Closed Captioning in the Classroom

If you were lucky enough to attend the CESI Conference on February 25th you would have probably noticed something a little different.  Apart from the usual fantastic smorgasbord of presentations and workshops on offer, for the first time ever live text screening was webcast via Seewritenow.ie; a new website that offers online viewing of events as real-time text.  It was almost surreal to watch and listen to Stephen Howell, the keynote speaker, and at the same time read his every word displayed on a large screen next to him. The timing perfectly matched Stephen’s rate of speech; the speed and accuracy of the captioning was truly remarkable. The captioners on the day did a phenomenal job. 

The CESI organisers are always looking for new ways to engage with their audience and a big thank you has to go to them for taking this innovative step towards supporting hard of hearing attendees.  However, it wasn’t just those with hearing difficulties who benefited from this provision of real-time text, it definitely added another dimension for all attendees, both those in the auditorium and those reading the live feed from the comfort of their own home.

This idea of using captioning for all was later explored by Caroline Carswell and Miriam Walsh’s during their joint presentation “Captioning Videos for School Use”.

Caroline Carswell, founder of Irish Deaf Kids and Social Entrepreneurs Ireland awardee is a tireless advocate for children with hearing difficulties.  She was mainstream-educated as a profoundly deaf child in 1970s Ireland, graduating from TCD. After working for 15 years in digital media, she founded Irishdeafkids.ie in 2007.  Caroline is a powerhouse of education advocacy, the content she provides on issues confronting Irish deaf children, their families and teachers is second to none. In fact the website is a great source of general information on SEN issues and is a must read for educators and parents supporting children with disabilities. Meanwhile, Miriam Walsh is a tutor at St John’s College, Cork, with a real passion for making online content accessible to students with SEN. Both Miriam’s and Caroline’s presentations can be downloaded from the IDK website.

Ireland has about 2,300 deaf students in mainstream education ranging from hard of hearing to profoundly deaf. This student cohort is in real danger of being left behind as video is being increasingly used to deliver learning content in the classroom. Add to this the large numbers of children presenting with auditory processing issues and it becomes clear that this is a problem that needs addressing, particularly in light of Cisco’s prediction that we are moving towards a visual network at an accelerated rate: “By 2015, 90 percent of all content on the Internet will be video-based and a million video minutes will traverse the Internet every second.”

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Consider the tiny percentage of online videos that are currently available with subtitles and you get an idea of the scale of the problem.  You might think that YouTube’s closed captioning service does the job but you should give it a try. The results can be amusing to say the least.  So, what’s the alternative?  

The website Universalsubtitles.org provides a free open source subtitling service where you simply enter the URL for the YouTube or Vimeo video you want to subtitle and it allows you to slow it down to a speed which makes subtitling quick and easy.  It also provides an invaluable community of volunteers that not for profits can easily tap into. The Khan Academy, for instance, is using volunteer crowd-sourcing to subtitle their videos​ in a variety of languages, thereby supporting deaf people and non-English speakers alike. They are doing their part but those of us providing video learning content to the web need to be aware of the problem and do more. I include myself in that statement by the way!  And, if you want a further incentive to caption, websites who have embedded subtitled and translated video content are increasing their global reach and search ranking. Despite the onslaught of visual content on the web, when it comes to search engine optimization it seems that text is still king!

The provision of closed captioning for students with hearing or auditory processing issues is absolutely a no-brainer. In fact the Australian government has funded a national schools captioning programme to support their 10,000 deaf students in mainstream schools. However both Caroline and Miriam made a convincing case for the use of captioning to support all students, regardless of hearing abilities. Using captioned videos can be a very useful tool in the teacher’s literacy arsenal, particularly for students with English as a second language.  According to Caroline some of the benefits of using captioned material in the classroom are that:

Children identify and consolidate words via word-association.

Children learn to link written words with spoken words.

Reading captions motivates kids to read outside of the classroom.

Captions support deaf and hard of hearing children in a classroom.

Any ESL students in a class benefit from aural & visual word links.

Children with reading and literacy issues practice comprehension.

Children who are new to reading, build their skills and learn words.​

There’s also no reason why children cannot get involved in subtitling their own or others’ video content. For example for a FIS project they could easily subtitle their own work using universalsubtitles.org, Transition year students meanwhile could volunteer​ with one of the not for profits, such as the Khan Academy or PBS News who work with Universalsubtitles.org to collaboratively subtitle videos. 

Other Articles of Interest:

Nintendo NTT Project – Speech to Text Output 

Soundfield Classroom Audio Technology​ – providing voice clarity and even sound distribution in the classroom. 

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