Monday, May 20, 2013

Should We Block Google Translate?

Photo Credit: kconnors via morgueFile
How should I respond to world language teachers who want to block Google translate?
A fellow Google Certified teacher posted this question to our group last week and I have been turning over my response in my head ever since.

Using Google translate is a form of plagiarism. It's cheating and students who cheat on homework won't know the material for the test in class, nor will they have the language skills they need for life in a global society. 

Long ago, my district used to block Wikipedia. Students used it at home, but at school we had no access to show them why it was not a good source. If you block translate language teachers will be in the same position. Students will use it at home, but at school teachers won't be able to demonstrate why it fails.  (Our district has now unblocked Wikipedia and I teach students to use it as a source of sources.)

When my son was in 4th grade I had to have him practice his Math homework at the kitchen table, so I could be sure he wasn't plugging the problems into his calculator in his room. Google translate is the first instance of language teachers needing to cope with their equivalent of a calculator. But even as a very fancy calculator won't help you solve a complex problem if you don't know the mathematical reasoning to use it, Google translate won't help a language student without the knowledge to make the appropriate corrections to their translation. 

If I were a language teacher I would require all at home writing to be done in Google Docs.  The revision history would quickly tell me if a student was using copy/paste from translate. (See my post about detecting plagiarism.) Then I would give students translations in class and ask them to fix the mistakes. It should not take too many repetitions of that activity to convince them that Google translate is not perfect. Further, correcting translations is probably a very authentic task for a modern linguist. 

Wikipedia isn't going away, essay selling sites aren't going away, calculators aren't going away, and translation apps are here to stay as well. It think it is a far better use of our time to adapt to technology moving forward than trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Further, blocking a tool with real, legitimate uses for teachers trying to communicate with diverse parent populations in many languages hinders our educational mission. 

Google translate may require language teachers to change the way they assess, assign and support student learning experiences. They may have to rethink the how and why of their instructional practices. They may have to adapt. I'm okay with that. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A conversation about 1:1 Pedagogy

How has 1:1 transformed your teaching?  Our conversation covered a lot of ground that might help teachers interested in going paperless, or teaching with more technology in the classroom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Digital Foundations

We need to stop teaching students about their digital footprint and start helping them build their digital foundation.

Do metaphors matter? Well, I'm an English teacher, so I would say, yes. We use metaphors to communicate abstract concepts to others, and so our metaphors should reflect what we mean. The term "digital footprint" has been used for a while now to explain that all of us leave traces of ourselves online, evidence of our actions and thinking that others can view. We tell our students to be thoughtful about their digital footprints because others will judge them by the evidence they leave online.

Footprint though, is the wrong metaphor, because footprints, other than on the moon, are ephemeral. They get washed away by water and wind. Our students who live in the concrete jungle may go weeks or months without actually seeing their own literal footprint. To students then, the metaphor of a footprint is meaningless, nonexistent or fleeting.

What we are really helping them build is a foundation, something that will last, something they can build on later, something that was planned and constructed deliberately. This is the message we need to be communicating to our students, that what they do online will last and needs to represent them well because they will be adding to it.

Yesterday, I was helping a student with some book reviews she had written on GoodReads. There were errors and I was trying to tell her she should fix them because other people would see her writing. She looked a bit skeptical, "No one's going to look at that Mrs. R." So I Googled her name (in quotes) and our town, San Diego. The first five results were all her. The first one was the book review we were discussing. Three of her other reviews were there too, as was her Facebook page. Her jaw actually dropped.

All of the old advice about teaching students to be thoughtful and careful about what they put online still applies. I'm just saying we should change the language of the metaphor and perhaps our own thinking about it. Foundations will serve our students better than footprints.

Picture of Shallow foundation thanks to Billbeee from English Wikipedia and Ookaboo!