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Learning by helping: the experience of a pro bono student language service provider

Thursday, March 17th, 2022

By Gaia Ballerini, research fellow and IN.TRA manager, Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT), University of Bologna, and Caterina Genovese, Alessandra Turato and Annachiara Zabotto, students of the Master’s degree in Specialized Translation (DIT) and co-founders of IN.TRA.

Translation: IN.TRA team

Revision: Dallas James Hopkins, student of the Master’s degree in Specialized Translation (DIT) and IN.TRA member

Over the last few years, a group of lecturers headed by Prof. Silvia Bernardini and Prof. Paolo Scampa, of the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of the University of Bologna, has expressed the urgent need to develop a voluntary student translation initiative focusing on projects having strong social value.

This idea became a reality in March 2021 with the foundation of IN.TRA, the pro bono and student language service provider (LSP) of the DIT. In the following sections, we will describe the educational context in which it is inserted, the objectives, the structure and the steps taken in this first year of the project.

1. The training context in translation didactics

The last twenty years have marked a phase of important development in translation training. Scholars and lecturers have emphasised the need to harmonise teaching practice and standards in an ever-evolving professional world, and it has become increasingly clear that the skills to be developed to enable future translators to enter the translation market profitably require teaching approaches favouring their integrated development.

The combination of academic research, institutional commitment and dialogue with the social partners has led to an intense reflection on the concept of competence and to the flourishing of models in which the competences most closely linked to the profession acquire growing visibility The model elaborated by the EMT (2017), the most recent one, highlights precisely how these competences move from being sub-competences to independent areas.

Thus, alongside linguistic, and cultural competence and translation competence in the strict sense, there is a place for technological competence (relating to the tools of the trade), personal and interpersonal competence (encompassing the ability to work in teams and learn new skills) and competence relating to language service provision (including, for example, client relations and project management) (Scampa, Ballerini e Bernardini 2022).

In this scenario, translation scholars and professors began to realize the limits of an approach based on the mere exercise of translation, guided and corrected in the classroom by the lecturer (defined by Kiraly (2005) as ‘who’ll take the next sentence approach’), which does not take into account the skills and competences which are fundamental in the translation market and in the translators’ training. Thus, theories and teaching methodologies emerged which stressed the need for a more professionalising approach, which would be attentive to the natural complexity of the translator’s professional activity.

The idea was to recreate the translator’s professional reality in the classroom by simulating the activities, standards and interactions of the working environment, or by integrating authentic translation projects in study programmes, thanks to which students would have the opportunity to experience the same standards required by the professional world.

Among the main proposals made are the socio-constructivist approach in translation by Kiraly (2005), the Translation Project Using Translation Tools by Krüger and Serrano Piqueras (2015) at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and the methodology promoted by Daniel Gouadec at the Université de Rennes 2. Collaborative learning, authentic translation projects for authentic clients, reproduction of the professional work environment in the classroom, autonomy, sense of responsibility, are the elements characterising them.

In the European context, project-based pedagogy has taken on a central role in translation education thanks to the OTCT (Optimising Translator Training through Collaborative Technical Translation) and INSTB (International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus) projects developed between 2014 and 2016, both aimed at facilitating the integration of professional practices in translator training, the former through the simulation of collaborative translation projects, and the latter through the creation of simulated translation agencies.

1.1. Translation service-learning

Before moving on to a more specific discussion of IN.TRA, it is necessary to add a further didactic element concerning an approach that has not yet been fully explored in translation didactics but is paramount for this project, the so-called service-learning.

Service-learning (also referred to as community based or community engaged learning) is an innovative pedagogical approach that integrates service or «meaningful» community engagement into the academic curriculum, and offers credits certifying learning from an active involvement in the community and work on a real problem.

Based on a process of reflection on the practical experience of civic engagement in the community and on experiential learning strategies, service-learning teaches civic responsibility and key citizenship skills (communicating, collaborating, planning, problem solving, achieving and interpreting information, gaining self-awareness, learning to learn) and strengthens communities, fosters solidarity, social responsibility and civic action.

Although service to and in the community is ‘voluntary’, service-learning is not a voluntary activity. While sharing the element of gratuitousness, the activity carried out, in a two-way exchange of knowledge and skills, benefits both parties involved, i.e., community and students. Therefore, quite differently from voluntary activities in which the focus is placed exclusively on the service and its recipient, in this case the student approaches the other party involved, the community.

Developed in the United States in the 1980s, and now expanding in Italy thanks also to projects such as Europe Engage ( and UNICORN (, service-learning aims to meet the needs identified jointly by students and the community by inviting students to apply the theoretical and practical knowledge acquired in the classroom directly in the field, in a multidisciplinary meeting.

As for the service-learning fields of application, experiences in translation education remain limited, even in the United States, where it originated and developed. Yet the voluntary and unpaid commitment of professional translators and trainees in the non-profit and not-for-profit sector is strong and can be interpreted as a sign of a natural spirit of civic commitment for the translator. Besides, the civic citizenship skills that service-learning aims to develop in students are also reflected in translator’s training. Problem-solving, self-assessment and planning skills are also required of future translators in the professional world (see 1).

In this context, it was decided to investigate the impact of service-learning application on the provision of language services by bringing together the theories and teaching practices of collaborative translation projects in a single, innovative service-learning approach, thus creating a more translation-oriented service-learning in which civic education and students’ curricular training are in fruitful harmony.

The elective course ‘Service-learning Laboratory’ was launched for students of the Master’s degree in Specialized Translation out of this will and need in March 2021.

2. Service-learning Laboratory: the course and the foundation of IN.TRA

The ‘Service-learning Laboratory’ was created with a virtuous aim: the foundation of a pro bono language service provider (LSP).

Managed autonomously by students under the supervision of professors, senior lecturers and tutors of the degree course, this LSP is aimed mainly, but not exclusively, at nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations, and the interactions generated by this collaboration lead to an important development of the key citizenship skills of participants.

The idea behind this project is that service-learning and translator training can be integrated and balanced. The evaluation takes place at two separate times and takes different forms in keeping with the service-learning principles and objectives of the course. Therefore, as far as service-learning is concerned, at the beginning of the course a precise thinking on the skills, principles and standards of this approach is proposed to create the necessary conditions for the activities that will follow with social and personal awareness, and in compliance with the service-learning standards.

With regard to training for the profession, the course introduces an autonomous and collaborative learning mode in which all the competences gained in the individual modules of the Master’s degree in Specialized Translation are deployed in an integrated manner to achieve a socially relevant goal.

As in an authentic LSP, students form a team divided into four working groups (project management, translation and revision, terminology, external communication) and are responsible for all phases and aspects of the service delivery, from identifying the client, choosing the tasks to be performed, defining quality assurance methods, and devising communication strategies. While these decisions involve all participants, everyone can gain different and specific experiences within each working group and understand which roles are most suitable for them. In fact, students take on different roles during the project, dealing with different competences and skills, as well as with different problems and issues.

Although the meetings are based on the foundation and management of a pro bono language service provider, ‘Service-learning Laboratory’ is still framed as a university course, making it necessary to evaluate the students’ activities. The evaluation takes place at two separate times and takes different forms in keeping with the service-learning principles and the objectives of the course. In a formative perspective, students are asked, at the end of each meeting, to reflect critically on civic engagement and personal growth, entrusting their ideas to writing a personal diary. In a summative perspective, the community involved participates in the evaluation by answering a specific questionnaire, while the students introduce a portfolio of their activities, focusing on the civic and professional skills they have acquired.

Although the creation of the language service provider required intense planning and development work, the students succeeded in founding IN.TRA – Inclusive Translation for Community Engagement, meeting after meeting, with a great spirit of collaboration and cooperation.

3. The first year of IN.TRA: a word with the founders

IN.TRA is a pro bono language service provider set up in March 2021 by seven students attending the first and second year of the Master’s degree in Specialized Translation (Department of Interpreting and Translation), namely Elisa Maria Billone, Marialucia D’Arcangelo, Marian Fabbri, Caterina Genovese, Lisa Porretti, Alessandra Turato and Annachiara Zabotto, who have fully taken on the role of founding members.

Service-learning plays a fundamental role within the LSP as active citizenship skills are developed through the language services offered. Change can be created, indeed, through words that change and IN.TRA aims to generate change by giving a voice to the voiceless and translating it into more than seven languages to cross borders and reach as many communities as possible.

In this regard, it is necessary to emphasise the concept of community and, above all, to explain how it is considered by the LSP itself. The community IN.TRA has chosen to address is a global community that, as previously stated, does not only cross territorial but also linguistic, cultural, social and economic borders. It is also a community that could be defined as ‘multidimensional’ because it does not only develop in a spatial dimension, i.e., through the physical and presential interaction of its members, but also embraces the new virtual dimension, which allows it to reach anyone who needs the services offered by the LSP and to respond instantly to appeals launched in emergency situations.

IN.TRA vision is to actively work together to break down barriers of all kinds and to build bridges that contribute to a truly global community. Instead, the mission is to put the team’s skills at the service of deserving national and international nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations, i.e., bodies that share the same values on which the LSP is founded and that, through their work, seek to raise awareness on issues of fundamental importance like, for example, the environmental and climate crisis and the protection of children’s rights in emergency situations.

Just as with collaborative projects, there is an exchange of skills and knowledge between the participants in the project. In fact, the skills the co-founders have are not static, but dynamic and constantly evolving and each founder is, indeed, called to get involved, to gain as much new knowledge as possible and, above all, to share their knowledge with the students who decide to embark on this path as well. This multidirectional exchange is the IN.TRA cornerstone, an essential element of the LSP that empowers the virtuous circle.

Initially, the ‘Service-learning Laboratory’ course consisted of a one-and-a-half-hour lesson per week, but it was clear, from the very first meetings, that this project had an impact on the participants that went far beyond university credits. Driven by the enthusiasm of such a tangible and, at the same time, ambitious objective, the founders identified the first two fundamental steps to be taken: it was first necessary to have a well-defined identity to offer their services to any client and make themselves known as an LSP. Aware of the fact that ideas and the language industry have different timing and rhythms from those of a university course, it was decided to create a chat group as the main channel of communication to discuss, share opinions and assign tasks immediately and independently of class time.

The choice of name IN.TRA – Inclusive Translation for Community Engagement reflects the sense of ‘within a community’ and the will to make the linguistic services offered available to anyone in need of a voice to continue to exercise active citizenship, acting as a bridge, a thread linking one end of the world to another, one community to another. This is the vision that IN.TRA wants to tell through its logo, a nucleus from which many coloured lines depart, all different, and connecting to other dots in the distance.

Medium and long-term objectives were defined in parallel with the naming and branding process like the creation of an official e-mail address, the definition of the type of community to which to propose as a collaborator and the identification of the buyer person, i.e., the target to be reached through the creation of a social profile.

The clients with whom to collaborate were identified as all those nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations whose work was in line with IN.TRA’s mission: working to break down any type of barrier (linguistic, social, economic) that hinders the access of disadvantaged communities to exercising their fundamental rights. At present, the LSP works mainly with organisations committed respectively to guaranteeing the right to education for children in contexts of war or exploitation and the enforcement of the UN Convention on the rights of the child which aims to protect the rights of children in various spheres, an example being the area of environmental justice.

With the growth of the LSP and the increase in the workload by its clients, it became necessary to divide the tasks in order not only to organise them, but also to acquire and exchange expertise among the members. Four working groups were identified:

  • Translation and revision
  • Social media management
  • Project management
  • Terminology

All members of the LSP fill the roles of translators and proof-readers based on the requests, while only the founders have filled the other positions as of today. However, as new students join, even the other working groups will open their doors to new members.

The Social Media Managers created the LSP’s Instagram page and manage its content and social communication.

The Project Managers oversee organising the workflow, starting with the communication with the client, and then creating project folders and work list files, as well as finding a collaborative CAT Tool to meet the LSP’s needs.

On the other hand, the Terminology department creates glossaries per client with the most important terminology, any style guides based on client feedback and files to be aligned for TMs.

As already mentioned, dynamism and evolution are the cornerstones of this project and this LSP, therefore the working groups were conceived with a collaborative and knowledge dissemination, reciprocity between the LSP and its members in mind: the students learn as much as possible from one another, each one making their skills and abilities available, sharing experiences and knowledge, and acting as mentors for the others. Once they have learned the dynamics and the main tasks, the team members are then asked to change their working group so they can maximise the exchange of knowledge.

Regarding the company’s social media presence, an Instagram account has been set up ( ) to follow clients and, at the same time, reach out to the students attending the Department of Interpreting and Translation in Forlì in order to bring the student community closer to the company. Thanks to this communication strategy, it was possible to expand the pool of collaborators who were asked to pass a selection process that included sending their CV and a motivational letter, an interview, and a translation test in the working languages of each candidate.

The LSP is continuing to grow even thanks to the service-learning course promoted by the Department, in which students taking part can contribute actively to IN.TRA’s development by expanding its pool of clients, consolidating its organisational structure and online presence, and implementing the LSP’s terminology resources from translated material.

In addition to these typical activities, IN.TRA has recently partnered with Russisti per la pace to participate in their student-based initiative, joining other students from the Department who have decided to offer their linguistic and translational skills to the communities who have been affected by the invasion of Ukraine.

IN.TRA quickly mobilised to support the burgeoning initiative, participating in the formation of a team of student volunteers from the Specialized Translation and Interpreting Master’s degree as well as from the three-year programme in Intercultural and Linguistic Mediation. Students from all three programmes reached out to help satisfy the need for translations, interpreting and linguistic mediation from and into Russian and Ukrainian for non-profit associations and NGOs operating within Italy as well as in the crisis areas. The social media management team decided to prepare for the expected rush of requests by posting on the group’s Instagram profile, helping to build awareness in the community as well as increase the number of volunteers. In the two days after posting, IN.TRA was flooded with offers from professional translators and interpreters who had graduated from the Department themselves and wanted to take part in this initiative.

To keep up with the initiative created by Russisti per la pace and to stay updated about IN.TRA’s activities, follow us on Instagram (, or send an email to


Kiraly, Donald (2005) “Project-Based Learning: A Case for Situated Translation”, Meta: journal des traducteurs/ Meta: Translators’ Journal, 50, no 4: 1098–111.

Krüger, Ralf, and Jésus Serrano Piqueras (2015) “Situated Translation in the Translation Classroom” in Current Trends in Translation Teaching and Learning E, 2: 5–30, URL: (accessed 11 March 2022)

Scampa, Paolo, Ballerini, Gaia and Bernardini, Silvia (2022) “La formazione in traduzione fra competenze, professione e civismo. Alcune riflessioni sul service-learning”, inTRAlinea, Vol. 24, (accessed 14 March 2022).

Discord or an apple of discord?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

By Alain Volclair, Head of Department of Translation – Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations of the University of Strasbourg and Reasearch Associate at Lilpa – Discursive functioning and translation

Translated from French by Duncan Miller, MSc by Research in Science and Technology Studies, MA in Professional Translation, Sworn Translator/Interpreter at the Court of Appeal of Colmar, Lecturer at the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Strasbourg, France

What with remote/on-site working (respectively: distanciel and présentiel in French) and other hybrid forms, France has by no means stained its neologistic reputation. Thus, it has been incredibly inventive in describing an educational reality, which unfortunately has not spared any training centre, amid this gloomy pandemic period. These new words may torment academics and flatter the egos of high dignitaries in didactics, considering they are sometimes (at best?) indicators of French cultural exceptions but often also symbols of linguistic lockdown. However, they have forced us to bow down, give up on our dreams of human proximity and break the chain of close contact with our students. After a masked debut, as classroom Zorros, we had to dress up as phantoms to haunt the broadband of online sharing applications.

Fortunately, after numerous Cornelian hesitations, specified in the following article, at ITIRI (Strasbourg), we opted for the platform Discord, which bears an ill-suited name. Far from being an apple of discord, this is a highly federating tool that can recreate teaching conditions, which are actually quite close to face-to-face lessons.

This is of course where the question lies. Along with the forced distancing from our temples of knowledge, imposed on both students and lecturers, comes the isolation as such, the coldness of the screen that we switch on and off, and the sadness of a faulty connection that leads to an abyssal void, which would normally have been filled by the comforting words of students and colleagues at the end of a lesson. The expression social distancing, so often criticised for its inappropriateness, is actually very suitable in this case. Physical distancing de facto leads to social distancing, to separation from others, like a circuit breaker that has tripped. In the student world, this is highly obvious and extremely dangerous.

Following the ITIRI Admissions and ITIRI Viva servers, we set up the ITIRI Remote Working server, which in its own way and to a certain extent, bridges the gap imposed by the virus. First and foremost, only a single manipulation is required to register and connect to this tailor-made world. The zealous administrators and guarantors of the students’ wellbeing, did not object to configure and personalise a tool that is reminiscent of the reassuring atmosphere of the building we are already familiar with. Therefore, in a preliminary phase, a considerable amount of thought and imagination was required, which was indeed constraining and time-consuming, but it provides a very user‑friendly atmosphere and a wide range of contact possibilities: public, private, discreet, personal, in small groups, international, punctual, sustainable, etc. Thus, we have designed personalised voice rooms for our office hours and for private conversations with our Italian, Greek, Turkish and Albanian institutional partners. We have also designed rooms for our students, so that they can privately meet at any time, work on a project, have a conversation about a lesson or just have an aperiscord by switching on their webcams. We have created rooms for all our lessons, bearing the names of our lecturers and subject titles, a room for publishing contest photos: ugly Christmas jumper, and rooms for academic administrators and technical assistance. Inside all of these virtual places, which are tailor‑made on the basis of an attributed role, everyone can come and go as they please, switch on/off, complain, laugh and cry, according to their moods, lessons and needs, either in groups or face‑to‑face. It is a unique place, set up ad hoc,to meet the specific requirements, previously analysed, which correspond to the expectations of the students that we know and cherish.

Seemingly, the real difference between Discord and other platforms is the possibility of being on an ‘island’, altogether in the same isolated place, in a close-knit community, with a sense of protection and guidance for students, along with a cohesive setting and a corporate spirit for lecturers and tutors. This is all to be found on a single platform, without having to send out specific invitations for each lesson or for each occasion in general. We are rather proud of this unifying tool that we have collectively designed with a real sense of communion.

Organisation of remote admission and viva sessions amid lockdown: the ITIRI example

By Fabien Freudenreich, Associate Lecturer – Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations of the University of Strasbourg and Freelance Translator

The imposed closure of schools and universities in March, due to the coronavirus pandemic was unexpected for both the students and the teaching and administrative staff.

Initially, some reorganisation was necessary to resume teaching and everyone either chaotically rushed into different available options or adopted those they were already accustomed to and could properly handle. For instance, it is worth mentioning the free solutions offered by Framasoft, whose infrastructure quickly suffered from the influx of users, along with the different ‘homemade’ solutions proposed by universities, failing to meet all requirements, or even the more professional solutions like Teams or Zoom, meeting specific requirements but bypassing the supervision of the Directorate of Digital Services.

Beyond ongoing education, a decision had to be taken as regards admission sessions. Should they simply have been cancelled, following the example of other universities, that prioritised application form reviews, or have been maintained remotely, by finding a solution that meets our testing requirements?

Renouncing to these tests by selecting students on the basis of their application forms would certainly have been the easiest option in terms of logistics, but it would have increased the risk of miscasting. Once discussed, we decided the admission tests, with a few modifications and an adapted solution for the written part, would be maintained.


Although it is quite feasible to organise timed written tests on a remote basis, the organisation of remote oral tests is more complex.

A solution was required to reproduce our usual oral testing procedures, as well as our logistics.

For the candidates: respecting the notification time, receiving a topic to prepare, preparing and presenting before the interview panel (compulsory use of audio and video if possible).

For the lecturers and the interview panels: simultaneous running of several interview panels, submitting the topic to be prepared, deliberating between interviews, and reviewing the candidates’ application forms.

Although some courses use Skype and Zoom, and the University proposes BigBlueButton, a tool with the same organisation principle for virtual meetings, these solutions failed to deal with a crucial aspect of our admission sessions: the management of the simultaneity of interview panels. We wanted to ensure that the numerous candidates as well as the members of the interview panels, would not have to juggle between several options. The context was already exceptional enough, so we wanted to guarantee that the candidates’ experience would be as smooth as possible, while maintaining an overarching view over the simultaneous running of the interview panels.

In order to deal with these aspects more easily and try to loyally reproduce the physical organisation of our admission tests, we opted for Discord.

What is Discord?

Discord is a free tool, released in 2015, initially designed for gamers, to create video game communities. Today, there are many private and public communities that are interested in a variety of themes: video games, manga, cinema, politics, cooking, wellbeing, etc. Discord offers several advantages. Not only is it a free and user-friendly tool, it is also known by many students whether they are gamers or not.

Each user can create a server, add chat or voice rooms, and invite others. Although Discord was initially invented to meet gamers’ requirements, the publisher’s site has recently been redesigned to expand its audience, highlight a sense of cohesion and community amid the pandemic period, and follow the trend of other collaborative tools like Slack or Teams, which are widely used by remote workers.

The functioning of Discord:

Similar to Slack, Discord runs on the principle of communication within channels, or rooms, which allows sharing text messages, with attachments, and communicating using audio or video options. Discord can be used as a downloadable application for a mobile device, or it can be used  directly in a browser. An administrator of a server can control the users by giving them roles, with specific rights (i.e. the authorisation to connect to different rooms, use the video or communicate in rooms, etc.).

Organisation of the admissions server:

The server offers several categories, for administrators, lecturers or candidates, with rooms containing information on its functioning, the configuration of a headset, the running of tests and the different operations to conduct. It also contains voice rooms, used by the interview panels for the different languages on offer. We have also designed a PDF guide for candidates and members of the interview panels. Five roles are used: administrator, candidate, lecturer, academic administrator and ‘everyone’, which is the basic role available on each server. Users who connect to the server for the first time automatically take on the ‘everyone’ role, with limited rights, and are then given an adequate role corresponding to their function.

Running of oral tests:

Usually, the face-to-face oral tests are conducted as follows: the candidate arrives at the notification time, in front of the designated interview panel room. A member of the panel welcomes the candidate who is given a text to prepare in a specific room, for twenty minutes. Then, a member of the panel fetches the candidate, and the oral test starts in the interview panel room. Once the oral test is over, the candidate leaves, and the panel deliberates. During the oral test, it has access to a paper version of the candidate’s application form. If candidates present another language, they proceed to the respective interview panel room, at the notification time, and the same process applies.

For the oral tests on Discord, the following logistics have been implemented: the candidate enters the Waiting Room (to reproduce the physical corridor of ITIRI), at the notification time. For each interview panel, a member moves each candidate into the interview voice room, the candidate is then welcomed and undergoes an identity check. The interview panel submits the topic to be prepared, to the candidate, by sending a direct message with an attachment containing the text. The candidate is then sent back to the Waiting Room to prepare the text. There, candidates can neither communicate using their voices nor their webcams, in order to reduce the risk of cheating. Before the beginning of the test, the candidate is moved back to the interview panel room, and the oral test begins. Once the interview is over, candidates can disconnect from the server, if they have finished, or can return to the Waiting Room if they are presenting another language. The members of the interview panel deliberate vocally. During the interview, the panel has access to the candidate’s application form via eCandidat.

Similar to the different oral tests that take place at the same time in different rooms in the event of face-to-face admission sessions, the interviews simultaneously took place in different voice rooms, according to an initially established schedule, and the candidates were moved about by the respective interview panels.

Technical constraints:

Although, the oral admission sessions were successful overall, we obviously had to cope with several technical problems, such as connection failures, microphone/webcam hitches, compatibility issues with certain browsers, or issues relative to the management of rights, concerning both the candidates and the members of the interview panels. In order to reduce the risks to a minimum, we ran trial sessions, both for the candidates and the members of the interview panels.

We always managed to find a solution. Although the conditions were not always ideal, we managed to interview around 200 candidates and formed a precise opinion on each one, in a satisfactory manner. This would not have been the case for a selection process solely based on the candidates’ application forms.

Reproducing this success:

After the admission sessions, we organised final deliberations in a specific voice room and communicated the results to the candidates on the same server, before sending out the official results by email.

Considering the oral tests were satisfactorily conducted, we also decided to organise viva voce examinations via Discord. In this respect, we created a distinct server, which functions in a relatively similar fashion, with a few modifications according to requirements, such as distinct waiting rooms for the three degree programmes, or different voice rooms for each course.

The examinations were also properly carried out and we managed to optimise a few procedures, by learning from the admission sessions.

The issue of personal data:

This question should obviously be raised, since we are organising official educational activities, using an unrecommended tool, which bypasses the supervision of the Directorate of Digital Services (the servers are hosted by Discord datacentres all over the world). Although Discord automatically collects a certain amount of data, as is the case for many tools and a lot of software, the publisher’s confidentiality policy indicates that collected data is not resold. This statement is obviously difficult to check, but options are nonetheless available in the user settings, in order to reduce the sent data. To maximally reduce the risks on the servers that we have created, we have specifically asked users not to share files containing sensitive information, and to use official channels instead. For instance, the candidates’ application forms were to be strictly reviewed on eCandidat, and not to be shared via Discord.

The constraining aspect has still to be addressed. Although the vast majority of students already use Facebook and other social networks by their own accord, it is difficult to force candidates or students to use a specifically owned platform without giving them the choice. The same question can also be raised for Zoom or other tools used by certain courses. However, we had to take important decisions quickly, in the absence of relevant alternatives proposed by the University or the Ministry. These choices turned out to be successful given the obtained results, amid a difficult context, over which we had no control.

What’s next?

Several other courses in France used Discord amid lockdown, to develop a sense of educational community and maintain a crucial bond with students, who were scattered and locked down all over France, or even all over the world. For instance, the Information-Communication course of the University of Lorraine, used and still uses a Discord server that unites students and lecturers, so they can share useful information, both during lockdown and for the return to university.

The community aspect of this communication tool would be interesting to develop for ITIRI. The point is not to turn Discord into the official communication tool of the institute, but to allow students from different Masters and specialisations to communicate, share, work together and evolve within a close-knit community, even if it is a virtual one. Not only is a community management platform generally useful to reinforce the links between the students and the teaching staff, it is also crucial amid a crisis, like the one we are going through just now. However, this kind of appliance raises other questions, notably in terms of confidentiality, security and content moderation, that require an in‑depth analysis.


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