Feature Friday: Open for Interpretation

Posted on: December 2, 2022

Thirteen years ago, Diana Galarreta-Aima was adjusting to life in the United States and still learning English when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit. Then she got sick. 

When she arrived at the emergency room, she recalls, “I spoke English, but it wasn’t that good. I felt lost. You are in the most vulnerable time in your life when you’re already sick or someone that you love is sick, especially when you don’t even understand what’s happening.” No one told her she needed a medical interpreter – perhaps there weren’t any available.

Unfortunately there is a national shortage of medical interpreters, and the Shenandoah Valley is no exception. In May 2022, Harrisonburg’s main provider of medical interpretation services, Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center, closed its doors because they could not find enough interpreters to fulfill their requests. 

Now Dr. Galarreta-Aima is doing something about it. An Associate Professor in JMU’s Spanish for the Professions program, Dr. Galarreta-Aima was recently awarded an Open Course Grant of $30,000 from VIVA (Virginia’s Academic Library Consortium) to create an online training program for medical Spanish. This open online resource will reduce the cost of textbooks for JMU students while making this information freely accessible to aspiring interpreters and medical providers who serve patients with limited English proficiency across the globe. 

And JMU Libraries is helping. Keep reading to find out how Dr. Galarreta-Aima is leveraging JMU Libraries video production services, instructional design workshops, open textbook publishing platform Pressbooks, and the expertise of our Open Education Librarian to create her first open online training. All JMU faculty are eligible for open course grants, and we can help you apply.

Want to collaborate with us on a project? JMU faculty, you can schedule a consultation with our video production team, instructional designers, Open Education Librarian and other friendly experts who are eager to work with you. We’d love to hear your ideas and how we can help.


Dr. Galarreta-Aima’s students practicing Spanish medical interpreting.

Why did you decide to create an open training for medical Spanish interpreters and medical providers who work with Spanish-speaking patients?

So last year I published a textbook for medical Spanish with colleagues from other institutions. Most of the books in the market for medical Spanish education are targeted for basic learners of the target language. We couldn’t find something that would work for our classes, because our students are intermediate, advanced, or even fluent speakers, so there was a gap in the market. Students still have to purchase the book, but we tried to make it very affordable. It’s less than forty dollars. 

But for foreign languages, It’s also very important to have speaking and listening elements. So I was like, “Okay, I could either try to add to my textbook and make it more expensive or create an open educational resource with videos of common medical encounters between providers and Spanish speakers,” and we were like, “Okay, let’s make it free.” So we got the grant. We were very happy about it.

What’s involved in creating it?

Many people are involved in this project. It’s a five year project, and it’s interdisciplinary. The leading investigators are me, Alicia López Operé from UVA, and Paulina Carrion from William and Mary. They both also teach medical Spanish. We also have a professional medical interpreter on our team (Sylvana Fernandez-Ellauri) and two JMU nurses (Lauren Mullen and Becky Hummel) who are going to check that the scripts are medically accurate. They also have a simulation lab at the nursing school for students who want to practice – it kind of looks like a hospital – so that’s where we’re going to do the recordings. We are also going to work with Andrew Strack and the media production team from JMU Libraries that does video and audio recordings, making it as professional as we can. We’re going to hire actors (standardized patients) who normally work with medical students when they need to practice before becoming medical providers. Also we have a graphic designer who is going to help us with the format for Pressbooks. 

Is Pressbooks always completely open?

It’s up to the creators of the resource how much freedom they give. Some people are like, “You don’t need to give me credit, or you have to give me credit, or you can use it and adapt it.” My hope is that we make it so instructors can download it and change it to what fits their needs better.

What inspired you to start creating open, affordable resources?

I think it’s so important that we make education as affordable as we can. Textbooks can be really expensive, sometimes exorbitantly expensive. In the emails that we get from the JMU Libraries, I saw something about reading an open educational resource, writing a review, and getting $200 for compensation. So I did that, and that’s how I learned the terminology like free domain, copyright, and all that, why it’s important, and what are some of the initiatives in Virginia to encourage faculty to either create or use open education resources for their classes. 

Besides affordability, are there other reasons to publish an open textbook? 

With a hard copy of a textbook, you just have it. You purchase it, but then that’s kind of it. You can have a new edition, but with Pressbooks, you can go back and edit information. With diseases and medical information, things change–so it’s important to update information and make it so that anyone can give you feedback to make it better.

What have you learned by working with JMU Libraries that you’re applying to the project?

I took a class on H5P last semester through JMU Libraries, because I was interested in how to include interactive activities in this project, such as branching scenarios where you have a video, and the students choose what to do. We’re going to make the Pressbook as interactive as possible. 

How would you say this project makes a difference for students and the wider world?

Language and culture are so important in providing better healthcare for these communities. In the book, we’re going to discuss the code of ethics of medical interpretation, for example, and how it’s so important that patients know their rights. There is a law that protects them. Because of their civil rights, they cannot be discriminated against because of their language or nationality, but that’s not always what happens. 

And that’s something Google Translate can’t do!

No, exactly! And we don’t sometimes think about the cost of textbooks for students. It adds up, you know? And sometimes students might feel shame disclosing that they cannot afford the textbook, and their education obviously gets affected by that. This initiative tries to make education open and available. I think that’s what education and universities are for, right? To share education and ideas. I think the more people know about this the better.

This story is part of our Feature Friday Q&A series. Thank you for supporting JMU Libraries so we can continue to help JMU faculty with important projects like this.

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