Mini-series: Student subtitling project to improve accessibility of online media materials

Photo credit: Pixabay, stockphoto, CC0

In this post, Professor Tina Harrison and Anne Marie-Scott write about the recent media subtitling pilot at The University of Edinburgh, and discuss the many benefits for students…

At Edinburgh, we are working to improve the accessibility of our digital content for the benefit of all our audiences. Earlier in the year, a group of students were at the heart of a pilot project to improve the accessibility of our online audio and video materials.

The Subtitling for Media Pilot was established to investigate the feasibility, viability and cost of a student-led transcription service, alongside improving the digital skills of staff and promoting a culture change in our approach to delivering accessible content. In particular, we were interested in whether transcription was the kind of work that might be attractive to students, specifically those who need some flexibility in hours and location of work. We were aware that this kind of work might offer opportunity for employment for students with caring responsibilities, who have disabilities, or who prefer solo working.

Ten students were recruited to work for three months. All of the successful candidates were interested in the role because they were studying subjects related to language studies or media. The team subtitled public-facing audio and video content within Media Hopper Create, with a focus on content that was embedded in the main University website. Automated subtitling services are notoriously inaccurate and require checking before publication.  In the pilot, subtitles were automatically generated and the student team acted as human mediators, checking and correcting the subtitles and drawing on their own knowledge and expertise of Edinburgh and University life.

Many subtitling services are emerging in response to new legislative requirements on content accessibility using a blend of automation and human mediation, however they’re not all run on an ethical basis.  We paid students a living wage, and work was explicitly structured around their study and other commitments. While we anticipated that the team might take up the opportunity for flexible working, all of the students opted to spend most of their time working during 9-5 hours in the Information Services offices in Argyle House. The balance of intense solo study sessions, with team working in an open and structured environment, was the main attraction. Studies have shown how structured breaks away from study can have a positive impact on students’ mental health.

There’s a ton of reasons why I enjoyed the work I did, especially as a Masters student writing her dissertation towards the end of the semester. Dissertation work is often intensive and isolating; a type of work that is slow, that takes time and does not seem to cede any tangible progress despite the amount of research and effort involved. Having a schedule of work apart from and outside of the dissertation was an immense relief because of the sense of structure it gave my days. It furnished me with a concrete reason to be disciplined, to organise myself, plan my calendar and quite simply, go out and talk to people instead of being huddled in a dark corner of the library without knowing what day (or even month) it was. It helped that the office I worked in at Argyle House had a fantastic, bright and colourful environment; a fun (!) and engaging work-space that encouraged you to balance out the tedium of your tasks with colouring books or board games.  (Student Media Subtitling Editor)

Pay, hours and holidays are very reasonable for a student part-time worker. I especially appreciate the flexibility in working hours… This job fits well with my studies. (Student Media Subtitling Editor)

Being surrounded by people in the open-plan office was great. A good, focussed atmosphere. (Student Media Subtitling Editor)

Over the 12 weeks of the pilot project, the student team subtitled 224 videos and podcasts. However, it wasn’t just the students who benefited from the project; content owners were universally positive about the work delivered by students:

I really value the time and the effort of the subtitling pilot team with regard to this – the service has been a huge help to me. (Content creator)

I think the point to make here is how brilliant it has been to have content a) automatically subtitled, and b) checked and amended by student editors. It has been such a huge time saver for me. I would never be in this position of having so much content subtitled without this support. (Content creator)

In addition to understanding how to run a subtitling service that is led by students, the project also delivered the following benefits within the scope of its work:

  • More media content is open and accessible to all users;
  • Opportunity for Edinburgh students to participate in the design and delivery of a new service and develop new skills;
  • New training courses for staff and students on DIY subtitling, aiming to move to a position where subtitling of media is standard practice at the point of creation as far as possible;
  • Enhanced awareness of digital literacy and digital skills.

Read the blogs posted by our student media subtitling editors:

Meet the Media Subtitling Team!

Hot Chocolate Hugs and Great Expectations

Subtitles for the many; not the few

Hear more from our student editors in this short video (7 mins):

And hear more from project managers, Anne-Marie Scott and Karen Beggs, in this short video (7 mins):

The videos were produced by one of the student media subtitling editors, Alison Lacey, who is completing a MSc in Film Exhibition & Curation at Edinburgh.

Tina Harrison

Tina is Assistant Principal Academic Standards and Quality Assurance and Professor of Financial Services Marketing and Consumption. Tina joined the University in 1993 and continues to maintain an active academic role in the Business School. She has had overall responsibility for the University’s quality assurance framework as Assistant Principal since 2009. She is a member of the QAA Scotland ELIR 3 Committee, a member of the sparqs University Advisory Group, and represents the University sector on the SCQF Quality Committee. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the European Quality Assurance Forum.

Anne-Marie Scott

Anne-Marie Scott is Deputy Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services. Her background is in the design, management and support for academic IT services, particularly those used to support teaching and learning activities online. Amongst her interests are the use of new media and the open web in teaching and learning, scalable online learning platforms, and learning analytics. She is a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology, an Apereo Foundation Board member and also a Trustee of the Mansfield Traquair Trust. Outside of work she is a prolific gardener and grower and can pickle just about anything!

Alison Lacey

Alison is an MSc taught student studying Film Exhibition and Curation. She has an undergraduate degree in Film & Media and English Language & Literature. At Edinburgh, Alison supplemented her studies with part-time work to enable her to engage with the wider University community.

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