How to do Closed Captions Inexpensively

With shrinking budgets and ever greater demands on educators to deliver world-class, high quality education for each and every student, it’s critical to address and provide accessible course content to all students, not just those without hearing or sight impairments.

More and more institutions are turning their attention to address this need, and in this case it’s heartening to know there are several tools, services and ways of addressing closed captioning for video in courses.

When working directly with course designers or instructors, I’m always quick to tell them that if they’re developing video content or even presentations with voice over to script what’s they’re going to say – ahead of time.

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Screenshot from Brackets on correcting a VTT file. Auto-captions are convenient, but not always helpful. This caption should read, “Thank you David, I’m going to go ahead and enable my webcam. I have a face made for audio rather than video, but when I’m doing these sorts of things I always like to…

However, this isn’t always possible and in some cases, takes away from the instructor’s capacity to speak fluidly. Sticking to a script can at times seem rather stale, cold and impersonal.  There are times when an unscripted set of content may deliver a better end-result for the student.  However – providing an accessible asset for hearing impaired students is still necessary (take 2 minutes to read this post over at eLearningbrother.com). In fact, in some cases – students who do not need captions, will still choose to use the captions, because it helps them better identify what’s being said, or because they understand the content better when they hear it and read it at the same time. In my experience, turning captions on has also meant I grow to recognize certain words – I can look those words or concepts up because they’re spelled out in the captions. I can’t count how many times I’ve turned on the captions in a YouTube video when I don’t quite understand the speaker – and it’s the captions that made all the difference.

This video (auto-captioned-uncorrected), takes 20 minutes to watch and covers just one way captioning unscripted content can be done inexpensively with some widely available tools.

Warpwire

On a pedagogical note, some services – like Warpwire, include the ability to search captions and locate in the video where specific words are said (as of 2.0 release).  This opens up a slightly different way for instructors to provide content and check to see if students are attending to what’s being shared in the video.  As an undergraduate student, many of my instructors would provide guide-sheets that were filled with low-level Blooms Taxonomy type questions.  These were great because they helped guide me through the required reading – providing a structure for what I needed to focus on. The same thing can be accomplished by using a caption search function in services – such as Warpwire.  Video provides a great way for students to not only watch, rewatch and review content (making delivery of the content consistent), but could also be paired with closed captions (or transcript), so students can attend to – focus on parts of the content as they work through it. While this isn’t a ‘break through’ use of technology – it is of course just an adaption – yet it leverages students capacity to search and provides a means of helping them attend to the content actively.

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Screencast with Warpwire

icon-warpwire-circle-blueMany of our faculty and courses use the institution’s online streaming service Warpwire. Together with the combined effort of hundreds of faculty, Warpwire houses over 2000 video, image, audio and related media assets, placing, securing and delivering each and every one of them using Amazon’s global content delivery network (CDN) to help all our students make content connections around the world.

Not many of our faculty know however, that Warpwire is a continually evolving platform, and since it’s adoption in 2015, has continued to up the ante of services and features available without increasing the cost to use it.

Most recently Warpwire released two new features: screen capture and live broadcast.

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Screen capture – enables users to use a Chrome browser plugin to record a portion of a desktop or laptop screen along with audio and then include it in a course.

Live broadcast – provides a way to stream live sessions via web-cam and audio within a specific course.

Each of these features offers unique and interesting opportunities for online, hybrid and even face to face courses.  Some faculty are looking for a way to create short lecture or instructional videos ahead of time. Use of a screen capture platform enables an instructor to pull up a presentation in much the same way many instructors present in face to face courses, but be able to record it. Live broadcast enables instructors to hold live sessions with students, record them and make them available to students afterwards. Live broadcast even includes a means by which faculty can tell how many people are watching the broadcast and can include a live chat during the broadcast. While this may sound a lot like Google Hangouts or even Skype, the benefit here is that it’s all secured and held in an institutionally backed and recommended service.  Some students may be wary of attending Hangout or Skype sessions and may violate FERPA regulations.

How else could you use screen capture? Here are some ideas:

  • Use it to record an overview of the course syllabus (actually screen capture the syllabus and guide students through it, especially the complex parts).
  • Provide an alternative course resource that can be made accessible through a captioning service. (Most PowerPoint presentations don’t follow appropriate formatting and alternative text requirements to make content accessible to all learners – creating a video and pairing it with captions can make the presentation far more accessible than say the canned presentations from course text publishers.)
  • Use an internet-based screen capture available to students – for students to record their own video-based presentations to share with the class. (Again, securing this kind of asset with Warpwire verses having students post their speech assignments publicly to YouTube demonstrates better cohesion to FERPA regulations.
  • Screencasts could be used in a language course for assessment or assessment prep. Create a video with language vocabulary displayed while the instructor pronounces the word. Warpwire will even track which students watched it and when, which can inform your instruction or how well students as a whole did on a unit assessment.
  • Record a session where you and a colleague discuss or share conversationally about a course topic – knowing you’ve covered all the content the way you want and delivering that content to students consistently every time the course is offered.
  • Create specific videos for specific assignments as reminders or as quick “60 second helps – in much the same way advertisements create breaks or logical interruptions to television shows.

How else could you use live broadcast? Here are some ideas:

  • For students taking courses with a lab – such as a science course, schedule and conduct a live broadcast of a complex lab procedure, asking all participants to ask a unique question in the chat about the session’s content or steps (for you to answer during the live broadcast).
  • In a speech course – provide a chance for students to deliver their speeches asynchronously (live) to others in the course, while the watchers (other students) provide during-broadcast feedback about the quality of the speech.
  • Bring in a guest speaker located somewhere – anywhere, who can inform or add additional credibility to what you’re already sharing.

What are some other tips in creating these kinds of video assets?

  • If it’s a screen capture – don’t be afraid of having the video be less than super-polished. Students like to see you in your ‘element’ – you’re not a robot teaching the course you’re a person. Maybe you sneeze, or your cat jumps on the keyboard – those things create a contact point with students.
  • Keep screen capture content to less than 15 minutes.  If you think about it, your tension span at this point in this post is beyond bearable, in fact I’m surprised you’re still reading this. Shorter videos of six to seven minutes are easier to digest and keeping it shorter may help you distill the best of what the “normal” 45 minute lecture may disclose.
  • When used discretely, creating videos providing feedback to students directly (one per student) on an assignment may be better than just giving a student a letter or percentage grade.
  • Use screen capture or live broadcast to provide a wrap up or weekly summary of the week or unit’s content.
  • Use screen captures as a means of introducing discussion forum prompts or questions.

Check out the following tutorials from Warpwire on the use of each of these features for use in your classes:

For more on these and other course tips and tools, contact the folks at the Department of Online Education.