Thursday, August 22, 2013

Can We Talk? Our Amazing Video Revolution & Accessibility

The video revolution is bringing about the need for sweeping changes in higher education -- from the way we teach to the way we support the needs of our diverse student population.  As video creation tools become less expensive and easier to use, educators continue to realize their potential to enrich learning.  The popular flipped classroom model involves the use of online video to transform passive face-to-face classroom experiences into active, critical thinking sessions.  Smartphone ownership continues to rise year over year; at 56% of U.S. adults in 2013.  This number is staggering when we consider the first smartphone hit the market just six years ago. And while Facebook users are accessing the social network less on desktop computers, mobile access is soaring and YouTube is seeing similar mobile growth.  Each month, 1.5 billion hours of video are watched from mobile devices. The rise of mobile has created an intensified demand for swifter, smaller, more manageable video technology.  We can now record them and share them straight from a smartphone. No multimedia lab is necessary any longer. And the newest video sensation? Glide -- video text messaging. 

Inside the walls of colleges and universities, the increasing pace of video creation and easy access to online videos that can be linked to or embedded in an online class have created accessibility concerns.  To be compliant with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, videos must be captioned.  The federal law requires that electronic content provided by all entities that receive federal funding must be accessible to all users.  If you listen, you will hear that accessibility is a critical priority in higher education.  Yet, as emerging solutions for captioning videos have surfaced, few have been systemically integrated. 

Many colleges and universities caption their content internally and others send the content out to external captioning resources.  Others provide poor to severely inadequate support and can set up unspoken or spoken expectations for faculty to caption their own instructional content.  In other words, the fear of lawsuits in instilled within an instructor who may clearly see the learning value that video brings to his students' experiences.  Yet, when there is not support to caption those videos, what must he do?  As one who has captioned many of my own videos, I can attest that manually captioning videos is incredibly time consuming task and not the most effective use of an instructor's time.  I would much rather be interacting with my students or making pedagogical or content related improvements to my course. 

This latter approach generally collapses attempts to create innovative cultures of teaching and learning, as faculty find themselves immersed in a culture of fear -- wanting to teach with video; yet knowing they cannot find the time to caption the videos and understanding there is no support to help them.  Frustration sets in. One may feel undervalued. I have spoken with faculty in workshops who have shared, "I want to use videos in my classes but I know it's illegal for me to do so unless they're captioned. And I have no support."

This is a serious issue in higher education and one that we need to learn from.  Talking about how to provide streamlined support for the captioning of videos seems to have become one of the unspoken issues, which Chris Argyris (1990), an organizational learning expert, indicates is a symptom of a defensive routine that surfaces when organizations find themselves amidst a significant change.  The change could be anything that requires members of the organization to become aware of the latent mental models that govern their everyday routines.  Looking at ourselves through a fresh lens and becoming aware of the traditions that drive our actions places us in a vulnerable state -- and this state of awareness is the first step in initiating change.

That's why defensive routines are so common.  They keep us comfortable. Making something non-discussable is easier than tackling a tough problem, taking it apart, understanding how and why it challenges us.  Defensive routines can present themselves in different ways -- you may observe someone quickly changing the topic when the issue arises, shaking their head and nodding the issue off as if it's not accurate or important, or simply making the topic non-discussable.  All of these routines create a social environment for members of an organization who begin to understand that "this is just the way it is." But, really, these issues are precisely the issues that must be addressed if change is to occur.

I believe accessibility is one of the most important topics that needs to be discussed in higher education today.  It is one of the most misunderstood issues and too many educators (a term I use to refer to all members of colleges and universities, not just faculty) turn away from valuable tools out of the assumption that they are "not accessible" or that they cannot find a solution to making the content accessible to all learners. 

There are sustainable options for captioning instructional videos. is a new a partnership between YouTube and 3PlayMedia.  It is an easy-to-use tool that integrates directly with a user's YouTube account.  The captions are not cheap at $2.50 a minute (perhaps some leverage for undersupported faculty?). A 9-minute 23-second video of mine was quoted at $25 to caption (not sure how that breaks down to $2.50/minute?). Captions are produced in about 8 hours, according to the site. I just place my first order (the freebie noted below).
  • The site is offering 10-minutes of FREE YouTube video captions now through 9/21/13. Enter PROMO Code 10FREE at check out.
  • Note: YouTubeCaptions only provides captions for videos in your own YouTube account -- you cannot caption videos created by other users.
Amara: Add subtitles and captions yourself, request them to be added through Amara's crowd-sourced community approach (a brilliant idea -- has anyone tried this?), or order them through their retail service.
  • Amara is an "overlay" captioning service, which means you can add captions to online videos you did not create.  Essentially, Amara produces a secondary video url for the captioned video.  The video embedded at the top of this page is from Amara. is an option for those who only need transcripts. Prices start as low as $1.00.  CastingWords will not provide transcripts of videos "on screen." In other words, you must supply the file you want transcribed. Therefore, if your goal is to caption a video you did not create, this option isn't for you.  If you are a regular YouTube user, you can use the transcripts from CastingWords and upload them into YouTube's captioning tool to convert the transcript into closed captions in a matter of minutes!

I envision a dream world where faculty members are granted a gift card each year to one of the sites above and encouraged to use the credit on the card to demonstrate their commitment to teaching with video in an accessible manner. To get a new card the next year, the original card would need to be used completely the first year. 

I would love to learn how your institution supports the captioning of instructional videos.  Or if you have feedback about any of the services listed above or other ideas to share, please share a comment.

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