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 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.


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.


Using External Content in Sakai

Embedded Video
Embedded Video

One of the great things about the Lessons tool in Sakai is the ability to bring applicable content together from lots of different sources.

This isn’t so much a function of Sakai as it is a function of standard HTML, most of the code that structures the majority of web pages on the Internet today.

The Lessons tool affirms this ability to integrate content together using what is commonly referred to as embed codes.

The Lessons Tool

The Lessons Tool long ago replaced the Modules tool and is really the go to place for constructing chunked or organized course content by way of logical units or chronological portions of content into weeks.  Many faculty are using the Lessons tool, and all of the University’s online courses use it prolifically.

Adding content is as simple as using the common text editor (FCKeditor) which is a WYSIWYG style editor, which has been replaced by the CKeditor in Sakai 2.9.1.

The Lessons tool has several major components or mechanisms you can use to add content to your course site, including:

  • Add Text
  • Add Multimedia
  • Add Resource
  • Add Subpage
  • Add Assignment
  • Add Quiz
  • Add Forum
  • Add Comments Area
  • and more!

So how does all this come together?

Well essentially you have to do something. Hey, what were you expecting anyways? The best way to do so is to:

  1. Create your course components.
  2. Organize those components logically.
  3. Use Lessons to bring them all together.

Basically this means getting most of the individual bits and pieces of your course together ahead of time.  Gather, organize and create your course Assignments, online Assessments, Forums and other important content.  Once that’s done use the Lesson tool to bring it all together, allowing the content to appear in context within the Lesson – in Sakai:

Lessons: Content in Context
Lessons: Content in Context

This process is sort of like getting ready to baking a cake or making a batch of cookies.  It takes ample time and preparation, which includes the need to gather all the individual ingredients together. Each of the individual parts of the course are the individual ingredients. Constructing that content in Lessons is like mixing all the ingredients together, and teaching it? Well that’s like the baking process.

Try to keep the look and feel of each of your Lesson sections consistent in how they look and feel, retaining familiar navigation cues (like buttons, links, locations and color indications).  My grandfather always said the thing he loved about Walmart was that they were all mostly laid out the same, even though the stuff they had inside was different from season to season. You can do this pretty simply by designing a single Lesson with the structure you want, and then duplicating that Lesson and changing it accordingly. (To do so, using the Lesson as you’ve built it, click More Tools>Add More Pages.  In the pop up window, give the page a Title and be sure to place a checkmark next to”Make new pages copies of the current one”.)

Every course shouldn’t be perfectly identical. There’s a certain level of expectation students can rely on, and even come to appreciate when the content itself adheres to a structure w/o infringing on the content or compromising on the mechanism for delivering it. Doing so helps the technology to ‘get out of the way’ and allows students to ‘get on with the learning’.

Using Embed Codes

May different web services provide what are referred to as Embed codes – these codes – short segments of HTML code (which may look like this):

Sample Embed Code
Sample Embed Code

provide the means by which content from other sources can be included in text areas of the Lessons Tool.  Not all embed codes work the same.  You should note that content that’s pulled from another location on the Internet, which the University or you yourself do not have access to, might be removed by the owner or made private by the content provider.  (This can easily happen with YouTube content as some of our instructors have experienced.)

Johnson does have its own online streaming service that allows the University to retain access to uploaded academic audio or video content. If you want to know more, contact the University’s Online Education Department.

On the other hand, embedding content is a great way to extend the variety and access to applicable content within the context of the course. Most online services provide some type of embed functionality (often by way of a SHARE button), some of which include:

PowerPoint Web App
PowerPoint Web App

Keep in mind you can also use the Web Content and News tools to pull content in from other locations on the Internet, w/o having students click to another site only to loose their ‘place’ in the course in Sakai.

Keep in mind that Fair Use and Copyright requirements may be present for any or all of the content you elect to use in a course.