On Syllabus Design

Still catching up on work after traveling to SAMLA last weekend, so this syllabus design post is coming late (analysis of Laurie’s “Writing, Visual Rhetorics, and War” is to follow), but here are my thoughts on revisiting the course syllabi collected at the beginning of the course. Overall, a useful (and time-saving) exercise, especially during the end of the semester crunch.

Disclaimer: my criteria of “best,” at this stage of the course design process, is motivated mostly by the syllabus’s “usefulness” in my own project of teaching writing through translation and not necessarily by its adherence to the LAE 6947 rubric.


  • Since I have to present a lot of information in a 15-week course and leave enough room for in-class writing and discussion, I was attracted to the syllabi that presented problems and challenges encountered in translation through weekly topics. The idea is similar to LAE 6947 “Writing as…” topics, only in this context the students could potentially explore “Translation and Fidelity,” “Translation and Ethical Responsibility,” “Translation and Remix” etc.
  • Idra Novey’s (NYU) syllabus was especially useful because it listed specific translation-related exercises that matched (or utilized) the class readings. For example, Novey got her students to read 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei and then asked them to write a version of the poem based on various translations in the book or a haiku inspired by a translation. Students prepared their work in advance and shared in seminar later. Even though such discussion can commence prior to, during, or after class in a course taught via wiki, I would like to adapt several of Novey’s assignments in my course.
  • There is no shortage of recommended texts and online resources (blogs/websites/forums) dedicated to the craft and theory of translation and syllabi reflect this. Those syllabi that organize weekly readings by theme were, again, most helpful.
  • Reading several well-focused course abstract that states what students will (ideally) take away from learning about and practicing translation was particularly helpful. Rather than stating what approach the course takes, some instructors chose to explicitly state what the course is NOT about (language learning, etc.) In my case, I’m considering organizing the learning outcomes by 3-4 primary and several secondary/auxiliary goals.

Not so useful:

  • A few syllabi “flooded” the students with information (overabundance of quotes, recommended resources, etc.). Perhaps this is best presented on a separate document — or, in my case, uploaded to the course wiki.
  • Since I’ll be teaching undergraduates, I will have to pair down the reading list, discussing fewer essays but going more in depth in class discussions.
  • Some instructors, who shall remain unnamed, teaching their own book as the primary text. Unless there is a really good reason for this, I feel that using your own work in a course on translation is problematic. In fact, expressing a strong opinion towards one side/theory/methodology of translation over another may not be so helpful at the beginning of the course. It’s important to keep in mind on the process, not the final product.
  • Concentration solely on text (and not on image/video/music adaptation) of a specific genre. For the purposes on my course, which is largely informed by multi-modal writing and new meaning makings, the traditional approach to translation is too narrow.
  • In terms of assessment, many instructors stated that they evaluate students on their participation, quizzes, short exercises, and the quality of final translations. I agree with the first two categories, but feel that the emphasis should be on the process of revision/collaboration/critique rather than the final product. The idea is to liberate the student from the pressure to produce something perfect because there is no such thing as a perfect translation!

Final word:

None of these syllabi, I feel, meet the requirements of the course design assignment for LAE 6947. The most glaring omission is the theoretical rationale. Perhaps this is because many of these courses are taught in Translation Studies programs and such need is too obvious? Then again, in view of the push in the translation studies to make the translator visible, to endow us with new interpretive strategies for reading, and to build cross-cultural communication competency, this can stand being repeated. Overall, I get the feeling that translation is underutilized pedagogically, and that there’s much to be explored (in practice and theory).


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One Response to On Syllabus Design

  1. From what I read in your course rationale, I too think that translation studies is underutilized pedagogically. I am glad you were able to find design elements from the syllabi you looked that are both useful and “not so useful.” I often think that when it comes to our own designs, working against those “not so useful” elements can ultimately be very useful to us… 🙂
    ps. I think a bit of a theoretical rationale can ultimately get folded in into Course Description when you create a syllabus for students. But I think that overall, a theoretical rationale is more useful for teachers during design process. If you ever have an adminstrator challenging your teaching, a well-thought out and articulate theoretical rationale can also be useful.

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