The Interpreting Ambassadors' Scheme at London Metropolitan University moving towards a Community of Practice

As I attend conferences and share thoughts with colleagues, I realise that the Community of Practice mindset is far more than a model to work with, it is deeply embedded in everything I do. As I read and research further into a new CoP model for interpreting studies and the evolution of the interpreting profession, I become more and more aware that the CoP seed is growing faster than I expected. This is especially true in my teaching. When I say 'teaching', I don't only mean 'formal time in the classroom'. From the first encounter with a potential student to the moment a graduate is working and happily doing so, there is a bond that needs nurturing. The formal teaching as well as the informal chats and what I call the 'hot chocolate treatment' are all part of what I call 'teaching' and 'learning'. 
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By the way, the 'hot chocolate treatment' is simple: when I see a student who struggles, needs to talk, needs to clear their thoughts, or simply a boost, I suggest a hot chocolate round the corner at the Leonidas cafe. It is an informal time when we chat outside university and put everything that has to be said on the table. The relationship is then more from person to person rather than from lecturer to student. You now know one of my powerful secret strategies, feel free to share it, it works wonders!So what does the CoP model have to do with this initiative?
TThe Master's programmes for interpreters at LondonMet  only last a year in the UK (unless the student studies part time over 2 years). Within a single year, interpreting students need to master interpreting techniques for consecutive and simultaneous interpreting; they need to upgrade their knowledge on current affairs, their language register, their understanding of international organisations, prepare mock conferences, write essays and present speeches, among many other things. I never say it enough: it is VERY intensive! 

If I could have it my own way, I would love to keep students for another semester at least. But when students have already spent more than 6 thousands pounds on the course alone, I doubt they will be able to afford another year or even semester on the course. This is why I decided to have my cake and eat it when I designed the Interpreting Ambassadors' Scheme at LondonMet. It all started in 2007. A small group of interpreting graduates came back to university and told me en passant that they were practising interpreting at the Starbucks cafe every week. The cafe is round the corner from university. I suggested I could book a room for their practice. We then met to discuss what I could do on the university's behalf to support their learning after they graduate. This is how the seed for the Ambassadors' Scheme as it is today (it was initiated a few years prior to that but was not so formalised) and the Advanced Conference Interpreting course germinated.  On the one hand, I knew that a one year course needed reinforcement but could not be costly, and as such not formal. I wanted to support motivated graduates and show them that university is a place where people come and go depending on what they need and what they can give.On the other hand, interpreting graduates wanted to continue their learning, needed support from LondonMet but did not know how to go about it. They were simply trying their best with what they had. Following the first few months of informal practice at university which I attended to give as much feedback as I could, we all met again to discuss the whole experience. It was then decided that an additional course for interpreting graduates who were preparing their EU/UN accreditation test was required. We officialised the course now called Advanced Conference Interpreting (EU/UN context) and offered it to external students for a cost. But the priority was still supporting interpreting graduates from LondonMet. We wanted the course to bring students for practice, offer them quality resources and professional feedback from tutors. But it was very important for the Ambassadors to feel they were no longer students but professionals in the making. I then suggested that interpreting graduates at LondonMet could  attend the course for free if they gave new interpreting students and the course 12 hours of their time to compensate for the course fees they would not have to pay (currently £950 for the academic year). The whole idea was a great success! 

Social lunch with ambassadors and students

Interpreting graduates called 'Ambassadors' could reinforce their knowledge by mentoring new interpreting students on the course and continue their reflection on learning and practice. The exchange between the two levels of training has been amazing, rich and empowering. The Ambassador is not a tutor; it is someone who has been through the course. This is reassuring for interpreting students. The Ambassador's learning experience is highly valued with informal conversations, practice and exchanges. It can be compared to a helping hand given to someone who crosses the road. The course is a journey (the true meaning of 'Curriculum') and in a sense, it is about leaving the safety of the pavement to cross the road and aim at the new direction. This can be scary and daunting. The Ambassadors offer the safe feeling that it can be done and that choices made to move forward are all varied and highly valued. Interpreting students also get inspired by the Ambassadors, the way they interact and communicate and pursue their career. At the end of each academic year, interpreting students and Ambassadors meet to discuss how to bring the scheme forward for another year. The scheme is improved and adapted to the experience of both existing Ambassadors and interpreting students about to decide whether they wish to join the Ambassador's Scheme. This is how the additional practice sessions organised by Ambassadors for interpreting students are now more structured and organised. A paid Ambassador Coordinator has been appointed to organise face to face activities such as additional practice every two weeks, interpreted guided walks in the City of London, help for interpreting conferences and contributions to events such as the London Language Show.
Lucile and Ben, ambassadors at the London Language Show

This year, I also appointed a paid Virtual Ambassador's Coordinator to organise virtual practice organised by Ambassadors for interpreting students. We have tried and learnt different approaches, using technology in different ways.

And it worked!

As I have already mentioned in previous posts, a CoP thrives where there is a BOND and TRUST between members. The Ambassadors demonstrate a well defined domain and a strong desire to come together to exchange and learn from one another, building up expertise and produce speeches, practice and peer to peer feedback. Interpreting trainers, Ambassadors and interpreting students are all practitioners at different stages of their professional life. As practitioners, they all have something to offer and something they need to move forward. This specific CoP slightly differs from a standard CoP where experts tend to form the CoP over quite a long period of time. For the specific case, members of the CoP change on a regular basis. Ambassadors can remain Ambassadors for as long as they wish. However, we note that the Ambassador's Scheme is highly important to interpreting  graduates who are active Ambassadors for a year, sometimes two. It is the perfect support network that brings people together, encouraging them to reflect on their knowledge, mature their interpreting practice before they can fully fly with their two wings.

Guided walk at the Lloyd's of London
In addition, it has been noticed that all our Ambassadors who passed the EU/UN accreditation test, apart from two, had been Ambassadors that also attended the Advanced Conference Interpreting course. Finally, Ambassadors have been much more proactive and contribute 'creatively' to the interpreting profession by volunteering during conferences that they could then attend free of charge, volunteering for international organisations (dummy booth practice), presenting  papers during conferences, setting up their own business, setting up other informal interpreting practice groups and finally working as professional interpreters. Whatever their decision and their choice, the CoP mindset was present in the way they interacted with colleagues, thought creatively about their career and in the way they were confident in contacting professional organisations and in interacting to contribute. The CoP structure of the Ambassador's Scheme encouraged them to learn within their network, but also with interpreting graduates when mentoring. Being at the centre of the CoP for the most active members valued their input and channeled energies to encourage them to integrate the profession with interest and embrace new careers. 

The Master's programmes in interpreting include a dedicated module on employability. I then often say that the worse thing that could happen to students is to pass exams, and start thinking about where to start when at home, feeling isolated. The CoP mindset experienced within the Interpreting Master's programmes and the Ambassador's Scheme is the ingredient that demonstrates the experiential learning potential when interacting in formal or informal networks. Graduates and Ambassadors are networked when they leave the course. They know that LondonMet is within their network. It is a strong node to which they can always come back depending on their needs are.
Ambassador Jonathan contributes to mock conference

The Ambassadors' Scheme is growing. I have already negotiated that the Ambassadors' Scheme could be extended to the universities that connect with LondonMet for virtual classes. For the fist time this year, an interpreting graduate from HUB University in Belgium spent a year at LondonMet as an Ambassador. She was able to help students on the course. Like any other Ambassador, she could attend any class she wanted, as well as the Advanced Conference Interpreting course. She improved her level of English and managed to practice new language combinations. In the same way, two LondonMet graduates were able to go to HUB and improve their French whilst they helped interpreting students there. Finally, we are now negotiating further exchanges of the same nature with other partner universities.

On a personal level, the Ambassadors' Scheme is a wonderful initiative that allows me to have my cake and eat it. The Master's programme is still a one year programme but at no extra cost (money); interpreting graduates can grow, learn in networks, and build their confidence within the CoP that evolves with students' needs. I can then feel confident and proud to let them go and flourish in their new professional and personal spheres.

I look forward to your comments.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and should not be taken to represent the official positions of universities, networks or associations.


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