MIIS Professor Barry Olsen has led webinars for Middlebury faculty and students on technologies and strategies for teaching and learning language interpreting online. There are many takeaways from these webinars that could benefit not only those in interpreting education, but for anyone faced with teaching or learning performance- or speech-based skills online. Disciplines that might benefit from such strategies include general language learning, speech and debate, theatre, dance, and music, lab sciences, and teacher preparation programs, to name a few. We wanted to take a moment and outline some advice and strategies for these situations, and share links to Professor Olsen’s recorded webinars as well.

Professor Olsen recommends GoReact as an online video platform for student practice and assessment of performance-based skills. GoReact is a great and robust tool, but will no longer be free to all educators beyond June 2020. Other video-based platforms and annotation tools that could serve similar functions include Zoom, Panopto, and VideoAnt.

  • Zoom allows students to practice and record performance-based skills synchronously (it also includes an interpretation feature, where you can set up multiple interpreting channels during meetings). Zoom is free for all Middlebury faculty, staff, and students, and is supported by Middlebury ITS. Other video communication tools that are supported by Middlebury ITS include Microsoft Teams or Google Meet, which would work equally well for synchronous practice and recording.
  • Panopto allows students to record their performance for feedback and assessment, and easily embed their videos in Canvas. Panopto is free for all Middlebury faculty, staff, and students, and is supported by Middlebury ITS.
  • VideoAnt is a free video annotation tool that was developed and is housed at the University of Minnesota. It allows you to insert annotated feedback to students on their recorded video performance at the moment where the feedback applies within their video, similar to GoReact.

Professor Olsen requires two practice sessions a week for his students, and also requires them to keep a practice log and journal of their work. He suggests students conduct these practice sessions using Zoom or another video communication tool. His students typically practice in groups of two or three.

During synchronous Zoom classes, Professor Olsen divides students into breakout rooms to practice, during which time he can float from room to room to observe and provide feedback to the small groups. He recommends using the interpretation and closed captioning features in Zoom as well, so that students can practice those skills in real-time with others. Students and the instructor can use the chat feature in Zoom to provide real-time feedback during performances or presentations. Note: If you need a synchronous meeting platform that can accommodate more than the nine interpreting channels provided by Zoom, Professor Olsen recommends ZipDX, an audio conference platform that supports up to 48 interpreting channels.

If you and your class are new to a particular technology, it’s a good idea to either spend time in a synchronous online class demonstrating and practicing with the technology with your students, and/or asynchronously providing (within Canvas or your online classroom space) video tutorials, detailed instructions for expectations and use of the technology, and a practice assignment using that technology that is ungraded.

We also recommend that faculty practice together with other faculty using a new technology before introducing it to their students to use in class.

Some additional technology and strategy tips are below related to teaching and learning performance- and speech-based skills online.


Listed below are three recommended headsets from Professor Olsen for use with interpreting or other skills where high-quality audio and microphones are important. Professor Olsen requires students to purchase a USB headset with a boom mic, and discourages use of airpods or earbuds with an inline microphone (sound quality of inline mics is inferior, and omni-directional mics pick up all sounds in the room). Professor Olsen also recommends, when possible, choosing a headset for interpreting that does not have a line lump, as it is too easy to engage the mute without realizing it.

  • Koss CS300 USB (ISO standard compliant for interpreting, with no line lump, but needs an adapter/dongle if using with a Mac). This is Professor Olsen’s first choice of headset, with significant noise cancellation and a directional mic that helps filter out background noise.
  • Logitech H390 is less expensive than the Koss and adequate for teaching interpreting, but does not have as good sound quality as the Koss (it also has a line lump).
  • Sennheiser PC8 is also acceptable and less expensive than the Koss (it has a line lump and is prone to bleeding from the ear pieces, sometimes leading to echo, however).

Note: If you do not require an interpretation-level headset, and are looking for a lightweight headset that allows more freedom of motion (and “invisibility”) for performance skills such as acting, dance, teaching, or lab work, you might want to consider a bone-conduction headset. AfterShockz makes some excellent quality bone-conduction headsets that are very lightweight, do not cover or insert in the ear (so allow the wearer to be able to hear sounds around them in addition to any audio being played via their bluetooth), have no dangling wires, and are almost “invisible” when worn.


When possible, have a second monitor available when teaching synchronously online. It’s helpful to have the additional real estate to be able to open or screen-share files or webpages while still being able to see your students in the video conferencing room.

For note-taking and screen-sharing from an iPad using Zoom, Professor Olsen recommends Penultimate. Notability is another iPad app that works well. Note that at this time, Zoom only allows mirroring from iPads, not other tablets, and that your iPad needs to be on the same internet network as your computer in order for mirroring to work. Learn more about screen-sharing your iPad or iPhone using Zoom

Create a separate communication channel for “instant” messaging students, as a backup if Zoom crashes, for example, or if your primary communication channel is down. Professor Olsen uses WhatsApp, but other options that are free include Slack and Microsoft Teams (Teams is supported by Middlebury ITS). Students may be more likely to check these communication channels than their email. They can also take photos of their interpretation or performance notes and share them with you this way during a synchronous class meeting.


Featured photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash