Stephen Souris (English, Denton) was quick to embrace the need for closed captioning and other accommodations when classes at Texas Woman’s moved online last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many faculty, Souris initially relied on the TWU Captioning Brigade, a group of volunteers formed by Teaching and Learning with Technology to help instructors add closed captions to videos for students in their Canvas courses. Project manager Terisa O’Dowd “quickly and efficiently got me set up with volunteer team members who could commit to processing the closed captioning necessary for that semester using (the Panopto video platform) and according to a delivery schedule I provided,” he said. “It worked very well – all according to the plan that Terisa set up.”
The professor went a step further, however, and learned how to add the closed captioning himself.
Because it takes several minutes of work for each minute of recording, Souris wanted to find out what students thought of the closed captioning he was providing. He posted a question in each Canvas shell and was surprised at the quick response of the students.
“They were all positive and appreciative,” he said. “I don’t remember any negative or lukewarm responses.”
A summary of the student responses demonstrates the usefulness of closed captioning:
- It’s helpful to students for whom English is a second language
- It helps keep the listener focused, as one is more tempted to multi-task while listening with audio only
- Students with ADHD can better process the information with closed captioning
- Because the closed captioning transcript can be retained separately from the audio file, it’s easier to study and review the material
- For visual learners, it’s helpful to see the words and not just hear them
“The enthusiastic response to my query helped motivate me to continue the tedious closed captioning work and to continue doing it myself — at least for the recordings that are best handled by me,” Souris said.
The professor noted that his lectures about literary texts and literary theory assume prior knowledge of basic plot, and concepts from literary theory can be complicated to follow and capture accurately in closed captioning.
“Moreover,” he said, “I don’t lecture from a completely written-out script. I lecture from a keyword outline, trying to be as coherent as possible on the fly as I work my way through the outline. I think it’s more interesting for students that way, but it can make closed captioning more difficult to get just right.”
Still, he was grateful for the work done by the volunteers.
“One thing I learned from observing the Brigade’s work was the importance of compensating for what is lost with just words – the absence of voice inflection, obvious facetiousness, etc. – given that some students will only be reading the transcript without listening to the audio,” he said.
While he has learned to do the Panopto clean-up work himself, Souris says it’s no easy task.
“Let there be no mistake — the auto-generated closed captioning in Panopto, while impressive, requires a lot of cleaning up,” he said. “Panopto sometimes inserts punctuation where it doesn’t belong and leaves out punctuation where it is necessary. Dr. Jörg Waltje (Center for Faculty Excellence, Denton) has told me that one can learn to speak in a way that minimizes these problems, which may actually help a lot.”
Souris has some advice for others who decide to try massaging auto-generated closed captioning by themselves.
“I would recommend what Dr. Waltje suggested to me, which is to download the initial file to the hard drive, work on it there in a conventional file format, and then upload it back into Panopto,” he said. “That’s easier than trying to edit in the segmented transcript fields within a Panopto file.”
Teaching and Learning with Technology works with all faculty to incorporate technology into courses and provides pedagogical and technical workshops for a variety of technologies and instructional approaches. Visit twu.edu/tlt to learn more, or email TLT@twu.edu for assistance.