Do interactive transcripts help students?

November 13, 2017 BY SOFIA ENAMORADO
Updated: June 3, 2019

As an institution, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) is making significant strides to create a more accessible campus.

The university’s disability committee is passionate about making sure that students are provided with the most helpful resources. That’s why they set out to see if they could find a meaningful difference between the benefit of closed captioning versus interactive transcripts in the classroom.

While other studies have demonstrated that captions are significantly beneficial to students, USFSP wanted to conduct their own study to see if these national findings correlated with their university culture.

The Nitty Gritty: Testing

The study was conducted through a fully online psychology course that had been filmed the previous semester in a live setting. There were a total of 25 video lessons, totaling 27 hours.


Students who agreed to participate were randomly assigned to either a group with closed captioning only or a group with closed captioning and an interactive transcript. In both cases, captions and the interactive transcript were turned on by default, but students could turn them off if desired.

A pre-test and post-test were issued, but only 37 students completed both the pre and post-test.

All videos were delivered via VideoJS, and the researchers tracked all the student’s interactions with the video controls and with the interactive transcript.

The Verdict

There were eight findings the researchers found particularly interesting.

Finding 1: Students want closed captioning and find it helpful


93% of students said they found closed captions moderately helpful, and 80% said they always want the option of closed captioning.

These findings correlate with a national research study on student use of closed captioning, which found 98.6% of students find captions helpful. In that study, it was also uncovered that 71% of students without hearing difficulties found captions helpful.

For the USFSP study, only four students said they had a disability, highlighting that all students can benefit from having captions.

Finding 2: Students who worked with interactive transcripts found them particularly helpful

While captions are a great way to help students focus, an interactive transcript can help elevate their learning experience.

The USFSP study found that the majority of students (94%) found the interactive transcript to be helpful in some capacity, while 44% said they found it extremely helpful.

Notably, none of the students in the USFSP study who indicated they had a disability had actually disclosed it with the university. This point demonstrates the importance of having instructional tools like closed captioning and interactive transcripts readily available in the classroom as this will help them engage better with the content.


Finding 3: Both closed captioning and interactive transcripts made a difference in student learning

Across the board, scores increased by a letter grade for students in both test groups.

Those who had an interactive transcript improved their scores by twice as much when measured against their pre and post-test results.

In a past study by the Oregon State University, students reported that having closed captions helped them focus better, while transcripts served as study guides.

Finding 4: Students may not be watching recorded lessons as much as we think

Testing for how students watched video, whether they paused, skipped, fast forwarded, or even never pressed play, was a critical component of this study.

Interestingly, while the course, as mentioned, included 27 hours of video, on average only 11 hours and 14 minutes of video were actually watched by the students (40% of the total content).

Students in the interactive transcript group seemed to watch a little bit more than those with just captions.

The researchers note that it was surprising to see such a low number of views, although for online courses it can be hard for students to structure their time well or fully immerse in an online course as they would for a live course.

This finding, in paticular, does hint that there may not be a clear winner on whether closed captioning or interactive transcripts are better for students.


Finding 5: Students watched videos in spurts

When it came down to how they were watching the videos, the findings showed that students watched videos in spurs. As mentioned, there were 25 lessons, each accompanied by a one-hour long video.

The data showed that the closed captioning group watched one video in five sessions with each session lasting an average of five minutes. The interactive transcript group watched, on average, one video in four sessions with each session lasting eight minutes.

This makes sense because online courses can be more difficult to make engaging. For students, it can be difficult to watch a full hour-long session in one sitting. But the findings do suggest that interactive transcripts can help improve student engagement and encourage them to digest the information in fewer sessions.

Finding 6: Students tended to leave captions on

The findings showed the majority of students never turned the captions off.

Captions help students in various ways. For example, captions helps them focus and help them understand poor audio or instructors with interesting accent.

Adding captions will only be a benefit for students, and they are also a benefit for faculty as it helps facilitate learning.


Finding 7: The interactive transcript isn’t for everyone, but those who do use it tend to be heavy users

The study showed that while the average number of words searched was nine words per session, there were heavier users who surpassed this number. For example, one student searched for 68 terms, while another clicked on 277 words.

Finding 8: For those who found captions distracting, it was mainly because it took their focus away from what was being said

Of all the students, there was only one who turned the captions off consistently. The researchers uncovered that this was because many times the student found that they were reading the captions instead of listening to the audio.

Having an interactive transcript can help mitigate that distraction because the students can focus on the video, and later refer to the transcript to clarify or jump back to any spots they may have misunderstood.


Overall, the findings demonstrate that both captions and interactive transcripts benefit students in the classroom. While there is no outstanding winner in this study, it’s clear that creating a more accessible classroom is beneficial for all parties in a university.

Of course, accessibility initiatives take time to implement, but beginning with smaller, more tangible goals for faculty (for example beginning by requiring that all third-party videos in the classroom include captions) can help build a more accessible campus.

In addition, conducting your own research studies on how all students use accessible elements in their learning, can shed light on how you should approach accessible design at your university. After all, every institution is different, which means every institution will have a unique approach to accessibility.

For the full scoop on the USFSP study, watch the full webinar below!

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