Unintended Consequences… of Sharing

Picture of youtube video

You never know who might be asking the same questions that you are. Nine months ago I started a conversation with a few instructors in the Biology department about their undergraduate researchers and how they collect data. One of the most dreaded tasks for their student researchers is counting fluorescing cells in a fixed sample. There can be over 400 fluorescing cells in any given slide, and there are dozens of slides to count. Undergraduates were starring into the unblinking eye of the computer clicking on single green dots for hours at a time. There had to be a better solution.

In fact there is. ImageJ is a lovely Java based piece of software that’s free and allows for several different kinds of measurement and analysis in digital photo files. The catch is that learning to use ImageJ can be a bit dodgy. I offered to take a quick look at the software, to see if I could make heads or tails of it. With a little bit of clicking and googling, I had a simple way to count fluorescing cells in a slide. Not elegant, but not awful.

I guessed that the easiest way to share what I had learned with the Biology crew was to make a short screen-cast coving the basics and post it on YouTube. I thought that Keene State’s Biology department might watch the video a handfull of times, and they might share it with a few other people. These kinds of How-To instructional videos are all over the web, and I figured that I’d be lucky if it was ever viewed more than twenty or so times. To date, it’s now been watched nearly 4000 times (it’s very likely that by the time someone is reading this post, that number will be over 4000).

What gives?! Why all of the attention for such a mundane technical task? As it turns out, our Biology department wasn’t alone in its search for a free way to reduce the time it took to complete this arduous counting task. Lots of people were looking (and still are) for ways to solve this problem, or at least an entry point into thinking about this particular problem. The video that I posted hasn’t meant that I’ve needed to do any additional work, or cost me any more time. In fact it’s saved me the time of needing to describe this process more than once – the time it took me to make the original video.

You’d be surprised by how many people are fighting with the same questions that you are, I know I was.



Crowdsourcing or YouTube: Which Free Captioning Route Do You Choose?

You’ve just put together a short informational video that gets to the heart of the topic you’ll be discussing with your students. You’re proud of it but it feels incomplete. There’s something missing. That something is captioning. Captions are simply the text of what’s being said on screen and are made available to help viewers who might be deaf or hard of hearing or who prefer an additional learning modality. At first glance it appears as though there are a lot of services available to caption your video for you but of course it costs money that you don’t have. So now what? You want to provide your students with a rich experience but the cost is prohibitive.Actually there are several approaches to captioning that are free of cost. Let’s have a closer look.

This free service uses crowdsourcing to address the challenge of cost prohibitive video captioning. I’ll point to Matt Ragan’s user scenario of why one would consider adopting the crowdsourcing technique:

“Take any project that’s made up of repeating several small, simple tasks thousands of times. Any project like this is likely to be too large for a single person to complete in a life time. Now, instead of trying to do all of that work yourself, invite others to contribute (as much or as little as they want) to your project. Add in a measure of review and oversight, and distribute the task through a website to the whole world. Ta-Da, you’re crowdsourcing (here are some examples of how crowdsourcing is changing the web).”

Video captioning is a perfect example of why one would go the crowdsource route!

Universal Subtitles is beginning to gain some traction due in part to it’s recent press in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  “Make Videos Accessible with Universal Subtitles.org” – (12/2010), “More About Universal Subtitles.org” – (2/2011), “Volunteer to Caption Videos” – (8/2011). In addition to the nod from the Chronicle, Khan Academy began using it to caption over 2,100 videos in its database.

If crowdsourcing seems to rely too much on the participation of others, you could explore YouTube’s free automatic speech recognition technology (ASR). It’s the same technology that’s used in Google Voice, it’s free, and works pretty well though there might be some words or phrases that might get jumbled . You can make corrections so it’s not a show stopper. After you’ve uploaded your video to YouTube, select “captions and subtitles”. This will bring you to some options including “machine transcription”, select the “request processing (English only)”, button. The turn around time could be several days so you’ll have to weigh free versus timeliness.

There are other options that puts you in control of the accuracy and turn around time but it requires learning a new technology and a new process. Check out the list of captioning tools listed on the “Caption It Yourself” web site. Be sure and scroll down to the “web based captioning/subtitling tools” section. It’s on the right side of the screen in pink.

There are many options for captioning videos for the deaf or hard of hearing and you needn’t spend money you don’t have to create a rich experience for all end users.