The Glendon MCI prides itself on training “the next generation of interpreters”. Our students learn to interpret in multiple settings, and we teach the first year of the program online, so that our students are comfortably working with technology. We want them to be the generation of professionals that shapes remote interpreting and the impact it has on our industry.
This week at the MCI, we took another important step towards that goal. We organized an extracurricular activity for our Year One students using VoiceBoxer.
You may remember that I featured this new remote interpreting platform in a previous post. But in a nutshell, co-founders Sergio Llorian and Andrea Baccenetti have created a web-based tool for delivering one-way, multilingual webinars. Put another way, if your goal is to give an online presentation where the participants don’t need to communicate viva voce with the presenter, and if you want that presentation to be interpreted simultaneously, then VoiceBoxer will let you do just that.
The driving force behind our online event was MCI instructor and technophile Michelle Hof. (Some of you may know Michelle as the author of the popular industry blog, The Interpreter Diaries.) It was Michelle who alerted me to the fact that VoiceBoxer would be attending the InterpretAmerica Summit last month, and it was Michelle who led the charge during the activity this week.
The first half of our time was spent learning to use the platform. Michelle walked the students through a PowerPoint presentation designed to familiarize them with the various functions in VoiceBoxer. The second half was a simulated webinar, and Michelle played the role of a speaker giving a presentation on “Growth Hacking”. The students interpreted into Arabic, French, Mandarin, and Spanish. Other faculty members listened as audience members in order to give students feedback later on.
Once the webinar was finished, we all moved over to one of our virtual classrooms. At that point, we had a good debriefing with both the students and the VoiceBoxer team. For me, there were three take-home lessons that stood out from our discussions.
Here I’m borrowing a phrase from Barry Slaughter Olsen. I attended his talk on remote interpreting technologies at the InterpretAmerica Summit. In it, he stressed the fact that interpreters who work online have to put in place around them a series of winning conditions. For example, you need a fast Internet connection (two even, in case one fails). You need to connect to your router with an Ethernet cable. You need a good quality headset. And so on.
This was a lesson that was driven home for our students. At times, the quality of the interpreting output was definitely marred by bad connections and bad microphones. The problem was not with VoiceBoxer — we could hear Michelle and several interpreters very clearly. The problem resided in the fact that some of our students had not met the winning conditions. Long story short, if you are going to interpret online, you need to invest in your setup.
[tweet_box design=”default”]If you are going to interpret online, you need to invest in your setup.[/tweet_box]
When it’s time to switch interpreters, handing over the microphone remotely takes some getting used to. In VoiceBoxer, the switch is a three-part process: 1) The active interpreter presses a button to indicate she wants to switch; 2) the interpreter on standby accepts; and 3) the active interpreter completes the handover.
This is really not much different from what happens when we work face to face. When it’s about to be my turn to interpret in a physical booth, I lean and and gesture that I would like to turn on my microphone. The active interpreter nods. I then turn on my mic and do my thing. But in remote interpreting, this is complicated by the fact that you can’t actually see your booth mate. Sure, there is a chat window that the two of you share. But you have to do the handover a few times before you get the hang of it.
As I listened to the students hand over the microphone, I found myself wondering whether we were doing the right thing, pedagogically speaking. More specifically, were the students learning matters the wrong way around?
Let me explain. I have experienced the handover in the physical world. I’ve done it thousands of times. So the handover online was analogous for me. It was simply a virtual copy of what we do face to face.
The students who participated in the online event have not yet interpreted in a physical booth. (They will do so when they begin Year Two onsite in September.) And in our virtual classrooms, the handover isn’t something we can do very well. Should we have taught them to share a tangible microphone before asking them to hand over a virtual one? Was it too much of a challenge to learn the task and cope with the online platform at the same time?
Or, in asking these questions, am I simply showing that I’m not a digital native? I tend to understand the virtual space by constantly looking for it to mimic the physical world. But the virtual space is not the physical world. It has a set of properties and possibilities all its own. Digital natives think in terms of those properties and possibilities — the physical world isn’t a helpful stepping stone for them. They’re ready to think in the virtual space. Put simply, my students and I don’t necessarily think and learn in the same ways.
In addition, there is the research on adaptive expertise. It makes a distinction between “routine experts”, who can perform a set task with a high degree of skill — provided that task remains stable — and “adaptive experts”, who can roll with the punches and display great skill even when faced with the unexpected. We want our students to develop adaptive expertise. So perhaps it’s not a bad idea to keep them navigating back and forth between remote and onsite interpreting.
I’m not sure I found the answers to my questions. But the simulated event was a good opportunity to do some careful thinking about differences in learning styles across generations. Paying careful attention to matters like these will surely help our students progress along their learning curves.
[tweet_box design=”default”]Should online learning try to mimic the physical classroom? Or does online have a potential of its own?[/tweet_box]
All in all, I think this first simulated webinar with VoiceBoxer was a great success. Our students learned important lessons — and I did too! In know that our students are well on their way to being able to provide professional services in multiple ways. I’m confident that experiences such as these will allow them to be that next generation of interpreters we set out to train.
Do you have thoughts on remote interpreting? Or on shuttling between the virtual and physical thought spaces? If so, drop me a line in the comments field below.