Distance teaching from a (not too) distant teacher

Last #IntJC was dedicated to distance teaching. Now it may sound as if I’m only blogging about #IntJC topics, but hey, if the topic is good…

When I took up my PhD post it involved teaching an introductory course in interpreting. I’m commuting to Bergen so I wanted to plan my course in blocks. The idea was to have for instance four blocks of teaching, each one over a couple of days displayed evenly over semester. But there was another problem too, students taking French in this BA program had their Erasmus exchange the same semester as I gave my compulsory course. And those students were supposed to follow my course, although they were in France for seven weeks.

The solution was to teach on a distance platform. I cut down the on site teaching to two times two days, and the rest has been given on internet for the past three years. As said, #IntJC was discussing distance teaching last time and I’ll take this opportunity here to dwell on my experiences from these past three years.

The course has first and foremost been a theoretical course. It’s an introduction to interpreting. We have had a few hours of practice, but it has been done on site. The course schedule included two days in the beginning of the term with lectures and introduction to interpreting and note-taking, then a lecture series over seven weeks on internet, and a last meeting of two days at the end of the term. Parallel to the lecture series students also had practice in dialogue interpreting.

The fact that we do it on distance has many advantages. Obviously, students (and teacher) can participate regardless of location, but since we also record it and put it on our intranet, every lecture, with power points and discussions is available for students afterwards. When they prepare their exam paper or other compulsory tasks, they can access all the lectures they need. This is very powerful compared to only relying on your own notes or hand outs from the teacher.

I have planned my courses fairly traditionally, a text to prepare before the course, sometimes with questions, sometimes without. Then, during the lecture, I started with introduction to the text and after that hopefully a discussion. I say hopefully, because the discussion part has been the most challenging every year. In my experience I usually get a few questions via chat during my presentation, but when we come to the discussion part both chat feed and demands for microphone are troublingly silent.

Obviously, I have thought about what may be the reason behind this. Presumably, the learning experience will be better if we have (preferably animate) discussions about the topic. I have a few ideas, but so far I have not managed to overcome the lack of discussions.

First, the tech problems; although most students of today are labeled digital natives (I’d say average age of the group I teach is 20-25, I must admit that the tech side is challenging. I dedicate one hour at the start up, on site, seminar to introduce the platform. We have used the Adobe Connect platform which I find a fairly easy to use and straight forward platform. We don’t use the video-mode in order to minimize tech problems. And in order for everyone to have easy access to the lectures we keep one of the computer rooms on site open so that all students should have easy access to a computer. Still, we spend at least half an hour of the first class overcoming different tech problems, the most common being problems with sound.

Second, the medium; maybe the fact that we are on the Internet and that the simplest questions will be recorded is intimidating. We record all the sessions, and they are saved in its entirety – chat, audio, power point, notes, and so forth. This is put on an intranet server only accessible to our students, but still… Maybe it’s hard to have the impression that you ask stupid questions, come with “wrong answers” or just speculate when it’s on tape and can, and probably will, be viewed by teacher and fellow students.

Third, the power balance; when we chat over #IntJC we are all equal. Some are seasoned professionals, some are students, but we gather there to discuss a text that one of us chose and everyone is curious to hear everyone’s opinion, no grades are given, there is no right or wrong answers. Whereas, at my online course, I’m the teacher, I grade their papers, and although I don’t want to see it that way, they seem think that I have a final judgement on what is right or wrong and they probably feel they need to produce the “right answer”.

I’m not sure what the course will look like next term, but I have a few things I would like to test from #IntJC;
a) I will systematically produce a couple of discussion questions for every text.
b) I will dedicate part of the class to chat discussion only.
c) I will try to couple my texts with other material (other texts, you tube videos, news articles of films).

When I started teaching this course three years ago, I was desperately seeking the Internet for examples, background, things to deepen my students understanding. I think it’s safe to say that there was not much around. I found some good stuff, but it was by no means evident. Since then I’m happy to say that interpreting discussions on Internet has exploded. Every year I have more stuff to choose from and since #IntJC and #EPT started, together, of course, with a lot of great blogs (by all means go through my blog roll), I can safely say that I will have great material for my background readings and contrastive texts.

So, I’m excited for next version of the course. I’ll keep you posted.

Me and my hats (there’s more to it than interpreting)

Next topic on #IntJC will be on professional identities. How do you juggle your professional hats? And can you be credible in your different identities when you have several different ones?

Since I will not be able to participate I’ll give you my own experiences here, in case you need some background reading 🙂

When I finished high school in Sweden it was important not to give future employers the impression that you were a job-hopper. Your CV needed to be consistent. If not the same student job since age 15, at least within the same sector, preferably giving you relevant work-life experience for your future training and career. Need I tell you that already here I was already heading in the wrong direction?

Some ten years later life seemed to be on the right track from a consistency perspective. I was near the end of teacher training and had had the same student job for the past four years – I could see my future the coming five years… ten years… fifteen years… and I felt… claustrophobic.

Luckily, I came across the most interesting, fascinating job where it didn’t matter that my professional background looked more like a patchwork than a tightly knit plaid. Even better, the patchwork was an advantage! So perhaps not surprisingly I’m juggling many hats with pride. However, sometimes I get the feeling that for, let’s call them, more consistent people out there my different hats sometimes raise professional suspicion. Am I really serious? Well, I hope to prove here that I am probably more serious than most – otherwise you cannot juggle.

First question to be addressed on Saturday: Tell us about your professional hats: how many do you have? What are they?

I’m a researcher in interpreting (which in a way makes me an eternal student). I’m an interpreter and my interpreting hat is split into conference interpreter and public service interpreter. I’m also a teacher, I have taught horseback riding, horse carriage driving, languages and interpreting. I also see myself as a blogger and twitterer, although, admittedly I blog and tweet about interpreting and it’s not really professional.

Second #IntJC question: Of all the hats you wear, which are the most/least loved by you? The easiest/hardest to accomplish?

I love all my hats! Maybe my love for interpreting is a little bit stronger since it has allowed me to carry on with the rest of my hats. It is a very large and flexible hat.

Third question: How do the majority of the clients see you (which hat/role)? How do you want to be seen?

Well, I cannot say that I have clients who see me as a researcher, not yet anyway. My university hat interacts with other university employees and fellow researchers – today it takes 70 to 80 percent of my time and I hope that most of them see me as researcher. My interpreting clients see me as an interpreter of course. I struggle with my students, who are in a way clients too, for my interpreting students I want them to see me as an interpreter, but I think the teacher hat imposes itself so much on them that they have difficulty seeing me in a booth.

Question four and here we come down to nitty-gritty: What are the factors behind the uneasiness some feel about defining themselves as a professional with many hats?

It is this consistency again – for me as a researcher I am sometimes viewed as less serious because I exercise the profession I am researching. This means for some that I am biased in my study of the profession, that I will let my background beliefs influence my results. It is also so very easy within humanities research, especially in a small research community, to undermine results simply by hinting that they may be biased by the researcher’s own world view.

Needless to say the sword is two edged. As an interpreter I sometimes get negative reactions from colleagues because I have “crossed the line”. I have started to research an area impossible to research. Interpreting skill is innate and there is nothing more to it. Nurture your skill instead of digging into impossible studies. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that interpreting is both researchable and even that interpreting benefit from research.

For my interpreting clients it sometimes feel as the most difficult part is to prove that I am a professional at all, that I’m not a language student, that this is what I do for a living, that I have actually gone to university to master a skill. Or, like one doctor said after I had interpreted a medical appointment: So, you are really a professional interpreter? (Me: Yes) Well, I have to admit it’s much easier when you are around.

Question five: The million dollar question. What would you suggest as tactics to stand up for your professional selves and feel confident?

This is where the seriousness comes in. I try to do the juggling with my hats with as much seriousness as possible. I cannot “ad lib”, I cannot hope for the best, I cannot “see how things go”.
As a teacher I have to be extremely good at respecting deadlines, planning classes, giving feed back – because if I’m not I will loose my confidence and the credibility from my students and colleagues eyes.
As an interpreter I strive to be a good, well prepared, pleasant co-worker and languages service provider (and always arrive well before time), because if I’m not I will loose my confidence and the credibility from my clients.
And as a researcher I try to present minutely planned and methodologically sound studies where I take great pain in testing and reporting my methods, because if I don’t I will loose confidence and my fellow researcher will so easily be able to say: “Oh, you know it’s because she’s an interpreter – she may actually have let her own opinion influence her results.”

What about Interpreters and Stress? Is stress in interpreting a myth?

I have colleagues who have night mares about looking for the booth, running around in maze-like corridors without ever finding your way to the booth. I cannot remember night mares like that. On the other hand I remember real life situations when I was completely stressed out sitting on a bus, in a taxi, on a train that does not simply arrive on time. So much for stress around the job, but what about stress on task.

I think the worst stress situations for me in the interpreting event is when you sit in the same room as you clients and you realize that they for one reason or another do not believe what you say. And you have to take back your clients trust.

So much for my personal reflections. Interpreters and stress was the topic of the second Interpreting Journal Club #IntJC. You can read the chat here #IntJC Session 2, September 24th. I have been meaning to write up my impressions and what I’ve learned from the second Tweetchat for quite a while now but time flies as usual. Maria Cristina de la Vega wrote a very nice report here. My participation record of #IntJC has not been splendid. I was particularily annoyed to miss out on the one about ethical issues. I will try to write up blog posts on the different issues dealt with based on my own experience and the protocols from the chats.

People’s general perception of interpreting is also that this must be very stressful, people hear you are an interpreter, and often respond – “but it must be very stressful”. So what did the interpreters present at the discussion think about it.

First of all, to a certain extent stress is positive, but the interpreter easily crosses the line to negative stress. Stress – or maybe excitement – is positive if you can cope with it. It keeps you on your toes and several participants felt that it helps you deal with the situation at hand, but when stress takes over it makes you “freeze”. @DosParules defined positive stress as the fuel that makes your engine react and negative stress as the one with you cannot cope and makes you freeze. @avic1 beautifully said when excitement turns into anxiety that’s when the stress gets negative. Stress also affects your performance. If you’re stressed your performance decline, you have to cope and stay serene.
It turned out though that these interpreters stress less about the actual interpreting and more about the stress around work, technology, working conditions, documentation, location of the meeting and so forth. Stress also comes from many things that are not necessarily work related (personal situation, environmental factors etc). Interestingly enough, stress form speakers and colleagues can be contagious. @MariaCdelaVega2 rightly pointed out that you should not waste your time on the imponderables. So true, but so difficult not to, if you ask me.

Different ways to deal with the stress in the situation were voiced, those were breathing, sticking to the topic, imposing a calm attitude, stay neutral. Different participants also had different ways of how they behaved under stress, it could be cognitive, subjective or behavioural, i.e. people’s performance goes down, they get moody and they start to move around.

It can be very stressful to see that you are not understood, or to not understand what you have to interpret. In some situations the interpreter can be used as scape goat, a situation which is stressful for the interpreter. Another issue is clients’ unrealistic demands, since you’re the interpreter of X-language you can probably interpret Y-language too. When you are not in the booth, but next to your client, your clients perceive your stress and that becomes stressful too. Only @lioneltokyo had the experience of working in a crisis/conflict situation, but all interpreters agreed that those situations are likely to be extremely stressful but in another way than the “usual” work stress.

Preparation can be stressful too, for instance when you have difficulties preparing yourself or when you are not enough prepared. Preparation is more stressful for beginners than for experienced interpreters. Jobs that come up last minute are very stressful and some even say no to them because of stress.
Is interpreting more stressful than other jobs? The participants said that it is more stressful than many jobs, but it does not deal with life and death or other extreme jobs.

On the issue of how interpreters deal with stress on a more general level, we all agreed that having a life outside interpreting was important. Participants also stressed an active life, running yoga and so forth.

#IntJC – first session. What did I learn?

Last Saturday was extremely busy. I was at a blog meet with other Swedish bloggers in Brussels courtesy Brysselkakan. And in the middle of that lunch our first Interpreting Journal Club started. For those still not initiated to the #IntJC read this decicated website or this blog. But despite eating cakes and going home on the bus I managed to participate fairly well. Thanks to Lionel there is also an archive of the discussions and I would like to dedicate this post to what I learned from the discussions.

The first meeting dealt with interpreter’s personality. We had all read the Nicholson-Schweda article and many of us had also done the Myers-Briggs personality test. First thing that struck me was that of all those who participated (15 people from all over the planet, so different culture, different languages and so forth) and had taken the test there was no clear trend of personalities, we were spread over all the different personalities. This further supports my claim that the Schweda-Nicholson study may say something about interpreting students personality (with that specific cultural background), but not about interpreters. The test may tell us alot about our personality, but not necessarily anything about us as interpreters. There are probably as many interpreting personalities as there are interpreters. The research paper also seems to be focussing on conference interpreting and the professional personality you use as a conference interpreter is not necessarily the same as the one you develop as a community interpreter.

As teachers we are longing for better screening or aptitude tests. It’s so sad that we have entrance tests where we really try to single out the student’s that will be successful and we still have a 50 % fail rate. There’s something we’re doing wrong there. HOWEVER, personality does not seem like the thing to screeen. Also, student develop at different rates. So does the entrance exams spot students with a potential to become interpreter or students who already possess the skill?

The problem with the study is that the MBTI test is grossly western oriented. But it’s interesting to find that there are many different personalities among student’s too. And of course the problem mentionnned above that only students are tested. The author of the study also uses many sweeping descriptions when she outlines her personalities. The interpreters present at #IntJC all found these terribly sweeping. Considering we are all of different nationalities living in different cultures, many of us living in another culture than the one you grew up in we are probably extra sensitive to these generalizations.

Many of the participants also said the went into the role of the speaker. Similarily to what an actor does. This also supports the fact that you would maybe not seem to be the personality you “truly” are. On top of that one of the participants said that he’d done the test twice and gotten different results.

We went on for an hour and twenty minutes and at the end of the meeting we got into stress. Lionel therefore suggested we’d discuss stress on the next #IntJC on September 24th. All the preparation is here.

So, once again – Thank you Lionel for organising this. It’s a great learning/networking/discussion experience. So well needed in our community.

The Interpreting Journal Club

Doesn’t it sound a little like the Pickwick Papers or Phileas Fogg’s Reform Club? Well it may be a little less romantic but it’s certainly a completely new initiative for the interpreting world. Lionel Dersot of the Liaison Interpreter has modelled a TweetChat event after the Twitter Journal club for Medical Studies. The idea as simple as ingenious. Interested parties prepare by reading an article and decide a time to meet on Twitter or in TweetChat to discuss it. The hashtag is #IntJC.
The first article to read is about interpreting personality. The article is written by Nancy Schweda Nicolson and can be downloaded here. If you would like to take the test too it’s here. I’m an ENFP, in case you wondered.
The time and date is set for September 10th at 10 pm Tokyo time which means September 10th 3 pm Brussels time.
You can read all the details at the site Lionel created for this event here.
As you can see from Lionel’s presentation the idea is that it’s going to be an open forum for people in the industry as well as for students and other interested parties. Interpreters of all kinds.
So do sign in and join the discussion next Saturday!