Minimizing Captioning/Transcription Hours

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A common accessibility accommodation is audio transcription and audio captioning, especially now that audio and video files are easier to create than ever. The transcription, on the other hand, can be a labor intensive process. I've been through a captioning project and I know it does require some hours. Fortunately, I was happy to see that half the class used the captions. It was something all students appreciated.

However there may be some ideas that can help with getting a quicker transcript. Once you have the transcription, it's much easier to embed it into a video caption. Either through a commercial service or through captioning programs. For audio of course, the transcript is the end product.

Finding a Pre-Made Transcript

Here are some possible ways to get a transcript relatively painlessly. There may be costs involved, but probably less than the alternatives of paying someone to transcribe audio.

  1. Write a script first if you can. Chris Millet from Digital Commons has a good policy that video tutorials aren't made until a text-based version exists first. Not only does this provide a transcript ahead of time, but it lets the shooter plan what tools to cover and in which sequence.

    The text document and the video may not be the same, but will be much closer, and someone really needing in text format will have something to use. This technique is also good for other informational videos (including fun science videos and role playing scenarios). The main gap is filming a spontaneous interview - that will have to be done after the fact.

  2. Get the script or transcript. There are probably transcriptions for many commercial or popular videos already out there on the Web. Many news organizations are releasing interview or video transcripts on the Web, and many Web sites have music lyrics or may quote key passages of videos. If that fails, you may be able to buy transcripts or screenplays from the source (but you definitely want it to be digital...or you will have to do an OCR scan or (ugh) re-type).

  3. Buy the DVD. Similarly, many DVD's, especially those for movies and TV shows include an English language subtitle track. You may not be able to stream it, but you may be able to loan it out to a student who requires it. Other students may be able to rent it from the library or the video store.

Copyright Issues?

Technically a screenplay to a film is copyrighted just as the original media is. What restrictions are there? One way to approach it is to buy or obtain transcripts only for the students needing the request. Publishers may ask students to sign a license NOT to distribute materials. Another is to consider it from a Fair Use or TEACH perspective. It's doubtful that a transcript to a legitimately acquired video will incur much economic harm. However, if a lawsuit is filed, it must be defended in court.

If a Web transcript from the original organization exists on the Web, it would probably best to provide a link. A purchased transcript just for a student needing an accommodation is probably also safe. Other scenarios may require thought, but may be doable.

Can't get a transcript?

If you can't get a transcript, then you may want to consider these scenarios

  1. First. consider how much of a video you may need. A documentary may be 90 minutes long, but maybe you really only need only a 5 minute segment. The same is true for any interview taped. In general, the shorter the video, the easier it is to view, store and transcribe.

  2. Second, you can experiment with speech recognition technology such as Dragon Natrually Speaking. In theory, speech recognition can take an audio file (or live feed) and generate a transcript. Note though that you should proof transcripts, especially for new speakers and content on technical subjects with unusual vocabulary.

    If a faculty member finds the creation of instructional podcasts useful, then this solution may be even more effective because speech recognition works best when it is "trained" to the same speaker over a period of time. The transcriptions will likely become more accurate over time.

  3. Finally there is the least popular option - paying someone to transcribe audio. This is what makes everyone wince, but you don't necessarily have to tie up your multimedia person for hours on end or pay a specialist in California. Transcription is something most people can do from an intern to a deserving grad student needing a little extra cash (even an instructional designer if the clip is short enough). I myself temped as a medical transcriptionist for 2 weeks - it was better than filing by a long shot.

    I would add that funding a grad student TA (or upper level work study) in the department that the course is taught in can be beneficial because that person will know the terminology and the content already. There should be much fewer hiccups on the way.

Live Captioning

A live captionist is someone who is able to transcribe speech as it happens. This kind of specialist does (and should) command a high fee, because of the skill involved. On the other hand, once it's over...you have your transcript already to go when the recording is posted.

Before I end this, I thought I would bring some other factors to consider

Student Made Video?

A lot of courses are including student video assignments. Do these need to be captioned? In most cases, probably not...but if some kind of peer review is required, and the course includes a hearing impaired student, then yes.

Again writing a script first may help students create a better video and provide a ready-made transcript. However, interview footage will still need to be transcribed.

What about Music or Non-Spoken Audio?

I asked a version of this question to the Office of Disability Services, and the truth is that it's a little hard to predict. For some courses (e.g. an wildlife course featuring bird calls), a brief description of the audio may suffice. In other cases you may want to refer to visuals such as music scores or acoustic spectrograms (can be made with free software).

If an instructor is in this situation, the Office is willing to learn more about the course to determine what should be done.

Warn your Students in the Syllabus

Which leads into the next point - if your course features video or other technology applications (Excel, Powerpoint, Photoshop, Second Life....), you should inform students in the syllabus. If a student thinks an accommodation is needed, then he or she will know ahead of time to request it early in the semester rather than at the last minute.

Finally, Is that audio necessary?

This is sort of a dangerous question to ask, but one worth asking. For many cases, the answer is absolutely yes. Podcasting is critical in many courses from language to journalism, and a good video is invaluable in almost any discipline. Spoken language is also beneficial to many learning disabled students and preferred by many learners. But if you're factoring in the costs of accommodation, it is worth reviewing your rationale for audio (and making sure that information is available in another format).

I have to admit to some bias here because I don't like podcast audio or it's older incarnation, talk radio (either the NPR format or the other format). If content is on audio only, I may avoid it altogether. For one thing, it takes much more time to listen to an audio than to read the same amount of text. For another, speaking on a podcast or recording an instructional video well is an acquired skill just like writing for the Web is, and not everyone is good at it (yet). I am one of the many hearing learners who benefit from a transcript!

A good audio is definitely worth the time and effort put into it. You just want to make sure it's not going to a mediocre audio presentation....

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