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

Earlier this year, the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit conducted a nationwide research project on closed captioning in higher education. With over 2,500 student respondents, this is the largest study on the topic to date.

In this webinar, Dr. Katie Linder, the head researcher on the project, will present for the first time on the findings of the study. She will take a close look at how students use and perceive captioning and transcription at their institutions (beyond the need for accommodation).

This presentation will cover:

  • Data & results from the student study
  • Student awareness of the availability of captioning
  • Student use of captioning and transcription
  • How & why students who have not requested an accommodation for captioning use captions and transcripts
  • How captions & transcripts support learning
  • The perceived benefits of captioning & transcription on learning
  • Common captioning hindrances identified by students
  • Takeaways from the study


Dr. Katie Linder
Research Director | Oregon State University Ecampus

Lily Bond (Moderator)
Director of Marketing | 3Play Media

Webinar Q&A: OSU on Student Usage of Closed Captions Research Study


How did participating institutions notify students about the closed captioning survey?

KATIE LINDER: When institutions signed on to recruit for us, we sent them IRB-approved (institutional review board) recruitment materials. There were two ways that they could communicate with students.

The first was via an email which targeted specifically targeted students at each institution saying that “your institution has partnered with Oregon State and 3Play Media.”

The second was short paragraph blurb that could be included in a newsletter email going out or some other kind of broader mechanism advertising to students. That was also IRB-approved.

After the initial recruitment message was sent out, institutions were then reminded twice to send it out again. I was in contact with institutions during this entire kind of data collection period and then made sure that students received [those messages] up to three times.

So we had email recruitment, and then some people also used that little blurb in other publications that they sent out to students.

Did you find a correlation between the students who said they had difficulty paying attention in class and the use of closed captioning?

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KATIE LINDER: That is actually the next part of our data analysis. We’re going to do some subgroup analyses and really drill down to [analyze] that population in particular, but we’re also going to look at students who [use] English as a second language.

We’ll [isolate] the different disability statuses of the students to see if there are higher amounts of students engaging in closed caption use who may view it differently in terms of benefits and hindrances.

We have our second webinar coming up, but maybe a third webinar that really focuses specifically on that subgroup analysis [would be necessary].

Do you have any idea of what percentage of the captions were auto-generated captions, or what percentage were inaccurate versus how many were accurate caption files?

KATIE LINDER: We did not ask students to specifically talk about that.

One of the things that we can kind of pull out of the responses is how many students focused on that specifically. Having been coding this data over the past couple of weeks, I can tell you that it wasn’t something that was mentioned frequently. I mean, it certainly came up, but it wasn’t an overwhelming theme where students were saying this was auto generated.

I think the bigger issue for them for closed captioning was the blocking of information [on the video], and maybe not [time-syncing] correctly, and things like that.

Did you define what closed captions were to the participants?

KATIE LINDER: Yes, we did.

In the survey instrument, before we started the questions on closed captions, we included a definition. That definition was collaboratively created by our Research Unit and with 3Play Media.

We also had a disability studies administrator and an expert in disability studies look over the survey as well just to make sure that we were wording things correctly, particularly when we were asking students about particular disability categories and things like that.

And then before the questions about transcripts, we included a definition of transcripts that clearly noted that we weren’t talking about [something] interactive but something that you could access and print out to read later.

Were you surprised that so many students liked captions, even when they weren’t used as an accommodation?

“I think that it’s really important for us to be thinking about students who do not request captions or transcripts as accommodation, and letting them know when those things are there, and how they could possibly be using them.

KATIE LINDER: I actually was not surprised, just because of some other work that we’ve been doing and because of the pilot study we did here at Ecampus that found students were using them very broadly, and particularly for things like [when] a child is sleeping in the same room and they can’t watch the video unless they turn on the captions.
Several people in this study also mentioned that they use captions all the time, not just for their learning experience. Captions with Netflix was mentioned multiple times. So we know that students are engaging with them outside of the classroom.

One of the reasons, certainly for me, to do this study is [because] institutions need rationales for why they should be more broadly captioning. So, I was certainly hopeful that we would find a broad use of captions, and certainly a use of captions for learning aids, and that was something that absolutely came out of the study.

I think that it’s really important for us to be thinking about students who do not request captions or transcripts as accommodation, and letting them know when those things are there, and how they could possibly be using them. We have some students who are creative, and they’re thinking about how to do that, and they’ve already incorporated this into their learning experience.

But as we saw from earlier numbers, clearly there are students who are not [using captions] and aren’t aware that they are even [available]. Several students commented that it’s just never been available to them. Many students in the qualitative comments said things like, “It’s never been available to me. But I imagine if it was, it would be really helpful for ‘X, Y, or Z.'” So there were students who just had never been given the opportunity to use these [resources].

Did students use closed captions used on videos of instructors with heavy accents more than on videos of other instructors where that was not an issue?

KATIE LINDER: [Yes, but] it’s not something that we asked. And actually, even our institutional survey was really focused more toward administrators and not to faculty.

[That issue] might be institution specific, depending on the amount of instructors who have accents that are teaching for the institution.

The other thing we did hear, though, and actually very frequently, was that students use closed captioning quite a bit when they’re taking language courses, because they like to see the foreign language printed out while they’re hearing it. Because they’re not used to seeing it and what it would look like, they feel that it helps them learn the language better.

So, we saw it for the accents. That was reported quite a bit in terms of helping to understand faculty with accents.

But on the other side of things, we also really saw it for being beneficial in foreign language courses. They were using it to see the foreign language in print so that they could understand the connection between what they were hearing and what they were seeing.

Did the research ask about the use of captions outside of the classroom?

KATIE LINDER: The student study did not ask that. [Because] the survey was getting quite long, and we wanted to make sure we were getting really good data about closed captions and transcripts, we had to get really tight with our focus.

In the student study, we did not talk about those things. In the institutional study that we did, and we’re going to present on that in a webinar on October 12. We [focused more on] how institutions are differentiating between face-to-face video, online video, and video that’s created for institutional purposes, and whether those are prioritized for captioning or if there’s a different process for captioning those things based on the purpose.

Did you notice a difference between people who used captions as native English speakers versus people who know English as a second language?

KATIE LINDER: That is something we will definitely be digging into. We’re going to include that for sure in the webinar that we do on the student subgroup analysis, and there will be a breakout of that in the study report as well.

And I can tell you, just from initially what we found in our Ecampus study that’s just Oregon State specific, there were differences between how students in the sub-populations spoke about their use of closed captions and transcripts.

We saw certain subgroup populations that saw them as being no hindrance whatsoever. They didn’t comment on hindrances at all and only framed it in terms of benefit. Which is not surprising given certain populations, like the English-as-a-second-language group.

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