By Reelika Saar, Junior Lecturer, University of Tartu, Master’s in Translation Studies
Quick technological development and the changes to the job market that come with it also have a very strong influence on the educational landscape. A notable development is the increase in the demand for flexible options for continuing education and retraining that allow students to adapt to the changing situation without having to dedicate several years to their studies. In addition to the traditional one-off continuing education courses, microdegree programs (or micro-credentials) are a clear example of this flexible learning, and several Estonian universities have recently started offering them (University of Tartu 2022, TalTech n.d, Tallinn University n.d, Estonian University of Life Sciences n.d, Estonian Academy of Security Sciences n.d). Microdegree programs are comprehensive continuing education programs, meant to allow students to upskill themselves, make themselves more competitive in the job market and/or support a change in career; they also serve to give the student a better idea of whether the formal education (degree) options on offer are a good choice for them (University of Tartu 2022). Such shorter and more flexible study programs are quickly becoming common throughout all Europe and worldwide (European Commission n.d).
In the 2021-2022 academic year, the Department of Translation Studies of the University of Tartu offered for the first time the microdegree program “CAT tools, machine translation and web-based tools on the basis of EU texts” (12 ECTS), which brings together three courses. Two of the courses deal with technological facets of the translation profession which grow in importance every year: CAT tools, translation memories and machine translation. The third focuses on the particularities of translating texts connected to the European Union (EU), including the use of sources (such as EUR-Lex and the IATE terminology database) and tools (like the machine translation system eTranslation) which are especially important when working with EU documents. These microdegree courses very closely match the equivalent courses in the master’s program in Translation Studies, with only minor changes made to adapt them to the continuing education context, since all the University of Tartu’s microdegree programs are built with the intention to allow graduating students to continue their studies through a full degree program if they so desire (University of Tartu 2022).
The first edition of the microdegree program offered by the department of Translation Studies lasted two semesters, and 23 students registered to participate. The number of students was limited to allow the lecturer to provide some degree of individual feedback to every one of them. Even though the intended main target group of the microdegree program was professional translators and revisers, a survey carried out at the start of the program revealed that around half of the students had not actually done any translating nor revising on a professional level, which shows that microdegree programs can be of great interest to people who are specifically looking for a way to retrain and change their careers. To ensure the highest level of flexibility, especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the microdegree program was taught fully online, with live webinars every other week on the BigBlueButton teaching platform. In between webinars, the students received exercises and teaching materials for individual learning (including screen recordings) through the Moodle platform. In addition to said screen recordings, recordings of all live webinars were also shared with students in Moodle for watching later. Even though recordings were made available, more than half of the students opted to attend the webinars live during the autumn semester. The program participants were also offered the option to join the university students during their lessons (for example to use the university’s computer classroom), but at least this year they preferred to do all their learning online. Any questions the students had between webinars could be asked from the lecturer through a web form or via email, and the students also had the option to communicate with each other through forums on the Moodle platform. The questions sent to the lecturer were answered either directly via email or, in some cases, as part of the next webinar, serving as a basis for a wider group discussion on the topic.
The production of screen recordings allowed students to go through the study materials at their preferred speed, and to review them later if desired. The recordings were made available through the Panopto platform, which also provides statistics about which videos students actually watched and for how long. These statistics provided the lecturer with clues about the topics which the students might have found especially difficult and to which more time needed to be dedicated. In addition to the attainment of specific technical skills, the courses that were part of the microdegree also put importance on learning from real-life situations and the analysis of possible problems and risks connected to them, including in connection with the importance of ethics in translation training (about which Joss Moorkens (2022) recently wrote in the EMT blog).
At the time of writing the current post (June 2022) the microdegree program has reached its last week, during which the participants will complete the last exercises and get the chance to give feedback about the whole program. So far, the individual feedback received has been positive and has shown that a microdegree program can be a valuable way of improving existing skills and attaining new ones not only for professional translators and revisers, but also, for example, for people interested in a career change into translation. Hopefully once all feedback has been received and analyzed it will be possible to better evaluate the program (whether its duration is adequate, the pros and cons of it being fully web-based, how well it matched the expectations of the target groups, etc.) in order to improve it further. It is clear that there is an interest in this form of continuing education, since several would-be participants have themselves contacted the university and inquired about the registration options for the next edition of the program after seeing information about the current one online. We have also seen that continuous education can give participants a push to continue their studies by working towards a master’s degree in the Department of Translation Studies.
Estonian Academy of Security Sciences. (n.d).Mikrokraad – amps kõrgharidusest! https://www.sisekaitse.ee/en/node/5455?language_content_entity=en (15.06.2022)
Estonian University of Life Sciences. (n.d). Mikrokraadiprogrammid. https://mikrokraadid.emu.ee/mikrokraadiprogrammid/ (15.06.2022)
European Commission. (n.d). A European approach to micro-credentials. https://education.ec.europa.eu/education-levels/higher-education/micro-credentials (15.06.2022)
Moorkens, J. (2022). Incorporating ethics in translation programmes. EMT blog. https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/emt/incorporating-ethics-in-translation-programmes/
Tallinn University. (n.d). Mikrokraadid. https://www.tlu.ee/mikrokraad (15.06.2022)
TalTech. (n.d). Avatud õpe, mikrokraadid. https://taltech.ee/avatud-ope/mikrokraadid (15.06.2022)
University of Tartu. (2022). Mikrokraadiprogrammid. https://ut.ee/et/mikrokraadid