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.

Screenshot 2018-01-25 11.20.24
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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Online Video Tutorial Authoring – Quick Overview

As an instructional designer a key component to my work is creating instructional videos.  While many platforms, software and workflows exist here’s the workflow I use:

    1. Write the Script:  This first step is critical though to some it may seem rather artificial.  Writing the script helps guide and direct the rest of the video development process. If the video is part of a larger series, inclusion of some ‘standard’ text at the beginning and end of the video helps keep things consistent.  For example, in the tutorial videos created for our Online Instructor Certification Course, each script begins and ends with “This is a Johnson University Online tutorial.” Creating a script also helps insure you include all the content you need to, rather than ad-libbing – only to realize later you left something out.As the script is written, particular attention has to be paid to consistency of wording and verification of the steps suggested to the viewer – so they’re easy to follow and replicate. Some of the script work also involves set up of the screens used – both as part of the development process and as part of making sure the script is accurate.

 

  1. Build the Visual Content: This next step could be wildly creative – but typically a standard format is chosen, especially if the video content will be included in a series or block of other videos.  Often, use of a 16:9 aspect ratio is used for capturing content and can include both text and image content more easily. Build the content using a set of tools you’re familiar with. The video above was built using the the following set of tools:
    • Microsoft Word (for writing the script)
    • Microsoft PowerPoint (for creating a standard look, and inclusion of visual and textual content – it provides a sort of stage for the visual content)
    • Google Chrome (for demonstrating specific steps – layered on top of Microsoft PowerPoint) – though any browser would work
    • Screencast-O-Matic (Pro version for recording all visual and audio content)
    • Good quality microphone such as this one
    • Evernote’s Skitch (for grabbing and annotating screenshots), though use of native screenshot functions and using PowerPoint to annotate is also OK
    • YouTube or Microsoft Stream (for creating auto-generated captions – if it’s difficult to keep to the original script)
    • Notepad, TextEdit or Adobe’s free Brackets for correcting/editing/fixing auto-generated captions VTT, SRT or SBV
    • Warpwire to post/stream/share/place and track video content online.  Sakai is typically used as the CMS to embed the content and provide additional access controls and content organization
  2. Record the Audio: Screencast-O-Matic has a great workflow for creating video content and it even provides a way to create scripts and captions. I tend to record the audio first, which in some cases may require 2 to 4 takes. Recording the audio initially, provides a workflow to create appropriate audio pauses, use tangible inflection and enunciation of terms. For anyone who has created a ‘music video’ or set images to audio content this will seem pretty doable.
  3. Sync Audio and Visual Content: So this is where the use of multiple tools really shines. Once the audio is recorded, Screencast-O-Matic makes it easy to re-record retaining the audio portion and replacing just the visual portion of the project. Recording  the visual content (PowerPoint and Chrome) is pretty much just listening to the audio and walking through the slides and steps using Chrome. Skitch or other screen capture software may have already been used to capture visual content I can bring attention to in the slides.
  4. Once the project is completed, Screencast-O-Matic provides a 1 click upload to YouTube or save as an MP4 file, which can then be uploaded to Warpwire or Microsoft Stream.
  5. Once YouTube or Microsoft Stream have a viable caption file, it can be downloaded and corrected (as needed) and then paired back with any of the streaming platforms.
  6. Post of the video within the CMS is as easy as using the LTI plugin (via Warpwire) or by using the embed code provided by any of the streaming platforms.

New Video Tools for Course Content Development

Looking for a new and easy to use tool to create closed captions for video content you author for your course(s)?  There’s a few new tools just out this Fall 2017 term that area available to all University faculty (full time, online, part time, hybrid, extend ed, etc.)

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If you’re the kind that likes to figure things out yourself. Check out the links below and get to work:

  • Microsoft Stream
  • Screencast-O-Matic

The two services both provide means for creating closed captions, though they are not designed to do so exclusively.

Microsoft Stream

Microsoft Stream is provided to University faculty as part of the Microsoft licensing enjoyed and provisioned by the University Information Technology office.  You can login here, using your University credentials to explore the service.  Think of Stream as an exclusive video streaming service that’s specific to and for exclusive use by University students, faculty and staff. Stream is similar to Microsoft’s other service, Microsoft Video which is similarly included in the Office365 service and related licensing. Stream does not permit any uploaded video to be set to ‘public’ access – only those associated directly with the University can be permitted to see video content. A more exhaustive review of the service is available here.

To leverage the captioning function follow these steps:

  1. Update_video__DOE_20170915PD_Supporting_University_Adjuncts____Microsoft_Stream_🔊Login and upload a video asset to the service using your University login credentials
  2. Depending upon the audio quality (including voice diction, pronunciation and related sound fidelity) and file length, the service will produce a caption file in about 20 minutes.  This is done through a voice to text detection algorithm, so it won’t be perfect, but it may be better than typing things up yourself.
  3. You can then pair the caption file with Warpwire, YouTube, or even just provide it as a rough transcript of the content in your course.

Screencast-O-Matic

Screencast-O-Matic has long been used by University faculty for face to face and online courses.  What’s new is the pairing of the Pro level of service with a Google speech to text engine, which works much the same way Microsoft’s Stream does.  The difference here however is that the Pro level of service from SOM allows you to edit the caption from right within the program.  Microsoft’s Stream doesn’t permit easy editing of the captions, unless you download the caption VTT file and then hunt through this kind of mess to fix misspelled words, inaccuracies and complete blunders accordingly:

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 2.33.17 PM

To get more information on how to access the closed captioning feature in SOM, check out these tutorial videos:

If you have questions about using Screencast-O-Matic, or need directions on how to access the Pro service so you can access the editing function, record beyond 15 minutes and use the annotation tools contact the Department of Online Education.

For more information, faculty and course designers can contact the Department of Online Education.  Bear in mind, you need not wait to have a focused need based on enrollment in order to begin captioning course content you author.

Why would I use one service over the other?

  • If you already have a video in need of captions – look to use Microsoft Stream to create captions quickly.
  • If you are getting ready to create video content – and can do so, type out or correct the captions produced by Screencast-O-Matic.