Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Captions for the Internet - Guest Post

The first part of today's post is from Jaime Berke. Jamie has been an About guide since 1997. Her job history includes managing a closed captioning website and before that, a deaf adoption news service. She was also active in the early "Caption Action" effort of the late 80s to early 90s to increase closed captioning on videotapes. Her resume also includes a four-year stint at the National Captioning Institute in the early 90s, plus she had also worked part time at the National Information Center on Deafness (now Info to Go) at Gallaudet University. Currently, she works at a day job in the "hearing world." By day she interacts with hearing people and attends meetings with the help of interpreters, and at night at home, with deaf people.

What educator would not want the benefits of a technology that costs school districts nothing, yet has huge educational potential? Right now, there is a bill in Congress that would do just that!

This bill is HR 3101, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009. It was introduced on June 26, 2009 by Representative Ed Markey (D-MA). The Act would update the Communications Act so that it would apply to the Internet. Internet technology has progressed by leaps and bounds, yet the law has not kept up.

HR 3101 is divided into two parts: A Communications part, and a Video part. The Communications part has to do, for example, with Internet-based telephone services, hearing aid compatibility for Internet-based phone services, and extends funding obligations for relay services to Internet-based phone service providers. It is the Video part that has much potential to benefit teachers!

The Video part of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 would update the outdated law so that television programming broadcast on the Internet would have to be closed captioned. While there is currently some captioned programming on the Internet, it is still limited compared to the vast amount of Internet-based television programming. But that is not all! Current law only requires that television screens 13 inches or larger be capable of showing closed captions; the Act would update the law so that all video programming devices would have to be able to show closed captions.

Why is this so important to educators? The educational benefits of captions! Captioning has long since been proven to help children learning to read, and adults learning English as a second language. Parents know this, and more and more parents are making sure to turn on the captions when their young children are watching television. Teachers benefit from captions too, because when a child is watching a captioned program, they are getting print language exposure and vocabulary reinforcement.

Studies have been done that demonstrate the benefits of captions, as reported in Benefits of Captioning for Hearing Children and English as a Second Language Learners. In addition, the Described and Captioned Media Program sums up these educational benefits of captions on their Read Captions Across America web site. (Read Captions Across America is a partnership with the National Education Association).

So imagine the potential for a teacher in the classroom! With more and more schools relying on the Internet as a source of affordable (free) educational material, this bill is critically important to the future of the education of America's children! A teacher could have a class watch an assigned Internet video in the classroom on their computers, and then quiz the class on the caption vocabulary. A teacher could turn off the sound, forcing the students to learn from the video solely through print vocabulary alone.

Students going home on the school bus would be able to watch captioned video on their portable video devices, getting even more vocabulary reinforcement. At home, the student would get still more vocabulary exposure watching their favorite programs on the Internet. Recently, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reported that students are spending more than 7 hours a day using electronic media. HR 3101 could therefore literally triple the print vocabulary exposure of students!

Currently, HR 3101 has 30 cosponsors in Congress, listed below. If you are a teacher and you want HR 3101 passed in Congress, call or write your Representative! If you are on Facebook, you can also join Caption Action 2, a cause that supports HR 3101. In addition, HR 3101 is spearheaded by the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), On the COAT website is a summary of the bill, and a list of affiliates. It costs organizations nothing to join COAT. Membership is free - but members must commit to working for the passage of HR 3101.

Jaime Berke

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