A community portal for professional development

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A community portal for professional development

Barbara Class

Daniel K. Schneider

University of Geneva


Abstract: This research concerns the design, implementation and evaluation of a blended training course for interpreter trainers. Findings confirmed a socio-constructivist design within which learners developed the expected skills and knowledge specified in the learning outcomes. Faculty was rather positive about this new teaching experience and agreed to teach in successive blended editions of the same course. Three learner profiles were identified by statistical analysis and suggest three different ways of approaching the learning enterprise. This information helped to redesign the activities and also to fine tune the monitoring of activities. More generally speaking, the use of a design-based research approach led to the creation of a new design framework and a body of design rules readily usable in similar adult training contexts.


The context of this research is a complete redesign of a successful two-week traditional face-to-face course for interpreter trainers into a one-year blended socio-constructivist course. The process was supported by a developmental research project. In this paper, we present the findings from the first two new editions of the course.

Adult learning is concerned with transforming identities (Wenger, 1998) and is part of professional development. Identities shape an adult’s willingness and capacity to engage in boundary interactions. Speck (1996) offered insight into the learning process in adult training and he formulated several pedagogical design rules: To be motivating, learning must be real-context oriented with immediate possible application in the professional context. The entire design must give some control to learners and provide them with regular constructive feedback. The diversity of backgrounds must be built into the training and the link between both the training and the professional setting must be very explicit. A collaborative dimension offering the opportunity to learn and exchange in small groups is also often a source of motivation and enhanced learning.

Professional development is also linked to market change and interpreter trainers have to be trained differently. Working with technology represents one of these changes. Being able to work collaboratively in teams, effectively and efficiently, is another example, particularly since interpreters will be working together in the booth. This is one major reason why, since 2004, the training of trainers at ETI is carried out within a virtual learning environment. It provides an opportunity to train trainers in both the use of technology and collaborative work at one and the same time. Furthermore, future trainers can learn from faculty through cognitive apprenticeship during the course. This is reinforced with our leitmotiv: “the medium is the message”.

We first present the research approach adopted, provide some details about the study and briefly outline the methodology used. We then describe the pedagogical design and the learning environment. Finally we present the findings and practical outcomes, e.g. a component model of activity-based training.

Developmental research

Our general approach is a type of developmental research known as “design-based research” or “design experiment”. According to Collins et al. (2004: 15), “Design experiments were developed as a way to carry out formative research to test and refine educational designs based on principles derived from prior research.” Reeves (2000: 8) identifies the following critical characteristics of Brown’s (1992) and Collins’ (1992) design experiments: “(a) addressing complex problems in real contexts in collaboration with practitioners, (b) integrating known and hypothetical design principles with technological affordances to render plausible solutions to these complex problems, and (c) conducting rigorous and reflective inquiry to test and refine innovative learning environments as well as to define new design principles”.

Three essential features of design-based research (DBR) are action-orientation, situatedness and complexity. “The overall goal of research within the empirical tradition is to develop long-lasting theories and unambiguous principles that can be handed off to practitioners for implementation. Development research, on the other hand, requires a pragmatic epistemology that regards learning theory as being collaboratively shaped by researchers and practitioners. The overall goal of development research is to solve real problems while at the same time constructing design principles that can inform future decisions. In Kuhn's terms, these are different worlds.” (Reeves, 2000: 12). Situatedness and the complexity of “naturalistic contexts” are important features of most DBR experiments (Barab & Squire, 2004) and require an iterative approach. DBR experiments are not one-time experiments, but try to expand understanding of conjectures expressed with intervening variables. “Prototypically, design experiments entail both engineering particular forms of learning and systematically studying those forms of learning within the context defined by the means of supporting them. This designed context is subject to test and revision, and the successive iterations that result play a role similar to that of systematic variation in experiment”. (Cobb et al., 2003: 9)

According to Sandoval (2004:2), “designed learning environments embody conjectures about learning and instruction, and the empirical study of learning environments allows such conjectures to be refined over time. The construct of embodied conjecture is introduced as a way to demonstrate the theoretical nature of learning environment design, and to frame methodological issues in studying such conjectures”. An embodied conjecture is a conjecture about how theoretical propositions might be reified within designed environments to support learning. Designed environments include tools (such as software), materials and activity structures, defined as the combination of task structure, how a task is organized and social participation structures. Accordingly, design-based research can be driven and organized by so-called conjecture maps (Sandoval: 2004). A conjecture map identifies the important research components of a pedagogical design and highlights interesting relationships. It identifies the theory that we try to embody in a design and that should favor cognitive processes and finally lead to learning outcomes. These maps are highly idiographic, that is, researchers must come up with their own best representations depending on their overall research purpose, and they should evolve over time. For example, as we will show below, some maps just include boxes with elements; others include arrows and define relationships between specific constructs. These relationships then can be tested with data (if available).

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