H818 conference presentation questions and answers

Simon Ball, my H818 tutor, has kindly sent me all the questions and comments people made during my H818 online conference presentation last Saturday. See Working with interpreters for my account of the presentation, some slides and the transcript.

I responded briefly to some of these at the time in the 5 minute questions/answers slot at the end of my presentation.

Now, 6 days later, I’m reviewing the questions and comments to respond more fully below.

The questions and comments:

– How much additional time was needed for translation?
– I’ve worked with an interpreter myself to deliver CPD – it’s really Hard!!!
– working with interpreters is challenging as it is more than the words … non – verbal can assist too
– Are you having a practice session before the actual teaching?
– better to know even a little bit the language of the students – my experience((.
– So instructive — having the interpreter seems to have made visible just how much interpretation our learners often have to do! (When it is easy to assume ‘we teach: they learn’ 😉 )
– To what extent did cultural differences impact on the teaching sessions?
– Were the interpreters familiar with the content of the course?
– Really interesting stuff – something that I just hadn’t appreciated before
– Echo the issue with animations not addressing cultural diversity
– links to my work as work with healthcare providers globally
– A really active kind of learning – great work, Anna
– have seen similar sort of issues with a blind student with a sighted assistant who “translated” their instructions into submitted work, and a lot was lost in translation
– It makes it difficult to teach with the gaps before responding?
– Great presentation, well done. How much do you think you lost in not being able to directly communicate with the learners? When I have conducted interviews with a translator, I often felt that the translator ‘edited’ the students’ responses
– Interpreters may find difficulties when the subject contents are hard to understand
– The use of previous cohorts seems like a good idea.

My responses:

Did I have a practice session before the actual teaching?

No, I didn’t do a practice session with the interpreters before any of the sessions, nor did I practice with any of the other tutors, though the tutors had several planning meetings together in the 3 months leading up to the Residential School when we went through what would be covered and our approaches to each element of the sessions.

In hindsight, some of what we planned for the Assessment of Distance Learning sessions (which incorporated quiz question building) was quite ambitious in the time available, especially in view of the diverse range of experience which the participants had about assessment methods. However, trying pedagogical approaches with the learners, getting their feedback and reviewing our methods prompted some immediate adaption, changes for subsequent sessions and longer term plans which include some translated flipped learning materials and activities, to enable more active learning in face-to-face sessions.

How much additional time was needed for translation [in the sessions]?

I roughly estimated this took a significant proportion of time during each face-to-face teaching session: approximately a third, though not quite half of the time (depending upon the mix of presentation and activities). Although some of the participants could understand some English, it was impossible to tell how fluent they were, and if tutors spoke fast or for to long, this reduced their chances of following what was being said. So we consciously had to slow ourselves down, think carefully about how we were explaining something and then wait while the interpreter translated and spoke. Responding to questions also took time, the interpreter had to listen then ask us the question and this sometimes turned into a three way conversation if we weren’t sure of the question.

Were the interpreters familiar with the content?

No, for the interpreters, what we were teaching was new to them too and they were keen learners. They were young university students, who could speak English well, but some of the terminology we were introducing was unfamiliar to them. Their positive attitude made a huge difference to the tutors and helped the learners understand more.

How much was lost in translation?

It was difficult to tell whether the interpreters were substantially editing what we had said when they translated or whether their potential misunderstanding of a topic was being passed on to the learners. However, clarification questions helped tutors gauge that at least some of what we were explaining was being understood and translated appropriately. In the practical hands-on sessions I was teaching, it was particularly apparent when learners understood, because they succeeded in configuring something which was quite complicated and they asked meaningful questions about quiz question configuration which showed they were grasping what I was trying to explain. This was heartening (and something we celebrated); however at the same time it gave me much food for thought on finding alternative ways to convey the time-consuming complexities of quiz building more accessibly next time so that language and culture is less of a barrier.

To what extent did cultural differences make an impact on the sessions?

I became conscious that I wasn’t sure if some gestures were culturally acceptable or not (such as a thumbs up for well done/success: no one told me it wasn’t, but I stopped using it because I was unsure). There was a strong cultural element of deference to expertise; even within the groups: it was noticeable that there was a hierarchy between the academic and ICT learners within each university group when working together and respectful deference to tutor knowledge. Smiling seemed to be a universally understood non-verbal language, thankfully, and went a long way to build relationships between learners, interpreters and tutors. The status of the young interpreters in relation to the learners (who were Higher Educational academics and ICT support staff) wasn’t entirely clear to me. In a culture of deference to expert teacher, they would traditionally be considered as learners, yet as interpreters facilitating communication between tutors from another country and Higher Education staff learners (educators in their various ways), their temporary role changed their status to something more ambiguous – both influential and deferential.

I was also conscious of my complete lack of the Myanmar language (apart from the polite greeting of ‘mingalabar’ which is ‘hello’) and very basic knowledge about the country and customs, in comparison to learner knowledge of English. Personally, it highlighted the imbalance between some cultures regarding attitude towards language learning, colonialism and intercultural exchange of ideas and practices.

Tutors were encouraged to utilise activities which helped groups collaborate across roles to introduce new approaches to learning which could build upon or change the traditional classroom lecture approaches. It isn’t realistic or practical to introduce radical, sudden changes to educational culture as it won’t be sustainable, it is better to introduce pedagogies gradually in ways which model such practices as exemplars which could be tried, reviewed and adapted by learners for their contexts.

The use of previous cohorts seems like a good idea

This comment was as a result of me explaining during my answers something which I didn’t have time to mention in the 10 minute presentation – the training of some members of the 2018 cohort of learners as tutors during the Residential School, to help build sustainability into the distance learning programme. This strand of the 2 year programme was called Training of Trainers (ToT) and I believe five learners in the 2018 cohort presented various ICT strand topics during the Residential school. One of them presented during the OpenLearn Create Masterclass which I ran on the Thursday afternoon – she used English slides (with some Myanmar language words) and explained about self-registering an account, logging on and creating a course to the class in Myanmar language while we watched. It was immensely helpful that she did this near the start of the Masterclass, before I introduced the Moodle tools the ICT learners were going to try out in their draft courses. Although I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I could follow it roughly because she was using slides which were mostly in English (and depicted web pages which are familiar to me).

Ideally the Masterclass for the ICT support learners needed to be run earlier in the week, followed by a quiz question building session before the main joint session with the Academic learners on Assessment for Distance learning. The programme is continually under review regarding content, teaching approaches and cascading both content and pedagogy so that it becomes locally sustainable.

Animations not addressing cultural diversity

This is an interesting issue and I noticed that some other H818 students were encountering similar limitations when building their conference posters using multimedia tools, because the availability of free culturally diverse images, clipart or animations is not widespread online. It seems that online tools and resources often reinforce the dominance of Global North imagery as the basic standard ‘for free’ versions such as online animation characters, with greater diversity of choices only available behind a pay wall.

Additionally, animating a character exaggerates particular quirks or behaviours, sometimes this can be quite stereotypical and matches rather than challenges perceptions of how characters might behave or look, depending upon their culture or status. There is a danger that selecting and using an animated character and its actions based upon stereotypical behaviours or appearance could inadvertently cause cultural offence rather than be inclusive, though some stereotypes can also quickly and usefully convey actions which are widely understood across cultures.

For Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices to truly become more culturally inclusive, it is vital to create a wider diversity of resources which are freely available to use.

If you have ever taught with the assistance of an interpreter, please complete my short online survey ‘Working with interpreters (translators) for teaching and learning‘ which will inform the scenarios in good practice videos I am making.

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