Written by the Instructional Design Team


We recently invited a number of our faculty members to showcase their online course/course components during one of our “Best Practices for Online Teaching” workshops.  Dr. Melinda Thompson (Assistant Professor and Director of Distance Education at the Graduate School of Theology) introduced an effective approach to have her students collaborate on their translation assignments. Usually class translation is a “lone ranger” kind of assignment, though Bible translation and ministry activities often require collaboration among different people. Dr. Thompson intentionally designed this collaborative translation activity to cultivate habits of working with other people to produce quality work.

In this activity, students translated – from Greek to English – the Gospel and Epistles of John. Dr. Thompson put together a rigorous process for team translation. Each of her four teams consist of 4 students, who take assigned rotating roles of (1) primary translator, (2) text critical work, (3) literary considerations and commentary work, and (4) theological claims and application for sermon or Bible lesson. Students shared their work with their teammates through Google Docs.

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Fascinated by her approach, we followed up with Dr. Thompson about her method and would like to share with you the short interview we had:


Adams Center: What made you decide to have students collaborate on translating a book?

Dr. Thompson: Language study, by nature, is mostly individualized. Even if you attend a study group you still have to learn the forms and vocabulary for yourself. But Bible translation – for modern English translations especially – is almost always done by committees. On top of that, our students are training for ministry in congregations or small group settings. I wanted to give these students – who had already gone through a semester of individualized work on grammar and vocabulary – a more authentic experience in translation and exegesis. I also wanted to reinforce the concept that translation should never be done in a vacuum. Even the best language work should be checked and balanced through interaction with others.

Adams Center: How did students respond to this process?

Dr. Thompson: Student response was very positive. They appreciated seeing how translation fits into the larger process of exegesis, especially with an eye toward preaching or teaching for a congregational setting. Sometimes students struggle to understand how parsing verbs or memorizing long lists of words applies to their vocational goals. With this project, students come out with a semester of practicing translation as part of lesson or sermon prep. They also have spent a semester collaborating with others to create a community-based interpretation of the text. My hope is that this experience will encourage them to continue using their language skills after the class ends and will encourage them to seek out the input of others when considering the meaning or application of a particular text.

Adams Center: What kind of pedagogical considerations went into this design of collaborations?

Dr. Thompson: We did need to establish some ground rules at the beginning which helped iron out general group-work concerns about students not pulling their weight or not getting things shared in a timely manner. Because this was a fully online class comprised of students from across the globe, it was more difficult sometimes to enforce group work. When I teach this class in residence next year we’ll use the class meeting times (in a “flipped classroom” style) to ensure that students have space for collaborative work.

We would like to thank Dr. Thompson for sharing her method. We also hope that you can be inspired by her approach in creating innovative teaching experiences for your students.