Education: Focus on what stays the same, rather than what changes

I had the great opportunity to serve as a member of the advisory board for the new MA in Translation, Interpreting, and Technology at York University. I give my input on the curriculum design, focusing especially on the role of technology in university training. The new MA is now open and accepts applications.

When I am called to advice for the design of new curricula, my advice is very simple: Focus more on what stays the same, rather than what changes. In a world where change is constant, it’s obviously important to understand and make sense of this change. However, it’s especially crucial to teach what will remain constant. When it comes to teaching technology at the university level, my key point consistently remains the same:

Focus on the fundamentals, not the applications: It's more important to understand the principles behind technology than to keep up with the latest applications. Young people will pick up them easily and naturally because these applications are simply part of their natural environment. Learning the critical aspects of technology, what it is, how it works, etc. isn't automatic and needs support. This bag of knowledge will last forever.

To clarify and avoid any misunderstanding: I am not advocating for less technology. In fact, quite the opposite. My argument is that curricula should not concentrate on technological skills, which are destined to become obsolete quickly, but rather on a deeper understanding of technology.

In recent years, I’ve been involved in redesigning several translation and interpretation curricula, both in my university and elsewhere. Sadly, many modernization efforts have missed the mark. Mainly for two reasons:

  • They try to change not because they believe change is necessary, but because they are forced to do so. The result is summarized by this quote from “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change“. Buzzwords like ‘AI’ or ‘technology’ are added here and there, but the curriculum is hardly touched. The change is rather superficial, aiming at satisfying some stakeholders, and creating an illusion of change.
  • Too much focus on the applications, not the fundamentals: Some programs concentrate too much on the newest tech, i.e. on the practical application of the technological revolution, forgetting about the fundamentals. This jeopardizes their long-term value. Sadly, I have seen programs closing because they became irrelevant soon after their launch.

From what I’ve personally observed, the general reaction is quite disheartening, but there are some promising developments. Some of these I have been a part of, while others I have simply observed. The MA at York University could be a great example of doing things right. We’ll see how it turns out in the next few years.

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