Rising to the challenge with pride: a community of practice at work
For our interpreting students on the MA Conference Interpreting at London Metropolitan University it is our second week of online teaching. We actually went online even before the University suggested we should. This was a collaborative decision made with students and staff together during a Zoom consultation meeting. Our students come from many countries including Italy, Spain, China and Japan where their families were already in quarantine or isolation. They were worried and did not feel comfortable to travel to University. We then collectively decided that teaching would adapt to integrate the students' concerns.
|MA Conference Interpreting students and tutors closing a mock conference online.|
We are proud to say that we have not missed a single class since the Coronavirus crisis. From our mock conferences, to language specific interpreting tutorials, workshops and interpreting practice, we have delivered all our classes.
We, the tutors and students have been creative, inventive, patient, supportive and focused. We have come together like never before to maintain high quality teaching and learning, including formative assessment and a positive and constructive teaching and learning environment.
I trained students to work online on a Friday, staff on a Sunday and we started teaching on the Monday! I have to admit we were nervous, I definitely was. But I never doubted we would succeed because I knew this was not only a collaborative effort, but mainly we were forming a community of practice that was simply resilient enough to be flexible and adjust to a harsh reality for the collective good.
Every new situation is an opportunity we fully embrace.
Here are a few pointers that made our online transfer a success:
During our face to face interpreting classes, we had been using technology and collaborative tools from day 1. As such we were already used to up to date technology.
We were actually in a privileged position at University as we enjoyed a brand new interpreting suite I had designed and conceptualised with the help of many colleagues at University (IT, Estates, architects, engineers, builders...)
The tools include:
1. A semi formal platform where we chat, exchange and update anything relating to the course. In our case, we use MeWe. As a result, our communication channel remained unchanged when we moved online.
2. A formal VLE platform (Weblearn) where students could find all formal teaching materials, and assessment information.
3. The students' ability to work on collaborative platforms to understand key tools: recording their speeches on devices, uploading their videos on YouTube, working on a shared Google drive with their own portfolio of practice, using Google doc/slides/sheets for their glossaries, reviews etc... This was a great asset for our online move.
4. Zoom: it had been used for the aptitude test to select the students on the course. So all students were familiar with the platform. But at the time Zoom was only used for a one to one interaction. Our new challenge was to teach a whole cohort of students in different languages, for simultaneous interpreting.
5. Google calendar: this was used from the beginning of the course so that students could be informed in real time about all classes. They could also tell when the interpreting suite was free to book additional practice. We simply used the same calendar and included the Zoom connection link for every teaching session. The students only had to click on the link to join their session.
6. Nureva Span: during face to face classes, we built in a canvass accessible to students who could then contribute remotely in a synchronised way. Forget the black board or white board, we think in terms of story line, especially for ongoing modules such as The Interpreters' Professional Environment (module TR7051).
7. Social media: our students are guided and encouraged to create their profile and social media and engage with the profession. This provides confidence with technology, communication online, profiling and understanding what matters and what does not. It contributes to engage with the wider community of interpreters that share their experience.
8. Web-streaming our mock conferences online is a feature on the course we particularly pay attention to. #InterpretWithUs is now quite well known. The concept of sharing and creating opportunities for the wider community of interpreters is deeply rooted in our ethical approach to teaching.
As you can see, the list is quite long... and I know I could have added a few more aspects of our teaching and learning approach that foster a community of practice mindset... for example, our virtual classes with partner universities or again our Ambassadors' Scheme for Interpreting Studies.
The technology is one thing, but the approach to teaching and learning with technology is another. Students and staff have continuously engaged with technology to help achieve what was needed: further practice, logistics, exchange information, reaching out to others, optimising resources, building relationships, engaging with the new profession.
In times of crisis, maintaining motivation and stamina over a long period of time is a must. This is why we made some key decisions.
One of the first questions we asked ourselves during the online transition was whether we wanted to keep our mock conferences in simultaneous interpreting, in 8 languages. One of our modules "Conference Interpreting (EU/UN context)" includes a conference management element where students have to contact speakers, organise speeches, create an agenda, a team sheet for interpreters etc... Quite a feat. We as a team of tutors and students decided we would adapt the mock conferences and run them. The effort of staff and students to make these mock conferences happen is immense. We did not want to give them up. On the contrary we used the challenge to help us keep our strength, stamina and our professional ambition.
|Agenda with links to speeches and booths (breakout room) with tutors.|
We used Zoom. We used the breakout rooms as language specific booths. We recorded all our speeches and saved them on YouTube. We included the links of our speeches in a detailed agenda shared on our Google Drive and also on MeWe.
Language specific tutors joined students in their breakout rooms and listened to them. We even used a hand over signal to indicate we were passing the mic on to our interpreting colleague, exactly as we would do in a booth. Feedback was provided in the rooms. Then we reconvened between speeches in the main room to exchange feedback. We moved on to the following speech... and so on for a four hour mock conference. We deliver one mock conference per week and intend to do so until the end of the semester.
|Poll during our first mock conference|
Zoom includes a poll which I used to see how students were feeling.
When at university, we do not just interpret and learn. We also chat, laugh, have a coffee together and relax. This is what we will do tomorrow when we connect on our ChitChat cafe! The only condition is to bring a mug, tea or coffee and some biscuits or cakes! This informal session is as important as interpreting practice. It helps us connect, build trust and support for one another. This social dimension is essential to learning during the course and beyond.
Tutors are meeting for a virtual cafe to debrief the experience of online teaching during mock conferences, and small language specific interpreting practice, support for homework and preparation for online assessment.
This successful online experience has been made possible thanks to our community of practice mindset that has underpinned the conceptualisation of interpreting studies.
It is not the technology that is making this online transfer work; it is the energy, motivation and trust we have built as a community of practice engaged at different levels and over many years of teaching and learning interpreting at London Met.