Case study: A blended approach to developing employability skills


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

Tools used

  • Blackboard


Elena McNeilly,



The objectives were to support students in the development of transferable skills that would be useful for future employment. In addition to developing discipline related skills which, in this case, were language and translation.


This use of a blended approach to teaching translation builds on Elena’s previous experience which is outlined in the case study “A blended approach to teaching translation”. In this most recent example the approach was used in a final year unit on English-Russian translation, with an average group size of 20 students

What was done

The unit is taught using a blended approach involving online and face-to-face activities over an 11 week period. Students are split into teams of four, and each team is sub-divided into pairs. A detailed schedule of work is provided, outlining the deadlines for translations, reviews and other activities. A face-to-face seminar takes place each Monday, after which students have two days in which to complete their translations, which they first do individually, then agree a version in their pairs, and post them to Blackboard. Then the two pairs in each group review each other’s work and provide feedback by the Friday. Students are encouraged to compare their partners' translation with their own version and to comment on any points of interest, things they have learned, turns of phrase that they are not sure about or language points they would handle differently.

Elena monitors and responds in the discussion fora as appropriate as well as posting her own translations for reference.  Elena marks the translations and then any issues are discussed in detail in the following Monday’s seminar.

Midway through the term there is an individual progress check, when students each do a translation which is then reviewed and edited by another student, with reference to the assessment criteria. 

The activities that students undertake in the unit are explicitly linked to transferable skills and attributes. In the first session Elena introduces a range of skills sought by employers, important skills that make a good translator and also the Civil Service core competency framework (as many of her students apply for work in the Civil Service). She then illustrates how aspects of the unit support the development of these skills and attributes.

Throughout the unit Elena explicitly reinforces how the activities which students undertake are helping to develop transferable skills. Examples include:

  • Planning and delivery of work / time management - students are required to work to a strict timetable, including submitting practice pieces on time each week.

  • Working with others - students work in groups of four, collaborating on translations, and providing peer feedback. Group composition is changed regularly.

  • Communicating and influencing - students practice giving constructive feedback on each other’s translations, commenting on things they liked and on issues they would deal with differently.

  • Decision making and judgement - in the mid-term individual progress check students refer to assessment criteria when reviewing and editing their partner’s  translation, and award a grade and provide feedback.

  • Continual improvement - students enhance their critical and reflective skills. One student commented “Giving feedback helps one to assess one’s own work. Translation is more suited to this process than other language work as it needs to be something that cannot be completely right or wrong” 


The slides setting out a range of discipline-related and generic transferable skills sought by employers are looked at again at the final seminar when Elena sums up students’ achievements. Students reflect on particular skills they feel they developed and/or enhanced over the period of this course. A number of students have used examples of work they have done in this unit in applying for jobs and doing interviews, helping them with successful applications. Student feedback has highlighted:

  • Everything being online was a big help in terms of clarity of structure, which made planning throughout the term much easier. Being able to refer back so easily to translations and discussions online for revision was very useful.

  • Working with a partner was useful to see how others go about a translation, and also how they would approach certain grammatical/lexical problems.

  • It was useful to have to comment on other pairs’ work as it meant they had to look at a translation from the perspective of a marker/examiner.

One student commented in their feedback: "As a bit of a luddite, I admit that I was pretty sceptical at the start of the unit about all this IT-based learning that universities are trying to introduce. I still am sceptical about a lot of it, but with this unit it was undoubtedly productive – I felt I got a good deal more from it. The pairs aspect in particular surprised me – although it does take up more time than other translation units (organising getting the pair together, disputes over translation, commenting on the work of the other pair etc) I felt it was worth the extra hour or two per week that it ended up taking’."