Live Transcripts Aren’t for Everyone

I recently discovered and became fascinated by the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I really like the fact that courses designed with UDL in mind typically offer students choice and aim to break down barriers to learning for students. On the CAST website, which is filled with amazing suggestions and ideas of how to implement UDL into your teaching, it promotes the use of captions or automated speech-to-text as alternatives (e.g., live transcriptions) for auditory information. This piqued my interest because I personally benefit from being able to read what is being said because I have a hard time hearing people. The use of live transcripts has been a great advantage for me when everything moved online because they removed one of my barriers to learning, and I wanted to provide the same opportunity for my students.

Excited for my students to also reap the benefits of live transcripts and to incorporate UDL into the first-year seminar course I was teaching, I designed all of my lessons using PowerPoint and enabled the “subtitle” option on all of my slides. I was ecstatic because I believed that this would help so many of my students. To me, the major benefit of UDL is that it removes barriers to learning without students needing to request an accommodation. Now, all of my students would be able to see the live transcripts and wouldn’t need to ask for me to use them! I started off my first day of class by explaining to my students that all of my slides would have live transcripts. I also shared that I personally rely on these transcripts, and I have chosen to use them in our course in case there are other students who also benefit from them.

After the second week of class, I administered an anonymous start-stop-continue survey to gather student feedback. I was shocked to read one student asking me to stop using the live transcriptions because they were distracting. This was something that I never considered. When I used to think of live transcripts, I only saw the positives because I am someone who benefits from them and relies on them. This gave me great pause. At the beginning of my next class, I did a Zoom poll with my students to ask if they would like me to continue to use the live transcriptions in class to see if there was anyone in the class that benefited from them and wanted me to keep using them. The highest response from the survey was students stating that they benefited from the live transcripts and wanted me to continue to use them, and there was a small portion of students that did not want live transcripts to be used anymore. After seeing the results of this anonymous poll and showing them to my students, I was honest with my students that I didn’t have a great solution right away and would need to think about this more but would love their thoughts on a potential solution too. We use a students-as-partners model in our class and make many course decisions together; this was no exception. One of my students came forward with an amazing solution; they shared that zoom has a new feature that allows students the option to view or hide the live transcriptions (I was unaware of this new feature!). This avoids all students being forced to see the transcriptions because they were embedded in my screenshared PowerPoint, and instead, it gives each student the autonomy to choose whether or not they would like to see the transcriptions.

One central theme when talking about universal design is student choice. This is something I neglected to think about when implementing the live transcriptions initially because I was biased in my view of them because they are beneficial to me. I never anticipated that they could have a negative impact on student learning. Now that students have the choice of whether or not they see the transcriptions, this is a good example of a simple way to implement UDL into an online synchronous course. I think many lessons can be learned from my experiences this semester with live transcriptions: (1) all learners are different and they don’t all learn the way you prefer to learn, (2) frequent feedback from students is incredibly beneficial, and (3) students are a valuable resource of knowledge and approaching teaching in a partnership with students enhances the learning experience for everyone.

Madison Wright

Madison (she/her/hers) is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph. She is also the Senior Graduate Educational Developer in the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Guelph. She has received a Teaching and Career Development Fellowship for the course she designed and then taught, has completed the Instructional Skills Workshop, and has experience as both a teaching assistant and sessional lecturer.

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