Students as co-creators in a community of practice

We spoke to Associate Professor Danielle D'Hayer, course leader for the Interpreting MA, and Conference Interpreting MA, about her Ambassadors Scheme for Interpreting Studies

Date: 17 April 2023

Can you summarise how you worked in partnership with students?

The MA Conference Interpreting (MACI) course is a professional course that is tightly connected to the industry and the needs of the market. Students, alumni, staff and employers work in close partnership as a community of practice. Partners in the industry cover international organisations such as the European Commission, the Court of justice for the European Union, the United Nations, but also the private market at international level and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Conference interpreters tend to be self-employed and need to set up as a business. In the second semester, there is a dedicated module that contributes to shaping their business and their visibility on social media and the web. The placement acts a springboard to get students into their profession with opportunities to interpret online and onsite for international organisations, the private market and NGOs. Covid-19 was a catalyst that reinforced remote simultaneous interpreting. This was a major shift for the interpreting profession that had to adapt to the new online environment. However, this was also an opportunity for interpreters to get more work as technology enhanced more short meetings with international partners that did not all speak the same language.

Working in close partnership with students as co-creators has always been an essential element in my teaching practice. In 2008, I created a dedicated alumni scheme called the Ambassadors Scheme for Interpreting Studies. Graduates can join the scheme as ambassadors to support the new cohort of students for 30 hours. In exchange, they can use all interpreting facilities at the University and benefit from a short course called the Advanced Conference Interpreting (EU/UN context) course, which is held once a month on a Saturday. This not only gives graduates the support they need to transit from studying to working, it also contributes to improving their interpreting skills. It reinforces and consolidates what they have learnt but creates a community of practice where current students and recent graduates can work together, practise their skills, and support one another. It creates a safe space and a network for students, graduates and staff.

How does the partnership with students operate?

From the moment candidates get a place on the MACI (from June, much before the course starts), they are invited to join the community of practice on a social platform where they are welcomed by current students and interpreting ambassadors who connect with them, answer their questions and simply make them feel they belong to our community of interpreters at London Met and beyond. Candidates can gradually settle in, observe and when ready contribute to the conversation. The social platform becomes the home of the community, enabling knowledge transfer exchange: ambassadors support current students and current students receive an experience of working with professionals in the industry. There are many benefits to students and ambassadors. Both groups learn by caring, giving and sharing. This collaborative partnership enhances solidarity, compassion, and gratitude. These are essential values in the context of interpreting which is highly competitive.

Both graduates and ambassadors work together during interpreting assignments. For example, we have a partnership with the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) that require interpretation during the course. Ambassadors interpret from October until May. Students shadow the ambassadors whilst they interpret. They engage with them and learn from observation and discussions. But students also learn about the client, in this case ENS. Once they pass all their practical exams at the end of May, students then interpret alongside an ambassador. When they are ready, students then interpret from September. Then can then join the Ambassadors Scheme and do the same for the next cohort of students. What makes the community of practice work is the fact it is fully integrated to the academic life cycle applied to the MACI. Interpreting is a very stressful profession. It requires confidence and nerves of steel. The community of practice provides a safe environment based on trust. It not only supports students during their studies, but it also bridges the gap between studying and entering the professional environment.

What would be your number one piece of advice for someone wanting to embed more partnership working with students?

Talk to your students on an equal footing, they are our colleagues. That encourages trust, fairness, honesty and transparency. By shaping a safe space together with students, they respect each other's values, beliefs and ideas.