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:

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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.



ISTE Standard 5.1 – Digital Citizenship

ISTE STANDARD 5.1 says that students will:

  1. Advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology.

The digital citizenship question that has nagged me for awhile is what sort of tips and guidelines can I provide to my grade 9-12 World Language students so that they will know how to responsibly use/cite online content (audio, images, video, text) in their submitted coursework? 

Given the beginning level of most of my language students, the writing and presentational tasks they are responsible for remain fairly simple. In general they do not have a lot of sources to cite outside of translation websites and their textbooks. On occasion, however, I do assign them mini essays where they use the target language to describe their families or the location of items in a picture of a room. These types of assignments are much more productive when there is a photo and in both cases students could presumably use a photo from their own digital photo libraries. However it is not always easy to transfer a photo from a personal phone to the computer at school for reuse in a homework assignment. In addition I occasionally also I ask for them to find images of items specific to the target language country or in the target language (famous sights, signs, menus, maps). As a result many students tend to snag random images on the Internet without reference to copyright or licensing. In general images from wikipedia tend to carry a Creative Commons license, but not all. As a teacher I’d like to be able to give them clear guidance as to which images are permissible to use and how to provide correct attribution. The truth is that I find citing photo sources to be equally challenging in my own materials creation. Websites such as http://www.rock.k12.nc.us/domain/1103 give a brief and comprehensible description of the guidelines for fair use, but no easy formula for citation of online images.

During a recent live class meeting for EDTC 6431 – Learning with Technology a resource was mentioned that may simplify this task greatly. Photosforclass.com allows for one to download photos and the proper attribution is included in the file so that when you insert the image into another document, it will automatically include a notation of the source. A few initial trials demonstrated to me that it would allow for searches in a foreign language (in this case Russian). What I’d like to see (and what I intend to test in this blog post) is if that attribution will also work if the search was conducted in Russian instead of English. So here are two searches for pictures of Moscow:

Figure 1. A search in English for “Moscow” turned up this image.
Historical Museum Attributed.png
Figure 2. A search in Russian for “Москва” turned up this image.

It would appear that the original language of the search makes no difference and that the attribution displays fairly well when inserted into a blog post. In short, it works!

My conclusion is that the ease of this website could make it easier to require students to use proper attribution when using online digital images, and also to enforce that requirement. Rubrics created to go with projects requiring some sort of image could include a criteria of good digital citizenship, and this website would give students an easy way to comply. A World Language class may not about digital literacy per se, but insofar as the use of digital resources plays a large part in student learning these days, the practicing of good habits should (and can easily) be an element of the overall class expectations and design.


  • Photos For Class – The quick and safe way to find and cite images for class! (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2016, from http://photosforclass.com/

ISTE Standard 4.2 – Module Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making

ISTE 4.2 – Students will plan and manage projects with the help of digital graphic organizers

Adjusted Triggering Question: Does it make sense to have students of an online Russian class keep an interactive student notebook? And if so, which format would be best?  What should its primary purpose be (reflection, collection of content about the language such as vocabulary lists and grammar tables, other)? 

If one Googles the term “student interactive notebook,” one quickly finds numerous blog posts, templates, discussions amongst teachers as to their use in classrooms. And there are some definite opinions as to the particular format including which side of the page should be for which purpose and how to organize the tabs and table of contents. (Smith-Sloane, 2014).

It is generally assumed that interactive student notebooks are of benefit because they reduce classroom clutter (fewer loose handouts floating around), because they allow students to personalize their learning, because they are a fairly consistent and easy way for students to assemble a portfolio of their work (if that is a style of assessment that your school values), and because it is assumed that students will retain material better if they take structured notes and because they will understand it better if given the space to process  it in their own way. (Smith-Sloane, 2014) These benefits are generally believed to accrue to paper-style interactive student notebooks.

How about digital? Search as I might, I came up with only a few articles about the potential value of students keeping notebooks in a digital format. Some listed benefits were increased student engagement in using technology and also the potential search function for students wanting to use their notes as a reference. (Knight, 2015)

I was unable to find any articles that discussed suggested formatting for digital books. If I were to ask my students to keep these style of notebooks, I’d be striking out on my own to a certain extent in terms of requirements for structure. I spoke to my son (a 4th grader and consumer of interactive notebooks for two years) and his input helped lead me to a few of the following concerns that a teacher might want to keep in mind when implementing notebooks in a digital format:

  1. Accessibility – can students work in their notebooks from their school computer, home computer, personal device?
  2. Ease of use – is the interface confusing? Can students too easily delete weeks worth of work by accident?
  3. Privacy – Will students be able to see each other’s notes?
  4. Teacher Access – Can the teacher view the notebook with ease? Make group or individual comments within the notebook?
  5. Long-term Availability – Will students have access to their notes even after the course is over? Can the notes be shared or downloaded?
  6. Cost?

There are many providers of digital notebook apps. There are two that I looked at in particular – OneNote and Notebook for Class. After an initial appraisal, here is how they compare:

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It will take some more playing around with each option to see if one is better suited to the particular class I have in mind over another. One possibility governing the choice is which educational accounts the schools that I am working in already have. Notebook for Class is specifically set up to work with Chromebooks, OneNote is a feature available within Office 365. I would also be eager to hear of the experiences of others with these sorts of digital tools.


Knight, D. (2015, November 19). Why Use Digital Interactive Notebooks? 21st Century Learning – Study All Knight Teacher Resources. Retrieved July 29, 2016, fromhttp://www.studyallknight.com/2015/11/interactivedigitalnotebooks.html (Links to an external site.)

Smith-Sloane, J. (2014, March 30). 7 Reasons to Use Interactive Notebooks – Minds in Bloom. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from http://minds-in-bloom.com/2014/03/7-reasons-to-use-interactive-notebooks.html (Links to an external site.)

ISTE Standard 3.4 – Module Research and Information Fluency

ISTE Standard 3.4 Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

My question for this standard is a very specific one: “What measures or criteria can be put in place for WL and ELL students self evaluate when they are using resources such as Google Translate as a tool to enhance their learning of the target language, and when they are using them to take the place of actual learning in order to turn in an assignment?”

In seeking out resources to answer this question I happened across a blog post by Steven Wenz in which he mentions two problems that educators encounter with students utilizing this resource badly: 1) that they copy and paste reading comprehension texts into the website to avoid having to make sense of them in the target language, and 2) that for writing assignments they’ll write in their native language and use Google Translate to render a block of text into the target language. The latter issue is regarded as a bit more problematic by educators because it does not improve students’ writing skills, and because it just feels like cheating (Wenz, para 5).

He then goes on to elaborate how it is that teachers can detect student misuse of Google Translate for writing assignments. Experience in the classroom gives teachers a good sense of which errors fall outside of the range of what is normal for a particular level. I have my own personal favorite Google gaffes that my students turned into me as their own work. One entered into GT “My family has three cars,” and the Russian translation from Google turned that into “My family CONSISTS of three cars.” We had not covered the expression ‘consists of’ in class, so the only source of this would be Google and indeed when I checked it for myself, that’s what came up:

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Another student errantly placed a comma in the English version where it had no reason to be, and so “I, like anatomy, and want to become a doctor,” was rendered in the target language as “I am just like anatomy, and want to become a doctor.”

It is clear from Wenz’s informal study and from my own anecdotal experience that teachers have a pretty good idea of when the resource is being abused, though this is frequently difficult to prove. How can we make our students aware of the issues? One suggestion that Wenz makes is to structure writing assignments in such a way as to discourage the reliance on machine translation. (Wenz, Conclusion). For instance if students are given the task of writing blog posts to be read by their classmates, then comprehensibility to other learners becomes tantamount. This is one possible solution.

Another might be to make them aware of the humorousness of mis-translations. Novice foreign language students can sometimes come to class with the misapprehension that all languages share the same syntax, and that learning a language means simply learning new vocabulary that one can plug into a universal grammatical structure. Language teachers and experienced students know that this is simply not true, but how to convey this understanding to beginning students?  Perhaps by sharing the available song parodies available on YouTube.

Or students could select a passage from a website from a local organization (their school?) — a text that is not widely known and has likely not been officially translated. Then copy that text first into the target language and then that rendering back into English.  Any resulting errors will likely be minor, but nevertheless illustrative.  See the example below, taken from a website advertising swim lessons.  It was translated from English to Russian and back into English again. 

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The main standard that students should apply to any writing they turn in for a grade is that they should be able to understand what it is they’ve written. Second, it should also be fairly intelligible to their classmates as well. Here are some rules students can follow to accomplish this goal:

  1. KISS – Keep It Simple (Stupid) (if there’s a simple way to say it that you already know; choose that)
  2. WOPOWords Or (short) Phrases Only (do not look up full sentences or paragraphs as this is where a lot of the ‘funny’ starts)
  3. POSPart Of Speech (always check to see you have the correct part of speech)
  4. GI Google Images (put the new word – particularly nouns –through Google Images to be sure that it means what you think it means)
  5. ICUI Can Understand (if you can′t make sense of what you′ve written yourself, that is a sign that Google did the writing and not you; also your classmates won’t be likely to understand it either)

Students can perhaps work with this really weird mnemonic device to remember: KISS WOPO, POSitive GI, ’cause ICU (I see you). Or maybe someone reading this can think of a better set of acronyms or a way of remembering them. Perhaps language students together with their instructor could come up with their own language specific guidelines for how best to use the resource (for instance the part of speech aspect is quite important when translating from English to Russian as Russian has different words for ‘work’ depending upon its function in the sentence: ‘go to work,’ ‘he works in an office,’ that’s a work phone,’ but it may be less crucial for a language such as Chinese – perhaps).

Ultimately, students should come to understand the limitations of Google Translate. This video may be a good place to start the conversation (and also end it):

In short, if instructors wish to encourage proper use of online translation websites, they need to 1) structure writing assignments to discourage overuse and 2) provide their students with clear guidelines as to how they CAN use it.


Reese, M. K. (2015, July 16). My Real Thoughts on Translation. Retrieved July 24, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRsKy9Rqa9M
Reese, M. K., & Hyles, C. (2014, September 26). Google Translate Sings: “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” from Mulan (ft. Caleb Hyles). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRLreV7uVy0
Wenz, S. (2014, February 13). An experiment with Google Translate in introductory-level language courses. Retrieved July 24, 2016, from https://www.hastac.org/blogs/stevenwenz/2014/02/13/experiment-google-translate-introductory-level-language-courses

ISTE STANDARD 2 – Using Technology for Collaboration and Communication

For ISTE Standard 2

Students will:

  1. Identify digital tools that can be used to help them interact, collaborate, and publish.
  2. Determine which media and/or format options work best to communicate information and ideas effectively to different audiences.
  3. Use digital tools to enhance cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  4. Utilize digital tools to contribute to small group projects, produce original works and solve problems

Triggering Question:  How can I use digital forums to encourage student sharing of the things that interest them personally about the country where the target language is spoken?

In the past I have offered students in my online Russian classes the opportunity to explore aspects of Russian culture and life that interest them most and to share with fellow students — all for extra credit. My hope is that students can be encouraged to extend themselves beyond just the academic subject of Russian language (and the course *does* include culture and history) to find the things that they personally find interesting about Russia (music, film, news, politics, history, nature, literature, etc.) I have found anecdotally that students tend to achieve more in language study if they feel some sort of personal connection to the place where that language is spoken.

Using discussion forums built into the LMS (Blackboard or Canvas) to spark some conversation is usually successful only for the first week and then students forget about extra forums and focus on just the required classwork. I have thought about moving the discussion from the realm of the LMS (that students login to only when they “have to”) and into the world of social media, where they probably spend a good portion of their free time. But I have been worried about risks (perceived or real) of having students post personal opinions to a group page in Facebook. What risks are there and is a teacher ok in suggesting that her students ‘like’ her page or ‘follow’ her on Twitter?

The sources I have looked into thus far such as Camille Jackson in a post for the Southern Poverty Law Center (http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-39-spring-2011/feature/your-students-love-social-media-and-so-can-you) suggest that rather than fearing social media, teachers should view it as an opportunity to demonstrate good digital citizenship for their students. So perhaps there is less to be feared than one might expect. Last year I did create a Facebook account that is separate from my personal one and uses the teaching name that students know me by. Using that account I created a closed Facebook group where students (and parents) would need to be approved to join. Only one student joined. By contrast, though, several current and former students found my teacher account and spontaneously friended me there. My current thought is to experiment with having students post to my wall instead, or make the group an open one and have them like that to follow posts. It should be fairly secure (only current and former students can view posts) and *could* be a good place to make announcements and to share ideas.

It could potentially enhance the experience of using social media to share ideas if actual Russian students in Russia were added to the mix. On occasion in the past I’ve arranged to have Russian students of English login to our live class sessions to practice dialogs in Russian and then to tell about themselves and answer questions in English. In one of those sessions a student of mine and the visiting teen struck up a friendship and began following each other on Instagram. I cannot say which, if any, of these ideas will work. When an assignment is optional, it compete’s against other demands in a student’s life (sports, after school job, physics assignments) for time and attention. What I’d like to do is to make it easy and interesting to participate in so that it will be less of a demand and more of a choice. If I ever find that special sauce to make it work, I’ll come back and share it here.

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Jackson, C. (2011). Your Students Love Social Media … and So Can You. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-39-spring-2011/feature/your-students-love-social-media-and-so-can-you

ISTE Standard 1.2 – Creating and Practicing Dialogs Through Animation

My triggering question was: “As a language instructor, how can I encourage students to activate their speaking and writing skills in the target language in creative ways? What sort of technological tools can be used to create real-life (or imaginary) scenarios in which verbal or written exchanges can be practiced?”

ISTE Standard 1.2 says that students will create original works as a means of personal or group expression.  Ninth to 12th grade students in a communicatively styled world language class would hopefully have ample practice with standard dialogs during class time hours, but this does not always give them many opportunities to explore scenarios of their choosing or that take place outside of the classroom. There is a fairly simple animation app for the iPad called Toontastic that could be used to give students a more creative way to practice conversational (or even narrational) language. Students would share iPads, so 1:1 is not required. The app is simple to learn. Students work together to select a background and characters for their scene. They then animate the video by dragging the characters around the screen with their fingers while narrating or performing a dialog. The audio is recorded in real time. Two students working with one iPad could:

  1. Sketch out a dialog that they’d like to perform along a designated theme. (They could then apply to the instructor to check the dialog for gross errors in accuracy and pronunciation.)
  2. Decide together on a background and set of characters to use.
  1. Record the dialog and action (it’s possible to create several contiguous scenes although not necessary). 
  2. Add music if desired (the app has a built in soundtrack function)
  3. Upload the completed video to a website (Youtube or a school video site — depending upon the level of technology savvy of students, at this point they could add subtitles in the target language, providing an extra layer of content and intelligibility in the target language). 

Using this app has the benefit of being quick to learn and quick to complete. As an added step, students could then view each others videos, perhaps create comprehension questions to go with them, and vote on the best one. The goal of adding technology to the simple activity of dialog creation would be to give students the opportunity to express themselves in the target language in a less-scripted and more creative manner. As Bernard R. Robin (2008) mentions, young learners today tend to make frequent use of technology on a daily basis as part of their own self-expression including video creation (p. 221). It is hoped that allowing students a degree of digital creativity would increase interest in the activity and also potentially provide the class with audio samples for future practice and study.

Another more complicated animation program that could be considered for more technologically skilled students is GoAnimate. It requires considerably more steps to create a video, so it should be given preference only if there is a compelling reason to produce videos with higher production values.

Here is a sample of what is possible on GoAnimate:


Robin, B.R. (2008). Digital storytelling: A powerful technology tool for the 21st century classroom. Theory into Practice, 47(3), 220-228.