which showed the need for interpreters, to improve communication between tutors and learners, mostly bilingual but not fluent English speakers. There were 19 interpreters.

Slide 5

Slide 5: images of extract fromTIDE residential school programme featuring the Assessment workshops, Myanmar language instructions for configuring a quiz question and a Moodle quiz in edit mode

Slide 5 image

ICT support sessions were run by tutors in pairs, taking turns as lead or assistant educator. Tutors observed each other, and made reflective notes in a shared Google document.

I lead the quiz question building activity, part of ‘Assessment for Distance Learning’.

I wrote step-by-step guidance for each question type based on an OER called ‘Hands-on Moodle quiz’, which was translated in learner handbooks.

Academic and ICT learners in the 2018 cohort learned about online assessment methods.
In groups they wrote a quiz question using one of three question types.

While Academic learners explored Assessment methods, ICT learners were asked to build the questions online using OpenLearn Create, a Moodle OER platform.

31 ICT learners crowded at desks with their laptops and draft questions.

Some learners were unfamiliar with Moodle. None had set up quiz questions before.

With an interpreter, I did a short demonstration of how to set up a Moodle quiz, and then invited learners to build a question.

Learners worked in small groups with interpreters and tutors circulating.

When groups wanted one-to-one help I explained, with the interpreter, what settings to configure, why a question might need changing, or a different question type.

When I discovered everyone making the same mistake, I did a demonstration, speaking a sentence, and then the interpreter translated before I spoke again. It took practice to get this right because it was easy to say too much for the interpreter to remember and translate.

Working with small groups with interpreters gave me insight into the ideas and misconceptions learners had about online assessment methods.

Slide 6

The follow-up session enabled ICT learners to continue building their quiz questions.

There were celebrations and laughter when some learners succeeded in getting their quiz questions to work ready for demonstration the next day.

It took longer to build questions than planned because there was a lot to absorb, even with the help of a pre-translated guide and engaged interpreters, as configuring quiz questions is not simple.

Tutors tried to adopt approaches which rebalanced the relationship between learner and teacher.

Strongly ingrained learner deference to expert teacher was hard to overcome, though hands-on activities engaged and started to empower learners to question, debate and collaborate.

Slide 7

What mistakes were made?

Tutor observation notes of all ICT sessions that week recorded common mistakes when working with interpreters and learners, such as:

  • Some activities were not explained clearly enough, or had no written translated guidance.
  • Some tutors didn’t brief interpreters fully, so interpreters had to think fast to understand and translate.
  • Tutors speaking for too long before handing over to the interpreter. Clarification took more time.
  • Sessions were content rich with insufficient time allowance for translation.
  • Some sessions didn’t have enough hands-on activities.

Slide 8

Slide 8: image of the Moodle quiz description of a quiz designed during the TIDE residential School

Slide 8: the Moodle quiz description of a quiz designed during the TIDE residential School

Is feedback from project participants acted upon sensitively and constructively?

  • Between tutors, interpreters and learners there was a real eagerness to learn from each other.
  • The interpreters were brilliant – they made it possible for tutors to listen and understand learner’s difficulties, enabling friendly, constructive conversations leading to achievements for some learners.
  • The experience of running the quiz question workshop with a language barrier, informed my adaption of the follow-up session, and the OpenLearn Create Masterclass the next day.
  • The observational notes and feedback continue to inform learning design approaches and collaborative creation of resources for the TIDE project, including an online activity I built following a workshop activity not working as planned.

Slide 9

What good practices could be adopted more widely?

  • Pair interpreters with tutors for the week and put them in touch with each other via email for briefing purposes.
  • Hold a briefing session between tutors and interpreters before the event.
  • Design practical learning activities which encourage collaborative peer support between learners.
  • Provide unambiguous written step-by-step guidance for activities, which is translated in advance.
  • Design and share online OER versions of guidance,
    pilot test with learners and interpreters
    use their feedback to revise
    before getting OERs translated as flipped classroom resources to be used before another face-to-face learning event.

Slide 10

Slide 10: Inclusive practice in video production, with image of the characters used in the pilot video, and link to online survey

Slide 10 image

I am mapping potential scenarios to illustrate in the good practice videos.

The experience of creating the pilot video using the free version of online animation software highlighted some underlying educational colonialism issues and inclusive practice decisions in video production:

  • Animated character choice in the free version is not ethnically diverse and could reinforce stereotypes and colonialism;
  • Scenarios need a narrative in unambiguous language to be inclusive;
  • Use of symbols, such as flags for language, in the animations needs to be obvious by clarifying their meanings;
  • Choice of voice for narration is critical to supporting the video message:
    Does the voice have a strong accent or is it bland to reduce obvious nationality?
  • A transcript is vital for local translation to make the video more inclusive.

To inform the video scenarios further, I have designed a short survey for educators who have worked with interpreters. Please follow the link and share your experience.

Websites and Bibliography

ACPageOU (2020) ‘Learning from doing’ (YouTube). Available at

Adam, T. (2019) ‘Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures’, Learning, Media and Technology Volume 44, 2019 – Issue 3: Global Technologies, Local Practices. Available at (accessed 13 November 2019)

Lane, A. (2017) ‘Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals: Making Change Happen [1464]’, Paper presented at the OER17 conference ‘The Politics of Open’, 5-6 April 2017, London, UK. Available at (Accessed 13 November 2019)

Myanmar Ministry of Education (n.d.) Available at

Perryman, L-A. & de los Arcos, B. (2016). Women’s empowerment through openness: OER, OEP and the Sustainable Development Goals. Open Praxis, 8(2) pp. 163–180. Available at (Accessed 13 November 2019)

TIDE – Transformation by Innovation in Distance Education project (2017-2021). UK Aid ‘Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform’ [online]. Available at (accessed 30 December 2019)

UNESCO (n.d.) Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [online]. Available at (Accessed 12 November 2019)


The contents of this blog post has been created and shared using a Creative Commons ShareAlike Non-commercial licence which means others can remix, tweak and build upon this work non-commercially as long as they credit me and licence their new creations under the identical terms.  If you reuse any part of this blog post including photos or text please use the following attribution to credit me:  CC BY-NC-SA by Anna C Page
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2 thoughts on “Working with interpreters

  1. Pingback: H818 conference presentation questions and answers – AnnaCPage’s Blog

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