How and Why University Students Use Closed Captions

September 27, 2016 BY PATRICK LOFTUS
Updated: March 16, 2021

National Research Results: How and Why Do Students Use Closed Captioning?

The concept of the college classroom has changed dramatically over the years.

The use of video as a learning tool is now about as commonplace as the traditional textbook.

However, despite its innumerable benefits to students and teachers, video still isn’t a perfect medium. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing require captions to watch videos. And in videos where the audio quality is poor, when speakers have heavy accents, or when the viewer is not a native speaker of the language spoken in the video, the necessity of having closed captions available becomes even greater.

Oddly enough, there is surprisingly little research out there about how captions are utilized in a university setting.

That’s why, in collaboration with 3Play Media, the Oregon State University (OSU) Ecampus decided to take a closer look at how and why students use closed captions and transcripts across the country.

The Study: How and Why Do Students Use Closed Captioning?

The Ecampus study originated from another study at OSU that focused exclusively on online-only courses. This new study sought to answer similar questions about the use of closed captions but with more attention paid to on-campus classes and on a nationwide scale.

Questions this study sought to answer were:

  • To what extent are students aware of the availability of video closed captions and transcripts in their courses?
  • To what extent do various student populations use video closed captions and transcripts?
  • Why do students use video closed captions and transcripts?
  • How are they using video closed captions and transcripts to support their learning?
  • To what extent do various student populations perceive the use of video closed captions as potentially valuable to their learning?

Participating Schools

The 15 participating colleges and universities institutions are located in the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Midwest, and West of the country (from which the vast majority of student responses came).

Three institutions were private and the rest were public. Three were two-year schools while the rest were four-year schools.

Participating Students

In total, 2,124 students responded to the survey, with a fairly even mixture of freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate students.

Important Note:
Many institutions were only thinking about closed captions in relation to student accommodation. Some universities in this study only sent out surveys to students who were receiving captions as an accommodation, although only 11.4% of the respondents claimed they require academic accommodation.

Demographic profiles:

  • All over the age of 18
  • 63.7% are over the age of 24
  • 88.3% are native English speakers
  • 28.3% are first in family to attend college in the US
  • 39% eligible for Pell grants
  • 67% identify as female
  • 76.2% identify as white

Disability/impairment status:

  • 47.1% sometimes struggle with paying attention in class
  • 30.2% always or often struggle with paying attention in class
  • 37.2% have difficulty with vision
  • 19.% have difficulty hearing
  • 10.8% have difficulty with graphs and charts
  • 9.5% diagnosed with learning disability
  • 10.7% have other disabilities
  • 13.1% are registered with an office of disability services
  • 11.4% require academic accommodation

Student course modality:

  • 99.7% have courses that included video
  • 51.9% taking courses primarily online with occasional face-to-face interaction
  • 35.2% taking courses in just face-to-face environments
  • 5.1% taking courses in equal number of face-to-face and online environments
  • 4.1% taking courses online only
  • 3.6% taking courses that are primarily face-to-face with occasional online components

Main Insights from the Results

While the study is not yet published, we already have an overwhelming amount of data from our webinar with Dr. Katie Linder, the head research in the study.

Just to make sense of all these figures and survey responses, we’ve highlighted some key insights.

Helpfulness of Captions and Transcripts

Captions Over Transcripts

Every student has their own unique study habits in relation to their use of closed captions and transcripts. But according to this study, students generally tend to favor using closed captions over transcripts.

In one set of questions, which asked how often students used closed captions when they were available, 19% said ‘sometimes’, 17.1% said ‘often’, and 17.8% said ‘always’.

For the same questions about whether transcripts were used when available, more than half said ‘never’, 13.2% said ‘sometimes’, 8.7% said ‘often’, and only 10% said ‘always’.

It could be that students find closed captions easier to use or more accessible than transcripts. One student claimed closed captions improved engagement with the video, stating, “They help me to focus on the video rather than just tuning out the noise.”

Low Awareness of Transcript Availability

The other variable possibly contributing to this phenomenon is the availability of transcripts.

When asked how many of their courses provided closed captions, 11.5% of students replied that closed captions were not available in any course, and 27% said they weren’t sure. Whereas 42.8% of students said no transcripts were available in any of their courses and 18.4% were not sure. This leads one to believe that students are more sure about the lack of transcripts in the courses they take than the lack of closed captions.

Therefore, the amount of courses that don’t have transcripts is observably higher than the amount of courses that don’t have closed captions.

How Non-Disabled Students Benefit from Closed Captions and Transcripts

This study not only confirms that fact that closed captions and transcripts benefit audiences beyond the deaf and hard of hearing community, but also explains the ways in which they are helpful.

In written responses, students appeared to benefit from closed captions and transcripts in a variety of ways that fell into five main categories: Sound-Sensitive Environments, Video Audio Quality, Convenience, Accommodation, and Learning Assistance.

Katie posted a lot of these student comments about the benefits of captions and transcripts in the webinar presentation.

On the retention benefits and convenience of closed captioning, students said, “By simultaneously reading and listening to the content, I am able to retain the information better,” and regarding recorded lecture content, “I find it easier to read along with the videos rather than just sit there and listen to the professor talk.”

It was also nice to hear how students with disabilities outside of the deaf and hard of hearing community are benefiting from closed captioning: “I’m dyslexic so it helps me to know that the notes I’m writing down are both spelled correctly and in the right syntax.”

Transcripts can also supplement certain students’ studying habits: “I am a visual learner so being able to read the material at my own pace and take notes helped me retain the information better.”

Hindrances Often Caused by Lack of Quality Assurance

Part of the survey asked students what obstacles, if any, prevented them from using closed captions and transcriptions.

Katie’s research team found that a lot of these issues originated from poor-quality transcription and captioning. Katie states:

We […] found that many of the common hindrances that students noted might be mitigated by instituting a quality assurance process that particularly involves the creator of the content.

So, concerns about things like typos or blocking important information, those things might be able to be fixed relatively easily, depending on who’s reviewing the video and making changes to it as needed.

While, as Katie says, some issues associated with low-quality captions and transcriptions can be fixed easily, it is always best to ensure you are using a high-quality vendor so that you don’t have to spend all that extra time cleaning up content.

More Higher Ed Closed Captioning Studies and Results

On October 12th, 2016, we hosted a second webinar with Katie to reveal and discuss results from another nationwide survey which asked administrators in higher education about how captioning is handled at their institutions. The study includes responses about the challenges of and solutions for closed captioning from 54 representatives of colleges and universities all over the US.

On November 30, 2016, we will also host a third webinar with Katie which will focus on results from the student study in greater detail by examining how different student subgroups use captions and transcripts (e.g. deaf, non-native English speaking students, those with other disabilities, etc.).

Download the full research study on student closed captioning use in higher education below:

Download the research study results on student uses and perceptions of closed captions & transcripts

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