Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Accessibility and Lecture Capture

Hi all,

Back from a long (summer) hiatus: with an impending academic year comes new thoughts and perspectives about how to use tablet computers in the classroom. I enjoyed a number of opportunities over the summer to think broadly and deeply about the role of technology in the classroom. I participated in a professional development faculty summer institute, hosted by our campus NSF WIDER grant on evidence-based STEM education reform. I also attended and presented a research poster on tablet pedagogy at the Gordon Research Meeting on Undergraduate Biology Education Reform. This was the inaugural meeting of this topic, and it was a hit! I highly suggest attending a future conference.

Finally, I had some great conversations about pedagogy with my father (as I always do), who has now been a community college biology instructor for over 45 years.

So, this term I have a suite of new topics, and updates, to share with you, including:

  • Regular updates and newly discovered best practices as I teach upper-division genetics to 75 students with tablets this term
  • Employing qualtrics surveys for class assessment
  • Google apps and workflows
  • Designing cheat-proof exams

But first, I'd like to start with a forward-looking topic: curating digital course materials. I come to this topic from two directions.

First, after my first round of teaching genetics as a tablet course last fall, I realized that I should have been more proactive at cataloging what topics I covered in each of the pre-lecture videos I created, as well as in every other video (lecture-capture, office-hour-capture, exercise- and exam-key-capture) I made that term. This semester, I'm making the deliberate effort to be much more organized in that regard, and I'll share my discoveries with you.

Second, I recently attended a Fresno State workshop on how to caption videos. The main point of today's post is to make you aware of the need to inquire about accessibility requirements that your school might have on any videos you distribute. I have mixed feelings about this requirement surrounding the usual tug-of-war of intent vs. practicality.

I absolutely support the production of materials that are accessible to students with disabilities, including hard-of-hearing students who need videos to be captioned to fully benefit from the resource.

However, when it was made clear that captioning a video might take three to five minutes of work per minute of video (a gross estimate), I quickly did some mental math that made my head spin. If I don't want to get in trouble (academic and/or legal), and if I lecture capture fifty minutes of class three times a week for a semester, plus office hours and exam revision sessions and exercise and exam keys…

Process of captioning
The bulk of the time spent in our captioning workshop was learning about a few different mechanisms for generating captions for videos. For videos uploaded to YouTube, there is automatic captioning that occurs (at some point after upload). However, the quality isn't great, especially if any of the audio isn't of good quality, or if there is some instructor mumbling that occurs. Likewise, YouTube probably doesn't know how to spell "deoxyribonucleic acid" when I speak it. Thus, we were suggested to use the manual captioning tools built into YouTube. I must say, they are more elegant than I had imagined they might be, but I can still see how it would take a long time to hand-type the transcript of a video into a web browser window. The gist is, on one side of your YouTube web browser window, your video is playing; on the other side, you type what is being said. There are keystroke shortcuts to pause and also to rewind in few-second increments, which could improve efficiency, but the process of captioning is essentially what you would predict it would be. There is also an option for uploading a text file containing a transcript of the video, but if you're doing any real instruction, you're not coming to class with a prepared fifty-minute speech you can upload to YouTube.

Possible Immediate Solutions for Captioning
So, the big question now is: do I continue what my data have revealed is one of the most powerful uses for tablet technology in the classroom that I've found so far? Should I keep lecture capturing and posting those resources on YouTube – and sacrifice sleeping for producing quality video captions? Or should I just stop recording anything because making that content accessible just isn't feasible. Or, hopefully, maybe there is a happy medium?

Here are my immediate thoughts about solutions (which are my own, not endorsed by my university). These approaches might or might not strike the appropriate balance. Please give me your perspectives by commenting below!

If I have an enrolled student who I know requires support for an auditory disability (e.g. a student brings an American Sign Language interpreter to class the first day), then I'll do my best to caption every video I produce. This is, I reason, a reasonable investment in time, because then I'll have well-captioned videos that I can leverage for any future uses. I'll adopt different strategies for different types of video:

1) Short videos I require students to watch before coming to class
These are usually short (3-5 minute) videos that are at least loosely based on a script (or outline) I produce before recording. Thus, these should be relatively easy to caption as I proceed through the term.

2) Exam and exercise keys
I can either not perform voiceover (i.e., if one student can't access the audio content, nobody can) and simply work the problems silently and post that video, or I can caption this content as well. Again, with exams, there are few enough during the semester that I might reasonably be able to spend the time captioning the videos - and perhaps I can recombine those segments of captioned video if/when I re-use the underlying questions on future exams. Exercise keys might require short enough videos that I can keep up with the captioning of this content as well.

3) Exam review sessions and office hours
I might just have to stop recording these, even though they're incredibly useful to students.

4) In-class lecture capture
First, what if I do have students with auditory disabilities, but they have already received accommodation from the University by having an interpreter in class? If I record the class content as I deliver it (i.e. with visual and auditory information: I speak and I write on a tablet), then how is it different if I post a video, which captures both of those types of information as I delivered them in class, on the internet without captions? In other words, if I, as the instructor, am not providing the accommodation in class, then can the University demand that I be responsible for making my video accessible, or can I demand that the University provide more resources to caption such videos?

The Future for Lecture Capture and Captioning
If that isn't provocative enough, then here's a slippery slope argument: what equivalent accommodations are made for visually impaired students? That is, what's the approved equivalent accommodation for video content? We must tread carefully here, for the University should support technologies that advance and support student learning, but not at the expense of certain student populations. We need to continue this conversation on our campuses to proceed together with administration and students to ensure we're all meeting each other's needs.

Finally, here's what I consider to be the real gray area: if class is intended for enrolled students only, and if I have no enrolled students with declared auditory disabilities, then do I still have to caption the in-class content? (and, yes: if a tree falls over and rots in the woods and nobody is there to smell it, does the tree create an odor?)

This is, perhaps, a crude manner of thinking of an intricate topic, but I hope to learn more and think more broadly about this topic based partly on your comments! I certainly hope that we can achieve a moderate solution that addresses that desirable balance between intent and practicality.


  1. Very interesting post. I can appreciate your struggles in looking at accessibility. I can see where it can be seen as a heavy burden. You are right. It can be very time consuming to do your own captioning work. It can indeed seem like “yet another thing” that’s eating into your time/day/work. However, there is something important that I feel you missed when it comes to the actual work of captioning—you don’t have to do it yourself. You don’t. You can farm that work out. There are myriad companies that provide closed captioning services and can do so with good speed and accuracy. Perhaps something for faculty to consider is requesting wider use of these types of services? That way, all you have to do is teach as you have, use the tools as you are, and then simply hand them off to someone who will take care of that captioning for you. It becomes a win-win—you don’t have to worry about increased demands on your time to get materials ready for students and the students get the materials and can use them how they would like to use them.

    The question becomes the old one actually—who’s gonna pay for it? That’s the real discussion. It should not be a matter of should we or shouldn’t we, but rather a matter of we are so who’s gonna pay? Is it going to be something that administration covers? Is the cost placed back on the departments? Closed-captioning of videos needs to be looked at as just another cost of doing business, not as a negotiable. In the end, it really isn’t. It should not be a matter of deciding who will have access and who will not. That’s really what you’re arguing when you decide to caption or not. The argument must be, “We are captioning. So who will pay for it?”

  2. Thanks Marvin - I appreciate the perspective, and certainly agree with your final point (as well as others). It does all come down to resources: who has the time (thus, money) to ensure that these accommodations are made? I also fully support your idea that the faculty should make more such requests - if we make the demand obvious, then the supply will come.


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