Multimedia Lectures: Tools for Improving Accessibility and Learning

College course work is meant to be challenging. The content and the vocabulary used are often unfamiliar to many students. For at-risk learners, the challenges are even greater. In some cases, these students have physical or learning disabilities that create accessibility issues, other times the challenges may be the result of the fact that they’re an international student, have anxiety issues, or a strong learning style preference that runs counter to the instructor’s style.

For all of these reasons and more, today’s student body is a highly diverse group with many different learning challenges, often manifesting in problems with notetaking and listening comprehension. All of this creates what Keith Bain calls an “accessibility imperative.” And although there are many legal obligations that institutions must satisfy with regards to accessibility, Bain says recording and transcribing lectures can improve retention and success for all types of students.

In the recent online seminar Tools and Techniques for Improving Course Accessibility, Bain, the international manager of the Liberated Learning Consortium and an adjunct professor at St. Mary’s University, explained the value of digitizing, captioning, and transcribing course material, why you should do it and how.

At the most basic level, Bain said, an instructor could record a presentation with little more than a good lavalier mic or headset and a digital recorder. A more intermediate approach could include using audio recording software like Audacity, PowerPoint narration, or tools such as mp3DirectCut or Power Sound Editor. If the institution has invested in lecture capture systems such as Camtasia Relay, Mediasite, Tegrity Campus, Echo 360 or Panopto, there are even more options and much less work since the recording and synchronization are all automated.

Once the presentation is digitized, the next step is to transcribe it, Bain said, noting that this is often the most difficult aspect of offering students truly accessible course media. Some of the tools Bain recommends for converting speech to text include Dragon Naturally Speaking, Media Access Generator (MAGpie), CapScribe, and InqScribe.

YouTube also offers a captioning feature that Bain called “promising” and there are a few research prototypes with speech recognition based transcription, including an IBM Research’s Hosted Transcription Service and Synote.

During the seminar Bain also shared results of a case study that measured the performance of students who used multimedia notes (recorded lectures with real-time captioning and transcription) against those who used traditional notes. The students who studied using multimedia notes scored better on quizzes and exams.

“Accessibility is not optional but rather a critical success factor,” he said. “At the very simplest level, record your next lecture. At the minimum you can create an auditory based learning object that will greatly enhance learning opportunities for many of your students. I found that a lot of students will listen to these newly created podcasts.”