Collaborative learning in the translation classroom

By Janet Campbell,2014-02-04 20:05
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Collaborative learning in the translation classroom

Collaborative learning in the translation classroom:

    preliminary survey results

    Elsa Huertas Barros, Universidad de Granada, Spain


    Interpersonal competence is the translator‟s ability to work with other professionals involved in the translation process (terminologists, translators, proofreaders) and other actors (clients, authors), and includes such qualities as ability to work in a team, negotiation skills and leadership skills (Kelly 2002: 15). This paper focuses on the acquisition of interpersonal competence through collaborative learning during the first

    1stages of translation training in Translation and Interpreting (TI) faculties in Spain. The methodology used for gathering data for this study was based on the form of qualitative research known as focus or discussion groups. This was subsequently complemented by a questionnaire provided to a sample of 191 3rd year students of TI in Spain. The aim was to obtain information regarding their general notions on teamwork during the first training stage of their translation studies. The questionnaire included questions on the definition of teamwork, advantages and disadvantages of this type of teaching methodology, student‟s preferences concerning their work styles and their previous experience in this field as well as its importance in professional environments, among others. This paper will show the initial results obtained.


    Translation competence, interpersonal competence, collaborative learning, teamwork, translator training.


    Translator training studies is a relatively new sub-discipline of Translation Studies that began to develop in the middle of the twentieth century and gained progressive importance in the 1970s. Since the 1990s the most innovative approaches, which focus on students as the main agents of the learning process, have developed in the field of Translation Training (Kiraly 1995; 2000). With the reform of the Spanish higher education system due to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) which has arisen from the Bologna Process (1999), didactic models based on competences have become more and more important in higher education. This new system promotes a new perspective in Higher Education that integrates students as its main component and relates education to the labour market. Following this approach, the didactic perspective based on general and specific competences that represent the professional profile required by the market might be the most appropriate.

    Taking into account this new perspective of the higher education system, especially in the field of Translation, interpersonal competence assumes a vital role.

    Background notions

    2.1 Definition of the term translation competence

    Despite the fact that there is certain consonance in some of the main components of translation competence, there are a variety of conceptual and terminological approaches. Some of the main translation competence models are the following, each of them presenting different criteria and specific competences: Wilss (1976), Delisle (1980; 1992), Roberts (1984), Nord (1991; 1992), Gile (1995), Kiraly (1995), Hurtado Albir (1996, 2007), Hatim and Mason (1997), Campbell (1998), Neubert (2000), PACTE (2000; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2005) and Kelly (2002; 2005). In our paper we will follow the translation competence model proposed by Kelly (2002; 2005), since it underlines some professional aspects that do not appear in other models. We refer to interpersonal competence that allows the translator to interact with other professionals and agents present in the translation process. Kelly (2002: 14) defines translation competence as the “macrocompetence that comprises the different capacities, skills, knowledge and even attitudes that professional translators possess and

    2which are involved in translation as an expert activity.” According to Kelly‟s

    model (2005: 32-33), translation competence can be broken down into seven areas of competence: communicative and textual competence in at least two languages and cultures, cultural and intercultural competence, subject area competence, professional and instrumental competence, attitudinal or psycho-physiological competence, interpersonal competence and strategic competence. These areas of competence are all necessary for both the acquisition of translation competence and for the student to be able to work as a professional translator (Kelly 2005: 162).

    2.1.1 Definition of the concept interpersonal competence

    Even though our study relates to translation competence, we will concentrate on interpersonal competence and will provide some definitions of this area of translator competence. As our preliminary survey results show, teamwork has become more and more important for present-day translators, which justifies the need to implement this methodological solution in education as well as studying its use in translator training. According to Kelly‟s translation

    competence model (2002; 2005), interpersonal competence consists of: (...) the ability to work with other professionals involved in translation process (translators, revisers, documentary researchers, terminologists, project managers, layout specialists), and other actors (clients, initiators, authors,

    users, subject area experts), as well as team work, negotiation skills and leadership skills (Kelly 2005: 33).

    In line with this proposal, we would like to mention the Tuning project(Tuning

    Educational Structures in Europe), a convergence plan regarding the syllabus

    content of various disciplines developed between 2000 and 2004 as a result of the reforms attendant to the Bologna Process. González and Wagenaar (2003: 82, 84) provide a more detailed classification in which interpersonal competence incorporates critical and self-critical abilities, teamwork, interpersonal skills, the ability to work in inter-disciplinary teams and the ability to communicate with experts in other fields. According to this approach, interpersonal competence also includes the appreciation of diversity and multiculturality, the ability to work in an international context as well as the ethical commitment. These competences tend to facilitate the process of social interaction and cooperation. Based on this classification, Hurtado Albir (2007: 168) defines interpersonal competence as “the skills that allow one to interact well with other people, whether individuals or groups.”

    2.2 Definition of the concept of collaborative learning

    The first author to propose a social-constructivist methodology for collaboration was Kiraly (2000), who was already suggesting certain collaborative methodologies in his prior work (1995). As Kiraly (2000: 36) claims:

    True collaborative learning does not mean simply dividing up the work on a task, a mere division of labour. It is instead the joint accomplishment of a task with the dual learning goals of meaning-making on the part of each individual group member.

    From this perspective, collaborative learning entails not only the division of work in a specific task, but it requires its joint completion so that the team members can construct meanings together and can develop cultural and professional knowledge. Kiraly also proposes an evolution from teaching oriented towards the teacher as the main source of knowledge to teaching based not on the students themselves, but on teaching itself. In this social-constructivist approach for translator training, the student is the main agent of the learning process and the teacher guides them through this stage. Kiraly also highlights the importance of collaborative learning based on the interaction and dialog of students with their teacher and their peers: I propose that translator education be seen as a dynamic, interactive process based on learner empowerment. (…) Instead of filling learners with knowledge, teachers should serve as guides, consultants and assistants who can help set the stage for learning events in which students will evolve into professional

    translator by experiencing real or at least simulated translation activities in all their complexity (Ibid: 17-18).

    The key principles of the social-constructivist educational approach include an active involvement in authentic professional practices, a collaborative teaching environment that promotes interaction among students as well as an active participation in the learning and teaching process (Kiraly et al. 2003: 51). Other

    authors, such as Johnson and Johnson (1994: 14) define collaborative learning as the “instructional use of small teams so that students work together to

    3maximise their own and each other‟s learning.” As the main characteristics of

    teamwork these authors highlight: student motivation to carry out a joint effort and to achieve the planned objectives, the responsibility assumed by every member and teamwork to attain joint outcomes. In order to fulfil this, students must establish aims addressed to the team tasks and not to the individuals who make up the team. It is also essential that students generate social interaction among the team members and mutual dependence to achieve specific aims (Johnson and Johnson 1994: 17-18). Taking into account the different approaches to teamwork mentioned above and its main characteristics, it is obvious that teamwork may have much to contribute to translation teaching methodology. This is why it seems necessary to introduce collaborative work and collective accountability in translator training. We can conclude that the ability to work in a team is not exclusively developed by organising students in teams, since they will only acquire interpersonal competence through practice and reflection. Therefore, in order to achieve good teamwork performance, all the team members must participate and be involved actively and responsibly in every task they must fulfil, having at their disposal their teacher‟s supervision.

    2.2.1. Requirements for the optimum performance of teamwork

    Since professional translation is getting to be more of a social activity, we believe that encouraging teamwork in the classroom is a good way to prepare students for it. In order for teams to work cooperatively, Johnson and Johnson (1994: 21-23) highlight the following essential requirements: positive interdependence, joint responsibility, stimulating interaction, interpersonal and team abilities and team assessment. Firstly, students must commit with other team members, since each individual‟s work benefits or is detrimental to the

    other team members and to their work. In the same way, student motivation to work together should be developed with the aim of maximising learning for each team member. In this sense, it is particularly important to underline the fact that teamwork success usually empowers and motivates students. Moreover, each team member will have to assume certain responsibilities according to their position in the team and will be accountable to the rest of the members. In order to achieve the planned general aim, every team member must fulfil the specific task assigned to them, otherwise the team performance will be affected. Regarding stimulating interaction, each team member must

    benefit from the involvement and participation of all the others: all the members work together with the aim of attaining joint results, they support each other, collaborate, share and interact with each other. Along these lines, interpersonal and teamwork abilities comprise interpersonal relations among team members to coordinate their work and achieve the planned objectives. Finally, team assessment entails an evaluation of their work efficiency and the completion of their objectives. This assessment takes place when the team members analyse whether they are fulfilling their aims and whether their team relationship is effective. In addition, the teacher must decide upon the assessment method for the team taking into account the criteria he or she considers adequate. 2.2.2. Advantages and disadvantages of collaborative learning

    Considering the different approaches regarding collaborative learning, its implementation generates some advantages and disadvantages. As the main benefits of teamwork, Johnson and Johnson (1994: 14-15) highlight the following: student motivation to carry out a joint effort and to meet the planned objectives, the responsibility assumed by all the team members, a greater productivity, the generation of positive relations among the team members (commitment, solidarity, respect, teamwork spirit, etc.) as well as developing the awareness of being a translator and the integration with other members. Along with these advantages, Kiraly et al. (2003: 52, 54-55) add the socialisation

    process experienced by the team members that allows them to construct their own knowledge through interactions with their classmates, teachers and experts in the field. These authors also underline other benefits including the creation of a class community that promotes collaboration and interaction to construct meaningful learning, the acquisition of experience to solve translation problems similar to the ones they will find as professional translators, the decrease of a potential feeling of competitiveness among students to achieve the best results and authentication in translator training. Kelly (2005: 102) claims that teamwork promotes the acquisition of interpersonal skills as well as entailing a personal and social experience for students. Our later discussion on the preliminary results obtained in our study, reveals that according to most students (96.9%) teamwork entails numerous advantages, compared to 3.1% who claim the opposite. Our later analysis shows that the main advantages mentioned by students are in consonance with the ones presented in this section.

    Despite these benefits, collaborative learning can involve some disadvantages including the lack of participation of some team members and the dominant attitude of some members, especially self-confident students (Johnson and Johnson, 1994: 14). Kiraly et al. (2003: 51, 54, 57) also highlight a tendency in

    which weak students usually benefit from the most advanced ones, whilst the opposite rarely occurs. Furthermore sometimes students find it difficult to trust the other team members, since some of them prefer to work individually and are

    not motivated to work as a team. These authors also add that awkward situations or misunderstandings may occur with some team members, which may result in only some students carrying out the task assigned to the whole team. Klimkowski (2006: 101) claims that inappropriate teamwork performance may cause difficulties in coordinating the project and attaining the planned goals. As we discuss in our preliminary results, these observations are very similar to the ones obtained in the questionnaire that we distributed among 191 students, all of whom considered teamwork to involve some drawbacks. 3. Students‟ conceptions on teamwork during the first training stage of translator training

    The main goal of our research consists in analyzing the acquisition of interpersonal competence though collaborative learning during the first training stage in Translation Studies in Spain. In order to collect the data for our study we used the focus group, a “carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment” (Krueger and Casey, 2000: 5). Therefore, this form of qualitative research provided us with rich and complex information to address in depth the object of study from the perspective of the involved agents (Suárez Ortega, 2005: 25). We also used this technique to complement the survey in order to anticipate and define the contents of, and potential

    4responses to, the questionnaire we subsequently provided to 191 3rd year

    5students of Spanish TI faculties (Huertas Barros, forthcoming). Of the total, 27 students were taking modules belonging to the 3rd and the 4th year of TI. During the exploratory phase of our study, we first approached the object of research through the work of Gibbs (1994a; 1994b) regarding teamwork, which served us as a base to define the general and specific objectives of our study. Then we initiated the preparation phase for the focus groups that we held afterwards, in which we elaborated a structured script with the questions posed in these meetings. These works constituted a keystone for structuring, designing and elaborating the script, which was composed of 40 questions. We included sections about students‟ notions on teamwork, the creation, organisation, implementation and follow-up of teams, teamwork assessment and the feedback students receive (Huertas Barros, forthcoming). Due to the length of the study, in this paper we will only focus on the first results obtained regarding the general notions on teamwork in the translation classroom. In the first instance, we conducted two one-hour focus groups with 3rd year

    6Translation students from the UGR, who had previously attended the modules “Introduction to Translation” and “General Translation” (Spanish into English and English into Spanish). The first foreign language for the majority was English, though for others it was French or German. We also held two focus

    7groups with the teachers responsible for teaching those modules. This allowed us to compare different opinions about collaborative learning from two different

    perspectives of the learning and teaching process: the teachers and the students. We recorded the 4 focus groups, which allowed us to produce transcriptions of the discussions which they gave rise to and to reduce the data in codified categories depending on the subject raised in each question. Once we analysed this information, we interpreted it and wrote a report with the results obtained in each of the thematic blocks we discussed. Subsequently, and with the aim of using a second qualitative research method which offered us the possibility of increasing considerably our sample and allowed us to contrast the first results obtained, we designed a questionnaire composed of 38 questions (37 multiple choice questions and 1 open-ended). The questionnaire included an introductory page with a definition of some concepts that the student might not have been familiar with, such as translation competence, interpersonal competence and transversal competence. After a successful trial pilot completed by 29 students from UPO, we included some minor modifications in the questionnaire, mainly adding alternative answer options and rewriting a couple of questions to remove ambiguities. Our questionnaire was finally comprised of 37 questions. Once we refined its content, we distributed it to another 162 3rd year students of the abovementioned TI faculties.

    3.1 Preliminary survey results

    Question 1: Define the concept of teamwork in the translation classroom. In the focus groups held with students, teamwork was defined as “students‟ collaborative work to achieve a goal (a translation or a task), always respecting the opinions of all the team members.” This option was chosen by 72.8% of

    students. In the focus groups attended by teachers, this concept was defined as “coordinated group work in which students organise self-directed work

    following some guidelines.” A total of 20.4% of the sample selected this option.

    Along with these two answers, we provided two more potential responses in the questionnaire: “non-coordinated work among several students,” chosen by

    only 5.8% of the sample, as well as the option “other (specify),” which was selected by 0.5% students. This percentage of participants did not specify an alternative definition. Taking into account these data, it is remarkable that 93.2% of the sample perceive teamwork as an empowering teaching and learning method in the translation classroom in comparison to only 5.8% of students, who conceive teamwork as negative. This question was not answered by 0.5% of students.

    Question 2: Do you prefer to work individually or in a team? Explain why.

    Figure 1. Student‟s preferences concerning their work styles.

    Regarding their work preferences, 45.5% of the 191 students preferred to combine individual work with teamwork. In the 44.5% of the cases students opted for working individually, whereas 6.3% would rather work in a team. Whilst 3.2% of the sample did not have a preference about the teaching methods used in the translation classroom, 0.5% did not answer the question. The main reasons why students preferred to work individually included

    8organising their time as they wish (67.5%), to be able to take and implement

    their own decisions (36.1%), to avoid conflicts and arguments with other team members (19.9%) and to accomplish more translation practice (12.6%). They also felt more motivated to work on their own (6.8%). The option “other reasons” was chosen by 6.3% of students who specified that they save more time when they work individually and that this teaching method is easier for them. Students who preferred to work in a team highlighted the fact that they obtain better marks by working together with other classmates (32.5%), they need the help provided by other students (19.4%) and it is very important for their future career (15.7%). They also see teamwork as a very efficient learning method (11%). Only just 1.6% of students picked the option “other reasons,” specifying that more ideas are generated when they work as a team, which allows them to contrast different opinions. At this point, we would like to underline that even though 93.2% of the participants conceive of collaborative work as a positive teaching and learning method (see question 2), only 6.3% of them prefer to work exclusively in a team.

    Question 3: Have you ever worked in a team during your degree and/or outside the faculty? If so, explain when and in which subject(s).

    Figure 2. Teamwork experiences.

    Regarding teamwork experiences previous to the 3rd year of their degree either at the faculty or outside, 100% of students claimed to have worked in a team previously. Specifically, 67% of the 191 students had worked in a team during the 1st year of their degree, 75.4% of them had done so during the 2nd year and 64.9% during the 3rd year. They had worked in teams in modules such as: “Introduction to Translation,” “General Translation B-A” (English>Spanish,

    French>Spanish, German>Spanish or Arab>Spanish), “General Translation A-B” (Spanish>English, Spanish>French, Spanish>German or Spanish>Arab), “Linguistic Applied to Translation”, “Spanish Language” and “Documentation Applied to Translation.” Only 15.2% of students had worked in a team during

    the 4th year of their degree. Just 13.1% had occasionally worked in a team at school, however they admitted this practice did not result in the development of interpersonal competence neither in a habit to work as part of a team. Our results confirm that much of collaborative learning is carried out during the first training stage of translator training (the first two years of a 4-year degree course). This justifies our decision to study a sample composed of third year students of TI, since we believe this stage entails students (first) contact with collaborative learning.

    Question 4: Have you ever received any training on teamwork at your faculty? If so, explain which type of training you have received.

    Figure 3. Training on teamwork.

    Most students (85.9%) stated they had never received any training on teamwork at their faculty. Only 14.1% declared they had been trained in teamwork, which consisted of some recommendations and suggestions by their teachers during the academic year (12.6%) or a specific lesson on how to work in a team (1%). In the 13.6% of the cases students asserted they had received other type of training, but they did not specify any. We believe that to be able to work collaboratively, students need some training on how to work as a team as well as some support and follow-up by their teachers.

    Question 5: Do you think teamwork offers any advantages? If so explain them.

    Figure 4. Advantages of teamwork.

    Most students (96.9%) stated that teamwork entails numerous advantages, compared to 3.1% who claimed the opposite. Among the main advantages students highlighted the following: generation of new and diverse ideas (68.1%), interaction with other individuals (63.4%), preparation for their future careers

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