EDTC 6431 Individual Project – A Lesson on How to Use Google Translate

For the final project for EDTC 6431 I was moved to expand upon my ideas for ISTE Standard 3.4 (Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks) and to come up with an actual teachable lesson for my Online Russian students. A description of that project and a sketch of the lesson plan can be found here.

The question about how to get students to use Google Translate properly is an important one for me, and, I imagine, for many other language teachers. Many try to simply shoo their students away from the website, but, since I use it fairly regularly in my own work, that would be somewhat hypocritical and also would ignore the fact that, when used properly, it is a very valuable resource for students.

Using Google Translate properly requires that students:

  • have a basic idea of how it works which involves an understanding (surface initially, but hopefully deeper with time) of how translation works in general (literal vs. literary)
  • see what it looks like when it doesn’t work (translating known English texts from English through other languages and then back into English is illustrative)
  • have a set of guidelines for how to make Google Translate work for them (double-checking translations in Google Images is one handy trick)

The set of guidelines will likely be more memorable and useful to students who’ve had a hand in fashioning them. However, given the complexity of the material and the need to have some rules up and running before students have much experience with the language content, the instructor will likely need to play a fairly active role in setting up those guidelines (power of suggestion). Below is an image with a sample set of rules that could work if students don’t formulate them on their own or that teacher could lead students towards:

Снимок экрана 2016-08-15 в 1.45.36 PM

Each time this lesson is taught is likely to be quite different from the previous time due to differences in levels of prior knowledge of various cohorts of students. Some may require greater teacher input, others may be able to arrive at some of the necessary conclusions with less teacher prompting. Monitoring student progress through the initial lesson and following up with feedback to written assignments will help students to track whether they’re using the resource correctly. As it becomes clear which points need greater clarification, the teacher can schedule in review sessions and also make adjustments for the subsequent year.

Some potential issues that I see and points that I might like to revise include:

  • Creating a more comprehensive Learning Target. At the moment it is fairly basic requiring that students will know “How to Look Up Words.” My initial thought is to keep it simple so that students will have a basic aim to follow. But the lesson itself includes more points (identifying parts of speech, integrating Google Images, creating a list of guidelines for Google Translate). A wordier Learning Target with more specific goals could be better.
  • Having students, come up with a list things they’ve learned about using Google Translate, which the teacher could then shape into rules (instead of students being given the task to “create rules” seemingly on their own). I’d like to incorporate a high level of student input for this part, because I feel that they will be more likely to follow rules they came up with themselves. However the task is complex and will likely require even greater scaffolding than I originally set up in my project.
  • Providing supports for students who struggle with correctly identifying parts of speech in English. This is crucial for looking up words in Russian as the difference between work – verb (rabotat’), work – noun (rabota), and work – adjective (rabochii) is significant. If a student doesn’t know which kind of ‘work’ it is in the sentence they have in mind in English, they won’t be able to pick the correct translation.
  • Modifying the lesson on the fly if it turns out that I have a student who’d actually prefer to use a paper dictionary (there are other skills that one needs for looking up words the ‘old-fashioned’ way – not the least of which is learning Russian alphabetical order).
  • Adjusting rubrics for written work. My plan is to include a “followed good Google Translate usage” criteria for grading each student writing submission for the year. The phrasing of what demonstrates meeting the standard will need to be initially worked out and likely reworked as certain glitches become apparent. A low rating might be for text that was clearly produced by Google Translate (full of non-human errors or extremely complicated grammar). A high rating would be given for no-usage at all, or for students included a glossary of all new words and selected parts of speech carefully throughout.
  • Finding other ways to incorporate the video portions into the live lesson effectively. This is strictly a technical issue, but it potentially affects the flow of the class. Blackboard Collaborate is good at many things, but showing videos to students is still awkward. It may be a good idea to have the students view the videos outside of live class time for the online version of this lesson.
  • Adjusting the timing – this lesson has so much content in it, that it may need to be broken up over two live sessions instead of just one.

In short, I think it is important for students to have a good idea of the real limitations of Google Translate, but also of its many possibilities. At the end of her video on how Google Translate works, Malinda Kathleen Reese admonishes students that Google Translate should not be used “when accuracy is important — like on your language homework.” (Reese, 2015) And she is correct that Google Translate should not be seen a source for ‘accurate’ language, but rather as a sort of cross-linguistic thesaurus.  I will be curious to see if a more comprehensive lesson on how to use this resource will reduce the number of students cutting and pasting whole sentences from GT. Ideally it would also increase the number of students writing comprehensibly for their fellow classmates throughout the length of the course.



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