Moving Day

I’m starting to move my History videos from my personal YouTube channel to my new History4Today channel. The first set to go is the American Environmental History series. I’ll be taking it off my personal channel, so look for it in the new location!

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Captioning Videos

When I mentioned earlier in the week that I had made a bunch of videos for my online East Asia course last semester, a colleague challenged me on twitter regarding whether the videos were captioned. I responded that the ones I was talking about were not part of my OER, but just short messages to my students announcing what was next, explaining how to use tools like Hypothesis, etc. He responded that even so, federal and state law and our university system’s policies require captioning of any course video. 

I was not sure this is true, so I asked him to provide a reference to the statutes he thinks apply. He provided a link to a MinnState guideline document that seems to agree with his claim that the system I work within supports a broad interpretation of the law that seeks to require captioning of all videos, regardless of their purpose. Among the questions addressed in the document’s FAQ is an explanation that transcripts of videos are not sufficient, because the user experience is not identical. While I accept that this statement is true, I’m skeptical of its importance in all cases. For example, If I make a video version of a PowerPoint lecture based on a chapter of my OER textbook, the same basic content is presented in three different formats. My initial idea is to make the content accessible to students with different learning styles. I think, some students learn better by reading: they’ll use the textbook. Others may have time while commuting: a podcast might be useful to them. Others may miss one of my lectures of may really learn better watching a video: so I’ll make a video version of my lecture and post it online.  

The idea is to make my course content more accessible. Requiring me to caption these lecture videos complicates the process of making them and adds time. Let’s be honest: increased complexity and time are disincentives. Not only for someone like me who wants to make videos, but even worse for instructors who are on the fence about the shift to online resources or looking for a reason to reject the idea. Moreover, the type of aggressive virtue-signaling language that sometimes accompanies arguments or mandates of accessibility can be very off-putting. Maybe it’s me, but I’d prefer to be helped to make my content more accessible rather than told if it’s not 100% right out of the gate I shouldn’t bother. And if I was paranoid (who me?) I might suspect that although the proponents of universal accessibility have their hearts in the right spot, putting steep barriers in the way of instructors seeking to make a change seems to play into the hands of textbook publishing corporations.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to try to make my videos with captions, even though that’s going to be more complicated and time-consuming. I’m going to try to find the least time-consuming and expensive way to do that and share what I find. If you know of any better, faster, cheaper ways, please let me know! Although I’m fairly comfortable with technology and have a lot of opinions I’m not shy about sharing, I’ve only been doing this OER and open ed stuff for about a year. Point out what I’m missing and I’ll work it in and make a video about it! 

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As I’ve begun looking at the tools available, there seem to be a several ways for me to type caption text into a video as I’m watching it. This isn’t optimal. If I’ve written copy and then made a video of it, the last thing I want to do is then retype it. I suppose I could cut and paste it a little bit at a time, but this is also a pain, especially if I’m captioning a lecture. So the best option seems to be finding a reasonably accurate, easily-correctable auto-captioning app. Again, there are a bunch of these available, but I’m not going to buy one in order to make my videos. Sorry. I paid for Camtasia, but there’s a limit to the amount of my own money I can afford to spend. I was disappointed to learn that Vimeo, the video-hosting service I’ve been using for years to avoid YouTube, allows you to add captions to videos but doesn’t have an automated process like YouTube’s. It supports automation tools like CaptionSync, but again, I’m not going to buy a subscription to an app that doesn’t even list its pricing online! So maybe it’s time to surrender to the dark side and stop paying $199 a year for an inferior tool.  

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Roughly six hours after writing the previous paragraph, I’ve removed over 150 videos from Vimeo, canceled my $199 per year “Pro” subscription, and loaded eleven lecture videos from my American Environmental History course onto YouTube. The auto-captioning seems to work remarkably well! Not perfectly, and I’ll need to spend a little time with each video, editing the captions. I’ve shifted the licensing on the videos from standard YouTube license to CC-BY, the Creative Commons Attribution open license that allows anyone to reuse or remix the videos. I don’t think it’s really possible to download the YouTube versions of the videos, so maybe I should load the originals up into Opendora (my system’s open archive) so that others who want to use the content can grab an mp4 file and mess with it.  

My next step will be to see if it makes sense to load videos like the lectures I just added to YouTube into an app like MediaSpace in my university’s learning management sandbox. I’m not actually teaching the course those videos go with again this semester, and I’m rethinking a lot of design elements of the video lecture format, so I’ll need to ponder on that a bit in the next couple of weeks as I prepare for next semester. I’ll report on the process as I go, so thanks for reading and I’ll see you again next time. is complicated…

I’m learning about, currently listening to a video by Jeremy Dean (Director of Education at, of I think it was the first Google webinar about using in undergraduate English classes. It’s available here:



Now it DOES seem to me that English majors may be a bit predisposed to annotation and close reading. But History should probably be a close second. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a bit of a learning curve, or that I shouldn’t have a couple of different levels of engagement for students at different levels.

Initially, I’m inclined to make the first interaction with annotation happen inside a safe “Group” space where the student’s responses won’t be out on the web forever. There’s a group function in now that I think I can use to make spaces where students are going to see all their cohort’s annotations but not the whole outside world’s. This may also be a solution to the problem of basic texts being overwhelmed with annotations that limit the new student’s freedom of movement in reacting to the text. What I mean by that is, a new student (say a freshman in a Modern World History survey) may not be prepared to say something about “The White Man’s Burden” or Mein Kampf that they’ll be comfortable existing out on the web forever. And, equally important, the expectations for responses I’m expecting from students should not ratchet up every semester, which I think they would if students each semester are confronted with not only the text, but with a growing cluster of responses that they have to read, if only to figure out where to situate their own response. This means the complexity of the exercise expands each semester, while each semester the people asked to do it are still in their first semester.

I AM very excited about beginning to use this tool, and I think I’m just going to jump in and try it this week, even though it’s the 13th week of the semester. I’m going to try to figure out how to annotate pdfs, because that’s what I usually post in D2L and assign written responses prior to our weekly discussions. I’m unsatisfied with these, because exactly the opposite of the issue I mentioned in the last paragraph applies. Students see only the text and none of their classmates’ ideas on them, which is just a bit too raw for many students. I think having to say something their peers were going to see would probably encourage many to try a bit harder, and I think it might also spur some to find something beyond the obvious to say about a passage of text.


Okay, first thing is I scanned a document and loaded it up to my Dropbox. I can open the “share” url and will see it, but won’t let me highlight and annotate. I seem to be limited to Page Notes, which is better than nothing but not what I was hoping for. I can’t use the “paste into” function because Via can’t allow users to get to it without permission. I assume this would be the same issue inside an LMS or a campus network drive application like Onedrive. So this will not work as a way to get my students to comment on this pdf I want to load up.

I could (possibly by next semester) figure a way to make course materials accessible on the outside-facing web so that my students can interact with them in a more open way (an advantage of this would be that this knowledge would be more permanent, in that they could return to it after the end of the semester. I dislike the idea that learning is becoming more ephemeral as it moves online. I have textbooks, texts, and notebooks from long ago – would I be missing that opportunity to add to a permanent store of knowledge if I was a student in my own classes now? Are we in danger of trivializing learning by moving it into these electronic formats?

The difficulty seems to be how to get students to engage with material that is copyrighted and cannot be used openly on the web? In the long run, OER can replace most survey textbooks in entry-level classes. But what about when I have an upper-level History course and I want my students to engage with monograph chapters or articles that are not in the pubic domain? Need to have a version of or a similar tool that works within the LMS or at least in the campus network drive.

There also seems to be a difference between the students who would be candidates for a full-on lesson on how to create their own account and the “Paste a link” candidates. Or maybe I’m getting that wrong. Do students have to create an account in the “Paste” scenario too? Then maybe I’m better off waiting until the fall. Maybe this is better – it will allow me to create some standards for what I’m looking for in responses, rubrics for grading them, etc. Disappointing, but probably wiser. A bit frustrating and a barrier to entry though, which I wonder if the power users are completely aware of?

PS. Another disappointment: I was going to install on my WordPress blog, but they want me to upgrade from my present plan (which costs me nearly $100 a year) to a Business plan that would be $263. Two words come quickly to mind. My days at WordPress may be numbered.