Three Pedagogical Tools to Take Your Online Translation and Interpreting Courses to the Next Level

Effective online teaching must adapt content delivery to specific learning environments and the changing needs of students.

Demand for online education is increasing in the U.S.1 and is globally “on track to become mainstream by 2025.”2 As the availability of online courses continues to grow around the world3, especially at the college level, instructors are increasingly finding new ways for their students’ learning experience to be meaningful and pedagogically sound.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article4, Margaret Brooks outlines two distinct camps in today’s academia: those who oppose online education and truly believe that “face-to-face teaching is always better,” and those who advocate that “online courses intrinsically benefit students’ learning experiences, and are the intellectual equivalent of traditional courses.” Brooks also proposes a third group, which takes into account the changing ways we as a society interact with the world through technology and recognizes that students use the internet for virtually anything. She then lists eight reasons why colleges should “proudly and without apology” offer online courses, including one that speaks more directly to the pedagogical framework of the online translation and interpreting courses being discussed in this article: “we want to teach our students to do independent research.”

In this article, three experienced instructors involved in the design of online translation and interpreting curricula share tips for creating an online community that encourages students’ reflective practice and enables structured student interactions. They discuss three specific tools they use in asynchronous online instruction, including rubrics, a process-oriented discussion forum, and the multimedia platform VoiceThread.

Self-Assessment Rubrics

This section discusses multilingual courses designed for an online certificate in professional translation and interpreting, including rubrics as an essential component of self-assessment and autonomous reflective practice. The course design is based on a process-oriented, skill‑building approach to translation and interpreting training, with a focus on students learning to assess their own performance in various assignments.

Before going into more detail about rubric design and use, some important information about the framework behind the online certificate courses is in order. Courses are asynchronous, which means that anyone can participate at different times, with no real-time encounters/courses. Unlike in self-paced learning, such as is done with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), students taking the certificate’s asynchronous courses are expected to meet assignment deadlines weekly. However, they still get to decide when to interact with content and complete their assignments within the set timeframes.

Even though many of the learning activities in the multilingual online courses are performed in English, courses rely on language-specific reviewers to give periodic feedback to students, providing them with essential linguistic assessment as they move forward to increasingly complex tasks. The program’s broad mix of cultures and languages enriches the learning environment, since students exchange different views about translation strategies, equivalence, and cultural and linguistic specificities.

Rubrics can be used by students to assess their own performance based on the instructor’s expectation and the specific assignment at hand. According to Dannelle Stevens and Antonia Levi, two professors at Portland State University, rubrics should contain some common features.5 These include the instructor’s expectations, different components (e.g., in the case of dialogue interpreting: interpreting skills, language, delivery and ethics/standards), and a detailed description of acceptable and unacceptable levels of performance. The importance of rubrics in guiding students in reflective practice cannot be underestimated since they provide not only a clear picture of patterns of recurring issues that need to be improved upon, but also a snapshot of amazing accomplishments that inspire students to continue developing their skills.

In terms of rubrics design, some things to consider include the following questions: “What is the purpose of this task?” “What are the skills required for the exercise?” “What should students see in their performance that reflects the highest achievement?” and “What should students be able to identify that reflect an unacceptable level of performance?” Figure 1 below is an example of a “holistic” rubric used in translation exercises. Note that there are no levels of acceptable or unacceptable performance, since the purpose of the task is for students to step back and think critically about the process they have just gone through, including the analytical and subliminal states they were under when performing translation.6

Rubric for Written Translation Reflection/Self-Assessment

As you work on your translation and think about the process, please include some of the following in your reflection as appropriate:
Translation Process:

  • How did you find the translation for the most difficult word/term/phrase?
  • How did you know your translation of the most difficult word/term/phrase was correct?
  • Did you think about the audience as you were translating?

Translation Tools and Resources:

  • Which tools did you use to help you in your translations (dictionaries, glossaries, online searches)? Please be specific and name your sources.
  • Did you ask someone/an expert for help? Please be specific.
  • Did you post a question to a translators’ forum or group on Facebook or other listservs?

Translation Unit/Challenge:

  • Which word or term was the most difficult word/term/phrase (took you the longest to translate)? Why? Is it technical? Be specific and please provide a back translation into English if focusing on a Language Other Than English (LOTE) term.
  • Is the word/term/phrase culturally specific?

Translation Strategies:

  • Which strategy did you use to solve a translation unit/challenge? Reformulation? Explicitation? Reduction? Footnote? Cultural Substitution? Etc.

Translation Quality:

  • Did you proofread your target text after you finished?
  • Did you use Spell Check in Word or another spelling tool?

Time Spent on Translation:

  • How long did it take you to translate this text?
  • Do you feel your linguistic skills in the source and target languages played a role in how long it took?

Translation Discovery:

  • What new thing did you learn while you were working on this translation?
  • How did you feel when you were done?
  • Were you satisfied with the result?

Improvement Plans:

  • Do you need to take more high-level classes in LOTE or English to improve your linguistic performance?
  • Do you need to take high-level writing courses?
  • Should you improve your general knowledge?

Cristiano Mazzei—Fall 2019

Discussion Forums as Reflective Translation Practice Tools

Another tool that goes hand in hand with rubrics and can be implemented as a reflective practice instrument is the discussion forum. Discussion forums have been a core component of online courses for decades. They foster student engagement and are primarily used for discussing readings or specific topics. However, they can be applied to a variety of additional purposes. This section demonstrates how such forums can be implemented for students to discuss their individual translation process and compare their individual approach with their peers’.

This specific design was implemented in a specialized online English>French translation course as part of an online translation certificate that combined non-language-specific and language-specific courses. In this course, once students had submitted their weekly translation assignment, on which they worked individually and received personalized instructor feedback, they were required to discuss, in the online forum, challenges related to the text they had just translated. In their posts, students were asked to:

  • Identify and qualify each challenge they wanted to discuss.
  • Share resources that helped them solve the issue, such as extra-linguistic information, parallel texts7, bitexts8, or specialized databases.
  • Evaluate the authority of said resources.
  • Justify their translation choices.

To obtain full credit, the rubric called for students to submit a minimum number of reflective comments and respond to a minimum number of peers, asking for clarifications and critically evaluating the pros and cons of their peers’ strategies.

Figure 2 below shows an excerpt from a thread discussing the translation of an acronym (FERPA) in a university employee manual. In this thread, Student A indicates where she found her French translation and gives her opinion about the authority of the web resource she found online, although she doesn’t explain to her peers why it qualifies as a reliable resource. Student B details her step-by-step translation strategy (i.e., what she did)—leaving the original acronym in English and inserting a footnote with an explanation. However, she doesn’t justify any of her decisions. Student C explains and justifies her entire step-by-step process: 1) she states that she looked for extralinguistic information about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, 2) points out that multiple French-language websites leave the acronym FERPA in the body of the text while explaining what the law is about, and then 3) explains her own strategy, backing it up with contextual information about the end user(s) of the translation.

Figure 2: Excerpt from Student Online Discussion Forum

In this design, the instructor’s role is mainly one of an observer, making sure that netiquette is applied and that discussions are progressing in the right direction. The instructor’s intervention is limited to providing a few comments and replying to the occasional student-to-instructor question. Progress, in the form of depth of critical and analytical thinking, happens through peer emulation and social comparison. Students choose peers as a yardstick to measure their own behaviors.9 In other words, students with the strongest analytical skills influence others as the semester advances.

The benefits of such a discussion forum are multi-pronged. Students can use comments to later reflect on their practice, methodologies, strategies, and entire processes. As such, the online forum represents an introspective tool, probably more efficient than think-aloud protocols10, especially since students have time to look back and select the most appropriate items for discussion. Second, the forum also works as a collaborative tool to collectively, and critically, think about a variety of approaches to solve a common challenge. Finally, students can save weekly discussions on their computers to later build their glossaries or lists of reference materials.

VoiceThread: A Multimedia Engagement Tool

VoiceThread is an application that works exceptionally well for student engagement and allows students to select their preferred media for interaction.11 In contrast, many tools in learning management systems (LMS) are based on reading, typing, and one-way presentation of multimedia content. For example, in a discussion forum, students and instructors can post videos and sound files, but they cannot respond to another person’s video with a comment or video of their own, often having to use their own audio or video capturing program to upload such media. VoiceThread changes this. Instructors and students can create video, audio, and text-based and slide-based presentations that become a living base from which everyone can contribute, adding their own video, audio, text comments, or slides. Playback doesn’t have to be linear, and replies can be threaded. (See Figure 3 below.)

Because of the richness of its features, VoiceThread can complement or replace a traditional discussion forum. In the example given in Figure 3, it was used to replace the discussion forum for assigned readings in a multilingual, semester-long course. In previous semesters using traditional discussion forums with threads, students had to write at least one post and respond to at least two of their classmates’ posts per reading. There was a simple rubric for such posts and replies, and while students generally met the rubric, discussion was rarely substantial and engaging. Student contributions seemed rushed, ill-prepared, and the product of a get-it-done mentality.

In the courses that used VoiceThread, one student was responsible for leading the weekly discussion on the reading(s) and was required to post a video or audio commentary lasting at least 10 minutes. Other students then had to reply to the lead discussion with at least one video, audio, or written comment.

A big shift occurred in those courses. Students prepared for the discussions, often reading from several pages of notes. They replied to multiple posts by classmates and logged into a single VoiceThread discussion on multiple days to contribute more. In one course, a student created her own VoiceThread discussion, unprompted, after watching a video she found independently, and most of her classmates replied.

Figure 3: Interactions in VoiceThread

Figure 3: Interactions in VoiceThread

Students engaged with the readings in different ways, posing new questions, enhancing their posts with references to other materials, and discussing their own experiences as interpreters. The attitude among students was one of gratitude and respect, even when opinions diverged. A majority of students wrote that the readings and discussions were their favorite part of the course and where they learned the most.

While there are many advantages to using a multimedia application like VoiceThread, it’s important to mention the few downsides. It sometimes failed when students were recording their responses, leading to frustration and repeated attempts. Also, when students went to VoiceThread without going through Blackboard Learn12, the LMS used in the course, grading integration didn’t work. Perhaps most importantly, reviewing all the students’ posts takes much more time than skimming through discussion forum entries. That said, the discussions generated by the students didn’t require full monitoring. Depending on the group, instructors could skim the posts or “audit” by randomly listening to some.

Another helpful use of VoiceThread for online interpreting classes in particular was for source videos created by students. In a course on simultaneous interpreting, students used VoiceThread to create weekly speeches in English that were then used as source videos for their classmates’ interpreting practice. Students needed to use another device or program to record their interpreted rendition, but it was easy to use VoiceThread to create videos as source material—something that’s not easily accomplished in other programs because of the video upload time.

Making Technology Work for Instructors and Learners

Effective online teaching must adapt content delivery to specific learning environments and the changing needs of students. In an asynchronous environment, students don’t sit down in front of their computers at set times and for fixed durations every week, like they do in a traditional classroom. Nor do they gather at the same time with peers to have discussions. This is why instructors, instead of making teaching goals fit technology, should make technology fit course learning objectives, including building online communities of connected learners, teaching students to do independent research, and giving them the tools to reflect on their translation and interpreting practice.

This article illustrated a few tips for making pedagogically sound use of existing tools and emerging technologies. Hopefully, it has provided readers with ideas to make their own online teaching environments work for their learners.

  1. Lederman, Doug. “Online Education Ascend,” Inside Higher Ed (November 7, 2018),
  2. Aeron, Prageet, Parul Gupta, Diptiranjan Mahapatra, Shailendra Palvia, Ratri Parida, Rebecca Rosner, and Sumita Sindhi. “Online Education: Worldwide Status, Challenges, Trends, and Implications,” Journal of Global Information Technology Management (Volume 21, 2018),
  3. Allen, Elaine, and Jeff Seaman. “Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008,”
  4. Brooks, Margaret. “The Excellent Inevitability of Online Courses,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 21, 2009),
  5. Stevens, Dannelle, and Antonia Levi. Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning (Stylus Publishing, 2012),
  6. Robinson, Douglas. Becoming a Translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation (Routledge, 2003), 60,
  7. Parallel texts are original, untranslated texts written by native speakers discussing a common topic with a similar communicative function in their native language.
  8. Bitexts are “a collection (usually electronic) of texts in two languages that can be considered translations of each other and that are aligned at the sentence or paragraph level.”
  9. Andrews, Steven, and Herminia Ibarra. “Power, Social Influence, and Sense Making: Effects of Network Centrality and Proximity on Employee Perceptions,” Administrative Science Quarterly (June 1993), 277–303,
  10. Think-aloud protocols have been used in process-oriented translation studies. See Bernardini, Silvia. “Think-Aloud Protocols in Translation Research: Achievements, Limits, Future Prospects,” International Journal of Translation Studies (John Benjamins, June 2002),
  11. For more information on VoiceThread, visit
  12. For more information on Blackboard Learn, visit

Laurence Jay-Rayon Ibrahim Aibo is a translator, interpreter, translation studies scholar, and translation curriculum designer who runs her consulting firm, Into French Translations. She has been teaching translation since 2013, translating and interpreting for 30 years, and is certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters as a core-certified health care interpreter. She has held positions in academia and the private and public sectors in the U.S., France, Germany, Djibouti, and Québec. She is also a reviewer for international translation studies journals. She has an MA in translation and a PhD in translation studies from the Université de Montréal. Contact:

Elena Langdon, CT is an ATA director. She has worked as an interpreter and translator since 2000. An ATA-certified Portuguese>English translator, she is also certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters as a core-certified health care interpreter. She has a master’s degree in translation studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and has been teaching interpreting and translation since 2005. A past chair of the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, she currently helps produce webinars for ATA. She loves learning to use new technology, and her current focus is remote simultaneous interpreting. Contact:

Cristiano Mazzei has a BA in translation and interpreting from Unibero University in São Paulo, Brazil, and an MA in translation studies from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst. He has been a practitioner and trainer of translators and interpreters for many years. He is currently the director of translator and interpreter training at the UMass Amherst. He is certified by the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters as a core-certified health care interpreter. He is also certified as a court interpreter by the National Center for State Courts, a certified U.S. State Department translator and interpreter, and a certified translator and interpreter in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. Contact:

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