Case study: A blended approach to teaching translation


School of Modern Languages, Faculty of Arts, University of Bristol

Tools used


Elena McNeilly,  



This pilot initiative involved a move from traditional classroom-based delivery of a second-year undergraduate English/Russian translation unit to a blended learning approach. The blended model in question was developed primarily to respond to students’ needs, but also to address broader organisational needs through exploring an effective mechanism of peer assessment in large translation classes while at the same time achieving a higher quality of work. One of the academic goals was to create ‘a sustained community of inquiry that extends beyond limited classroom opportunities and to reduce lecturing while increasing inquiry and discourse’ (Garrison and Vaughan, 2007: 72).

The primary objective was to show the students that they can learn about translation not only in class but also through conducting research online and by interacting with the other members of the group using the discussion forum on Blackboard. Students were encouraged to develop translation strategies, to use a variety of internet-based language resources and to learn to evaluate their own and other students’ work. Another objective was to help learners in enhancing their critical and reflective skills. An essential element of the course is peer feedback on each other’s work through online interaction: pointing out successful solutions and making suggestions on issues they would have handled differently. This contributes to the development of important employability skills, including working as part of a team and critical thinking.


The course was traditionally delivered via a fortnightly one-hour seminar, supported by the distribution of extensive handouts. This was (and still is) followed by an assessed translation in the summer. Students were asked to translate into Russian and submit eleven handwritten practice pieces per academic year. Classroom discussion was based on the analysis of students’ translation of the source text. At times, this was dominated by the same five or six individuals as less confident students avoided taking part in discussions. Sometimes students couldn’t attend the seminar and therefore missed out on feedback, as the final version of the translation was agreed in class.

What was done

In addition to the fortnightly face-to-face seminars, online structured activities were set up in a blended model. Littlejohn and Pegler state that the word ‘blended ‘ implies ‘a seamless integration or intermingling of e-learning and conventional teaching approaches’ . They suggest wrapping one approach around another, for example using conventional teaching to wrap around e-learning resources , or extending traditional approaches by wrapping these around e-learning activity. (Littlejohn and Pegler, 2007: 30) The chosen structure for this unit is illustrated below. This sequence was repeated in a fortnightly cycle.

Translation blended learning model

The tutor initially had to invest time setting up the course on Blackboard, and providing a clear structure and instructions for students on how and when to complete the various activities. The tutor also provided resources which included previous examples of students commenting on each other’s work. This illustrated ways of providing constructive criticism. Once the unit had begun she took the role of e-moderator, providing guidance and encouragement through the online discussion fora. Key to this was maintaining an online presence, for example by posting reminders of due dates, and recognising areas which students found tricky and highlighting that these would be explored further in the classroom sessions. This reinforced the link between the online and face-to-face components of the course, ensuring that students did not regard the online elements as “add-ons” but saw that they were an important and valuable part of their learning which always linked in to their class time. (For examples of the e-moderator’s online contributions see below).


Having reviewed student feedback as well as reflected on her own experience, the tutor has concluded that this was an extremely beneficial change. The students developed a better awareness of what is expected of them in assessed assignments. They improved translation skills and enhanced their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Their communication skills and ability to analyse their own and other students’ work have significantly improved. They also became much more confident in using online resources and conducting pre-translation research through learning from each other. In the course evaluation, students were asked “ In comparison to standard classroom-based courses, what was the most effective aspect of this blended learning course?” Responses included:

  • ‘We had more time to reflect and share our points of view’
  • 'Seeing how other people solved their problems was very useful and it made you look at your own work more carefully’
  • ‘Allowed me to work more independently’
  • ‘Made it easier for me to see what we needed to study/learn’
  • ‘encouraged group participation outside the classroom’
  • ‘Opportunity to discuss tricky bits with other students, to get different views on problems’
  • ‘Discussions on Blackboard were very useful to learn how to analyse a translation’
  • 'Having to work With other students, not just individually’
  • ’Posting our translations on Blackboard and discussion each other’s work regularly was an challenging way of confronting each other constructively’

The tutor reflects that the course did require an inital investment of time to set up, and some additional time to oversee the online discussion. However, now she is able to easily re-use the course, and also feels that she has become more efficient at “e-moderating” as her experience has increased. Overall she feels that the re-design of the course has been extremely positive as it has improved student learning.

Examples of the e-moderator’s contributions

  • Those of you who have already submitted translations, can now start reading and commenting on each other's work. Be constructive and comment on things you liked and on issues you would deal with differently. Make suggestions and share useful sites and resources. I have created separate threads for your group discussions so that it's easier for you to find all the comments. If you are still not sure how to start, please read examples of online discussions which you will find in the Course Documents folder. I will be logging on regularly to make sure there are no major issues. Elena
  • This is just to gently remind you that online discussion is an essential element of this course and you are expected to comment on other translations (discussion that's been taking place in Group 4 is a great example). Some of you are doing a fantastic job and I hope there will be more interesting and thought-provoking comments on your first practice piece. Elena
  • Thank you all for your thought-provoking contributions to the discussion of Practice Piece one. It turned out to be quite a tricky text and we'll have plenty to talk about in class tomorrow. I shall then post my version of the translation on Blackboard. Elena
  • As we agreed at the beginning of the course, this time you will be working in a different team. This will make your experience more interesting as you will be able to see how other people go about resolving various translation challenges. I hope you enjoy working on your second practice piece and taking part in discussions. Elena
  • I have just read further excellent (I'd say professional) feedback posted by Teams 1 and 3. Team 2 - you have a couple of days left to post suggestions and comments on your friends' efforts. Elena


  • Garrison, R. and Vaughan, N. (2007) Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. Wiley and Sons
  • Littlejohn, A. and Pegler, C. (2007) Preparing for blended learning. Routledge