Art History students collaborate to create a network map of artwork with similar themes. Language and Culture instructors build a small library of digital artifacts for students to work with on a semester-long archival project.  Students in an Asian Studies class play a game that allows them to engage with the course content in new, creative ways. All of these scenarios are supported Translation Networks.

About the Suite of Applications

Translation Networks is a set of digital tools designed to help students build connections between ideas, creative practices, and sources. Each part of the application suite invites users to think critically about their own expectations when engaging with an example, whether it be text, audio, still images or video. Translation Networks tools are not just limited to language translation applications.  Instructors and students work together to crowd source the examples, providing commentary and guidance for future users.

Figure 1. Translation Networks website

Originally started in 2012 for use in the literary translation classroom, the project has evolved and now consists of the Record System, and tools to create Collections and Networks. There is also a game version being developed called Collect/Connect. These tools encourage students to reflect on the curatorial process and knowledge production by involving them directly in record making and the grouping of works. The tools also serve as a research aid, helping students make connections and think through complex relationships by providing a space where they can digitally map out their ideas and visualize them in a variety of ways.

Who Uses the Translation Networks Suite?

Translation Networks (TN) can be used in courses and projects across multiple disciplines. All content is user generated, allowing students to be more involved in their learning experience and helping them see the lasting impact their work has on future users. Instructors can incorporate the tools to target different types of learners and to promote non-traditional modes of engagement with course material.

Librarians can also use the suite of tools for organizing artifacts and content in new ways. TN allows for museums and libraries to create novel network maps of related objects, no matter what the artifacts’ original stored metadata tags might indicate. The digital humanities element of the software suite is a powerful tool for connecting categorically dissimilar artifacts.

Similar tools currently in the marketplace are the Concept Mapping Tools MindNode, Mindmeister, Cmap and XMind. TN takes what these mind and network mapping applications do a step further, by linking them to specific objects in the UM collections and adding a robust element of metadata and archives in the Record System.

About the Founder of Translation Networks–  Professor Christi Merrill

Professor Merrill is an Associate Professor of South Asian Literature and Postcolonial Theory, Departments of Comparative Literature and Asian Languages and Cultures in LSA.

“Training in comparative approaches encourages a global perspective and an interdisciplinary approach to literary studies across linguistic, geographical, cultural, and historical boundaries. Embracing ancient and modern periods of world literature, the interests of our faculty and students encompass multiple languages and diverse areas in the humanities.” This missive does not necessarily lead to a software development concept, but that is exactly what Professor Merrill has conceived in developing TN.

Professor Merrill’s philosophy in software development is best summed up with a statement directly from the Comparative Studies website: “Students in Comparative Literature are actively engaged in the critical exploration of language, reading, writing, translation, critical theory, cross-cultural studies, and comparative methodologies. We encourage experiments in pedagogy and learning beyond disciplinary boundaries.”

It is unusual for a faculty member in her discipline to pursue a long term project in software development. Professor Merrill’s visionary core mission stems from a strong desire to support and elevate student learning and opportunities. The best students are attracted to this exciting project when being treated with respect and consideration, and her management style when working with student programmers is one that is both supportive and challenging.

The project has developed over several years with the contributions of numerous students from both the Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses. Professor Merrill has partnered with Professor Bruce Maxim from the college of Engineering and Computer Science to propose portions of the programming projects to senior design students. Students from other areas have also contributed to the project. Many valuable elements of the software user interface have been designed by Human Computer Interaction students studying in the Ann Arbor College of Information.

Figure 2. Professor Merrill video conferences with Dearborn computer science students about the Collect/Connect game in September 2016.

Collaborations and Grants

Since the beginning in 2012 TN projects have received:

  • MCubed project, Building Translation Networks at Michigan, was awarded a Transforming Learning for the Third Century grant (TLTC, Discovery Phase) for the 2014-15 school year. Collaboration with the Dearborn campus computer science students and Professor Bruce Maxim, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Engineering and Computer Science, University of Michigan-Dearborn continues in 2016-2017.

  • Development of That Translation Game! was supported with with a New Initiatives/New Infrastructures (NINI) Grant through the LSA Information Technology Committee.

How Do I Try Translation Networks? 

Learn more about the TN Project.

Try out a TN Demo.