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OSU study: Confusion surrounds closed captioning implementation within higher education

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By Heather Doherty  
December 6, 2016

Motivations and implementation efforts vary when it comes to captioning videos at higher education institutions, new research from Oregon State University shows.

The national study, conducted by the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit in collaboration with 3Play Media, was designed to explore how higher education institutions handle closed captioning of videos for online and face-to-face classes and for institutional purposes, such as promotional videos. The survey questions covered topics regarding why and how institutions caption their videos.

Approximately 80 percent of the 47 participating institutions were public colleges and universities in the United States. The majority of respondents consisted of universities that offer bachelor’s and advanced degrees.

Almost all of the respondents noted that closed captioning is being implemented at their institution for at least some videos. A relatively small number of institutions surveyed in the study said that all of their videos have closed captions.

The majority of respondents noted that their institutional response to captioning is “more reactive than proactive” or “primarily reactive,” suggesting that most institutions in this study implement closed captioning only after a disability accommodation is requested.

“What this is telling us is that although the closed captioning of all videos may seem to be relatively simple in practice, it is not simple for many of the institutions that responded to the survey. They seem to be struggling to get all of their videos proactively captioned,” said Katie Linder, director of the OSU Ecampus Research Unit and author of the study.

“[The study] just scratches the surface about what we need to know about what’s going on in our campuses regarding closed caption compliance and the different practices that are being used.”

“What this is telling us is that although the closed captioning of all videos may seem to be relatively simple in practice, it is not simple for many of the institutions that responded to the survey. They seem to be struggling to get all of their videos proactively captioned,” said Katie Linder, director of the OSU Ecampus Research Unit and author of the study.

Respondents noted a range of reasons why they do not caption all videos at their institution, with the top reasons being a lack of general awareness regarding captioning and a lack of budget for the implementation of closed captions. Some respondents also noted that staffing is inadequate for providing closed captioning and that it is unclear who is responsible for it.

Importantly, Linder says, all respondents indicated that closed captioning is a genuine need at their institution even if they expressed some confusion about how captions should be implemented.

About 80 percent of responding institutions said they are “very confident” or “confident” that they understand legal requirements to caption. However, when prompted to clarify further, 24 of the 47 respondents noted that the legal requirement was to caption all videos, while others responded with varying degrees of implementation, implying some variation of opinion regarding what the law requires, Linder said. Of the 47 respondents, only eight said they meet or exceed requirements.

“Between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, all colleges and universities in the United States fall under accessibility law. However, because digital access was not written directly into the ADA and Section 504 when they were enacted, there is a lot of confusion about captioning requirements in higher education,” said Lily Bond, marketing director at 3Play Media, a company that provides closed captioning, transcription and subtitling solutions. “For a lot of schools, accessibility compliance is driven in large part by state laws rather than federal laws. For example, California has strict proactive captioning laws, while many other states are lax. That might be a potential explanation for the confusion.”

Despite the fact that a majority of respondents said they use closed captioning primarily to be in compliance with federal law, the study found that more than 50 percent of these institutions do not monitor their compliance. Another 20 percent were not sure if they monitor compliance. One factor that may impact the degree to which the practice can be monitored is that a little more than 40 percent of campuses said that no aspects of captioning are centralized at their institution.

“This study raises more questions than it answers,” Linder said. “It just scratches the surface about what we need to know about what’s going on in our campuses regarding closed caption compliance and the different practices that are being used.”

A summary of the findings is available online at http://bit.ly/2gW8Bk9, as well as a downloadable version of the full report.

The Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit and 3Play Media ran a separate national study focused on student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts. View a summary of those findings published online in November 2016 at http://bit.ly/2eKmswJ, as well as a downloadable version of the full report.

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