Online Learning

Gallaudet Brings Accessibility to Classroom Capture

Students at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, the only liberal arts university in the world for the deaf and hard of hearing, are benefiting from lecture capture software that includes closed captioning. That lets students view videos of lectures on demand, complete with text captions along the bottom of the screen.

The content is created with capture software called Apreso Classroom, from Anystream. Students can go online to watch Gallaudet professors lecture in American Sign Language, while viewing slides, Web sites, or other content on the computer screen itself, along with any markups the instructor makes. At the same time, running captions display across the bottom of the video screen.

Apreso is a key part of the equation because it offers superior captioning capabilities, according to Gallaudet's manager of e-learning and video services, Earl Parks. He explained that third-party closed captioning systems added to class capture software tend to display the captions elsewhere on the computer screen, forcing a student's eyes to jump back and forth between the video of the signing instructor, and the captions. With Apreso, the captions appear directly below the video--something Anystream worked specifically with Gallaudet to create. That setup also helps those who are just learning sign language, Parks explained, since they can watch captions and signing at the same time. The system can also be slowed down when a video is replayed, allowing students to study the signing.

At Gallaudet, most students use American Sign Language to communicate, but 10 percent of new students entering the university each semester are learning sign language for the first time.

Anystream and Gallaudet worked together on creating a standards-based closed captioning solution. To create the captions, instructors must send the audio file and an accompanying text transcription to a third-party company that creates the captions. The captions are then uploaded into the Apreso system.

Three classrooms at Gallaudet are set up specifically for Apreso, including two that use sophisticated cameras as part of a "press to sign" system. That system functions in the similar way to a voice-activated microphone in a classroom for hearing students. A student who wishes to ask a question presses a button, alerting the professor and triggering a video camera to move and focus on the student, who then signs his or her question. The camera focus then returns to the professor, who answers the question.

In other classrooms, instructors can use Apreso on a tablet PC to capture marks made to the computer screen, or an electronic whiteboard, or simply paper, with a document camera to capture their notes. It's all recorded in Apreso, which can begin running automatically and can save lectures to Blackboard, Gallaudet's course management system, for access by students later.

The extensive content available now is the result of several years of brainstorming and work, Parks said, beginning when administrators realized the necessity of delivering good basic math courses to Gallaudet students, many of whom enter the university needing developmental math.

"It's a challenge area for [Gallaudet] students," Parks, himself a Gallaudet graduate, said through an interpreter. "We have to get them successfully to pass; we need to get them out of developmental math and into algebra."

Realizing that math was a key area to address, the university began with that subject in 2005 with Apreso and has since added other courses as well, growing the program from four classes in spring 2006 to 20 classes in spring 2007. Following the MIT model of making select curriculum materials available free of charge, Gallaudet is now working to distribute its Math Concepts and Algebra course content free of charge to high schools.

The content Gallaudet has captured is "designed for our university," Parks said, "but it is available [free of charge] to anyone in the world." That sort of content can be a tremendous advantage to deaf students in various parts of the United States and the world, he said, that lack access to signed math classes, especially in K-12. That includes, Parks  pointed out, deaf students who are isolated in rural areas.

Distributing course content via Apreso has had a number of additional advantages, Parks said, including the ability for students to revisit difficult material again and again or to attend a missed class online and thus avoid falling behind. The system can also improve concentration, he said, freeing students from focusing their attention during class on simply taking notes.

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About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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