Improving Accessibility of Virtual Classroom Recordings

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Creating equitable opportunities for learning is a key goal for educational institutions.  However, it can be challenging to create an inclusive learning experience when navigating a wide variety of content and technology that hasn’t always been designed to meet the needs of all students.  For this reason, reaching students beyond the traditional borders of the physical classroom often requires a different approach that focuses on accessibility, usability and engagement to foster a truly inclusive environment.

Blackboard Collaborate, our virtual classroom solution, has been built from the ground up with accessibility and education in mind so that everyone – regardless of their abilities or dependency on assistive technologies – can fully engage and participate in the teaching and learning experience.  Blackboard Collaborate’s fully inclusive user experience is designed to adhere to common accessibility standards, provide keyboard shortcuts and navigation, and work well with screen readers.  Even beyond that, there are features in the product that are explicitly intended to provide a truly inclusive experience, such as natively supporting closed captioning during a live session by allowing one or more of the attendees to be designated as captioners.

Often times, however, instructors don’t have the ability to provide live captioning for all of their Blackboard Collaborate sessions and would like to add captions for students watching on-demand recordings.  Captioning is not only for individuals who have hearing loss, but also supports students who prefer other modes of learning.  Oregon State University’s Ecampus and 3Play Media did a national research study on the perception of caption use in institutions of higher education.

Some important findings from the student perspective were:

  • 98.6% of all students find captioning helpful
  • 71% of students without hearing difficulties use captions at least some of the time
  • 66% of ESL students find captions “very” or “extremely” helpful
  • Student participants in the study cited closed captions as a valuable learning engagement tool to help them focus, retain and comprehend information, and overcome poor audio quality of videos.  This was particularly useful for students who identified English as their second language.

Some important findings from the institution perspective were:

  • 46% of institutions use a third party to create captions for online courses
  • The #1 barrier to institutions providing captioning is lack of general awareness

With the July 2018 release of Blackboard Collaborate, instructors and administrators now have the ability to add captions to recordings, even if there wasn’t someone providing them during the original live session.  They also now have the ability to clean up transcription errors from the live session in the recording.

We recognize that allowing the manual upload of caption files for Blackboard Collaborate recordings is a very important step in our accessibility journey, but we are by no means resting on our laurels or declaring victory.  The need to continuously improve our products and workflows to allow for even greater inclusivity and accessibility is a driving force in our roadmap and our product planning efforts.  This release is a milestone that we’re proud of and will serve as the foundation for continued work in this area.  Our ultimate goal is to be able to remove the burden of having to manually caption recordings and provide a mechanism by which they can be automatically captioned using built-in speech-to-text capabilities.  Since the automatic speech recognition technology today doesn’t always provide the needed level of transcription accuracy, it is also important for us to provide convenient ways for our clients to easily make corrections.  This will be our focus as we look to expand on the work completed thus far, and drive efforts into and through 2019.