An on-campus call center of remote transcribers? How one coordinator beat the scheduling squeeze.
Some universities hire on-site transcribers running around campus; others contract for remote transcription with agencies specializing in accessible communication services. But at least one institution has developed a call center concept combining live, on-call transcribers and remote transcribers.
Meet Laura Paulsen, call center coordinator at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Paulsen is a full-time university employee who transcribes 20 hours per week herself; the rest of her work time is spent scheduling service providers.
"Administrators here decided last year to put us all in a central location," Paulsen explained. "The advantage is that we can transcribe remotely from there, or if there is a problem or a difficult class like Calculus, we can put one of our people in the classroom."
"Our students' reaction so far has been mixed," she continued. "Some adore this model because when we're working remotely, students don't have someone sitting with them in class identifying them as 'different.' It's not a big deal to have the teacher wear a mic because students do this all the time.
"On the other hand, some students prefer to have a transcriber on-site because they feel they get more information that way, and the students don't have to carry equipment around. In those cases, we can accommodate them by putting one of our people in the classroom."
"The advantage is that we can transcribe remotely from [the call center], or if there is a problem or a difficult class like Calculus, we can put one of our people in the classroom."
Currently, BYUI has three online clients who are off-campus (in other states), and 12 students receiving services on campus. Of that latter group, all but two use exclusively remote services. The call center can also provide remote interpreters upon request.
All of the transcribers in the call center are part-time employees at BYUI, some of whom are also students at the university. Transcriber schedules vary between 19 and 35 hours per week. Whenever possible, all classes are teamed to avoid physical wear and tear on the transcribers.
Demand for services fluctuates from semester to semester, but not severely. Call center transcribers are free to take outside assignments with remote service providers to supplement their BYUI schedules. "We believe that these outside jobs strengthen the skills of our transcribers," said Paulsen.
The call center room at Brigham Young University-Idaho
"Students all start with on-site service and within two weeks, as they become more comfortable with the equipment, they can move to remote service," Paulsen explained. "There are fewer problems when we begin the semesters in the classroom to trouble-shoot. In fact, prior to the establishment of the call center, all students were given only transcription services on-site."
BYUI sets up remote classes a bit differently than schools that simply outfit their instructors with FM microphones. Though a handful of classes do use this set-up, about 90 percent of the time, a mic is placed on the student’s desk. This facilitates what the school terms "the learning model," which calls for lots of student participation. At Brigham Young University-Idaho, student participation comprises much of the classroom experience.
"If it's a subject you understand, you can do a better job transcribing it."
Transcribers have access to iLearn (iLearn.com), a educational portal similar to Blackboard (blackboard.com) or BrainHoney (brainhoney.com). Through this site, transcribers in the call center can access everything the students receive, such as PowerPoints, homework assignments, lecture notes, etc.
Paulsen tries to take into account the strengths and preferences of her transcribers, assigning individuals classes in which they will excel. She can also watch their transcripts in real time to see how they are doing. "If it's a subject you understand, you can do a better job transcribing it."
"Our tech guy has gotten us e-copies of all the textbooks used on campus. I put them on a flash drive, and we can use those as needed," she explained.
When professors are comfortable with transcribers in the classroom or even students receiving remote services, they often provide videos to the call center prior to using them in the classroom. In this way transcribers have time to find the captions for them online or elsewhere, or to create them.
"We think the call center is working out well and improves camaraderie," said Paulsen. "If someone is not available to cover a class, we can pull someone else in. It’s easier to reassign a transcriber when we're all here together. If someone's computer is down, we can swap it out."
The call center is a concept that might not work everywhere, but it certainly seems to be working well for the transcribers at BYUI.
All call center images courtesy of Christie Keogan at BYUI.