At the beginning of a term, professors receive notice about students needing accommodations. It's a busy time of year, and often professors don't get a chance to talk to the disability resource office about accommodations. If a student uses TypeWell transcription in the college classroom, many professors have questions. Their questions usually range from practical matters to curiosities. More generally, they want to know what they can do to make their class work better for a student using TypeWell transcription.
This blog post is for you, professors. As a former college instructor and current TypeWell transcriber, I hope to give you the info I would have wanted about TypeWell transcription. Of course, the best way to understand what your student might need is to communicate with that student directly. But to get you started, I've answered a few questions professors often ask. Here's what professors should know about TypeWell transcription in the college classroom.
What do transcribers do?
TypeWell transcribers listen intently. Using TypeWell software's abbreviation system built for classroom vocabulary, we type what we hear. Our abbreviations expand into full words on our screen and on your student's linked screen. We leave out false starts, redundancies, etc. We call this "meaning for meaning" transcribing; we're not recording everything verbatim, but we're not taking notes for students either. Here's a video TypeWell created to show the difference between a verbatim transcript and a TypeWell transcript:
We do indeed transcribe any entertaining anecdotes you tell your class, since your other students get to hear them. But don't worry, transcripts are confidential.
Transcribers train hard, and we transcribe college classes that tackle material we know from our own studies. Still, there are plenty of ways you can help us do our job well.
How will my student be using TypeWell transcription?
That depends. The majority of students using TypeWell transcription in the college classroom are D/deaf or hard of hearing. Others may have another learning difference. Some students will hear some or most of what you're saying; they may only sometimes reference the transcript as a backup. Some will read your lips, or "speech read." If that's the case, these suggestions might help you and your student.
Tips for communicating with a D/deaf or hard of hearing student
- Face the class as much as possible
- Speak clearly, but don't alter your voice or lips in any exaggerated way
- Try not to put anything in front of your face when you're talking (e.g. coffee mugs)
- Stay at the front of the classroom and don't move around too much
Other students will rely fully on the transcript. As you might imagine, we have to lag a bit to hear and accurately capture what you're saying. This means if you're looking for student input, asking a question, or running a class poll, you'll want to wait a little longer than usual before moving on. That way, your student has a chance to read their transcript and respond.
What's the transcriber's role in the classroom?
Transcribing takes an enormous amount of concentration. As long as there's any sound in the classroom, we'll be focused on transcribing. Even though we're friendly, it's best not to chat with us. Don't call on us or invite us to participate. Think of us as invisible, neutral vessels conveying the classroom's sound onto a screen. And rest assured we're focused so intently on our work that we don't have time to evaluate anything but our own performance and your student's transcript; don't worry about having a non-student observer in the room.
We're not an advocate or tutor for your student. Our role is neutral communication access facilitation. You and your student have a responsibility to make sure the class is working for both of you. We can help make your conversations accessible to each other, however.
To learn more about our role, read the TypeWell Transcriber Code of Ethics.
What if I don't see a transcriber?
If we're not physically in the room, we're probably transcribing the class remotely via Skype or another audio call program. Your school's disability resource office will provide you with a microphone of some kind. Depending on what kind of microphone you have to work with, your student may have different instructions. But here are some general suggestions.
Tips for working with a mic and a remote transcriber:
- Face the microphone and don't pace too far away from it.
- Make sure the mic doesn't scrape against your hair or clothing, as this causes intense noises on our end which can make it hard for us to hear you.
- Leave the mic on whenever a hearing student would be gaining audial information -- even random conversations may have their value.
- Please mute the mic when you have a private conversation with a student that no one else can hear. Also mute the mic when you take a trip to the restroom. (!)
- Check in with your student early in the class period to make sure the mic is working well.
Should the rest of the class know that a student is receiving TypeWell transcription?
Whether or not the class should know exactly what the transcriber is doing is completely up to your student. Maybe your student would like to let the class know that they're D/deaf or hard of hearing. Maybe they would also like to share how to communicate with them. Maybe they'd like you to tell the class. Or maybe they'd rather not let anyone know. First and foremost, you should respect their wishes. (The law says so!)
TypeWell transcription services allow students some anonymity if they want it, so a transcriber’s presence may seem a little mysterious to a class. Other students might mistake transcribers for students. In one class I transcribed, a hearing student peered over at my screen and asked if they could borrow my "notes" since they looked so thorough. The answer was no, of course. To explain, I told the student I was making a transcript of the class for the school. That answer was not a falsehood, and its vagueness preserved the privacy of the student receiving services.
What if my course includes small- or large-group discussion?
Check in with your student about this at the beginning of the term. We will too.
In large group discussions with silences and back and forths, it can be hard for a D/deaf student to know whether anyone is even speaking or not. Use visual cues. For example, have students raise their hands before speaking. A free-wheeling discussion might seem better to you, but a slower pace can pause students and give them more of a chance to think before participating. Those conversations can be quality too.
Small group discussions may be more feasible for your student. It may be that a certain-sized group or seating formation works best. They may want the transcriber or microphone present in that group. Or they may be able to speech read or hear enough in close range.
If you don't hold a lot of discussions, but students occasionally ask questions or give comments, you can help the transcriber and the rest of the class by repeating what you hear a student ask or say before you respond. This is especially helpful in echo-y or large lecture halls.
If you have more questions...
Part 2 of this blog post series has a few more tips and tons of resources to help you think about classroom and curriculum accessibility more generally. And you are always welcome to get in touch with anyone at Strada with questions as well. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (866) 758-0194.
Ellie has been a TypeWell transcriber with Strada since 2015. A former teacher, she has an MFA in writing, and she lives in Upstate New York.