Global Learning through MOOC Translation?

April 29, 2014 § 4 Comments

Coursera Global Translator CommunityThis morning I found an email in my inbox inviting me to become a translator of MOOCs by joining the Coursera-sponsored Global Translator Community.  I find this announcement interesting in its implications for MOOC community, crowdsourcing, applied learning opportunities, and global learning.

Intrinsic Motivation: Community and Efficacy

Here’s the value proposition Coursera offers potential translators in response to the question “Why Translate?”:

First and foremost, by translating top courses you are helping millions of learners who may otherwise struggle to understand courses taught outside their native language.

But translating is also much more than a means to an end. By joining the GTC, you’ll become a member of a tight-knit community of committed individuals and organizations. You’ll also be given access to a private translator’s portal, invited to occasional special events and will have the opportunity to be recognized for your contributions — both on the Coursera website and through special translator certificates.

For those who need more motivation than helping others, Coursera hits the sweet spot of intrinsic motivation.  First of all, you get to belong to a community.  This reason answers one of the chief critiques of industrial MOOCs that, for all their promise of networked learning, they don’t really create learning communities.  It is easy to take a MOOC and not connect to any other students. I imagine that that lack of connection contributes to the high MOOC drop-out rate (at least that’s my excuse).  We certainly know from George Kuh’s work that engagement leads to retention.  So,  the Global Translator Community offers a clearly defined community built around MOOCs.  This community engages translators in active work around the MOOC rather than passive consumption. The other intrinsic motivation I see here is efficacy; translators are empowered to make a difference, to bring learning to the world.  And if that’s not enough, Coursera adds in some extrinsic motivations, with the reward of public recognition and translator certificates.  This translator community actually becomes a Connectivist MOOC–one focused on active and networked learning with the promise of credentials.  This development is a far greater threat to traditional higher education and liberal arts colleges than the industrial MOOC because it competes where liberal education excels–student engagement.

Applied Learning in Collaborative Digital Projects

I also find this opportunity interesting in that it offers advanced language students the opportunity for applied learning; rather than translating for their instructor alone, students could produce translation work that benefits others.  They would also get secondary benefit of learning the content they are translating themselves.  In effect Coursera is crowdsourcing translation of their courses.  For advanced language students, then, this is a great opportunity to get involved in a digital project.

The qualifier “advanced” is important here.  in it’s FAQ, Coursera specifies the following qualifications: “GTC participants should have a high degree of fluency in both the source and target translation language. For instance, if you would like to translate from English into Chinese, you should have a native level of fluency in Chinese and at least a high degree of proficiency in English”.  In other words, only the best language students could do this work.  On the other hand, small colleges, especially, are often challenged to engage advanced students returning from study abroad because it may be difficult to offer advanced language courses due to lack of demand.  A translation project would form an ideal independent study that would give the student the experience of joining a larger, collaborative, digital community. Or as a colleague of mine just suggested via twitter, this might be an opportunity for our international students to work on their English. I responded that we might also want partnerships of international and language students.

In a previous post, I argued that crowdsourcing is a gateway for students to collaborative digital projects and pointed to student contributions to the Diderot Encyclopedia Translation project.  Coursera’s Global Translator Community offers a similar opportunity with the benefit of an unending supply of translation tasks, as Coursera is constantly offering new courses.  As higher education is increasingly linked to getting a job, we are also seeing increased calls for students to produce tangible products of their education which can demonstrate their learning, perhaps collected into an e-portfolio.  Students needs authentic work rather than a repeat of the same assignment offered every semester.  The Internet offers a world of opportunity to create that applied work.

Global Learning in the Global Digital Classroom

Finally, I find this opportunity interesting as an example of the Global Digital Classroom. At St. Edward’s University, our 2015 Strategic Plan directs us:

St. Edward’s University students and faculty will connect with their peers and interact with international
experts through an increasingly global and digital classroom and will customize their own learning
environments through the power of technology

We believe that students must learn to live, work, and take civic action in a world where knowledge is constructed and shared across global information networks. They must be prepared to communicate, collaborate, and create in the cloud. To prepare them for this context, they must learn how to learn in that same environment.  The “global digital classroom” then is the concept that learning takes place in a global context through digital networks.  Students who engage in Coursera’s global translation project would get practice communicating, collaborating, and creating in the cloud.  They would connect to a global network of translators–their own personal learning network.  MOOCs offer an easy entree into such global learning opportunities, as I argued in a previous post. Participating in an international MOOC or translating a MOOC for a global audience are hybrid activities that mediate between the traditional classroom and global information networks as a learning environment.  The next step for students is to step out of the course context and form their own personal learning networks outside the boundaries of the university.

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