Going Remote: Leaving the Classroom
Tucked away in a quiet corner of West Virginia University’s Evansdale Campus sits our office. It’s decorated modestly with family photos, portable cork boards, chemistry-symbol cheat sheets, and ever-changing class schedules. It smells of the endless pots of coffee we guzzle—high-test fuel. And, at any given time, the air may be filled with the clacking of thirty rapidly typing fingers.
We didn’t always work from a central location. Once, we were nomads, traveling from one classroom to the next, fighting traffic, trolling the parking lots in search of parking. But times have changed, and we’ve had to adapt to better serve the growing population of students who are deaf and hard of hearing at WVU and its regional campuses.
WVU's transcribers now work from a centralized office on campus instead of going into the classroom to provide services.
When other Transcribers learn that we work entirely via remote, the first question they ask is usually, “Why did you make the switch?” It’s a question with many answers. Becoming full-time, benefits-eligible employees of the University meant embracing a new set of expectations: an increased need for us to be present in the Office of Accessibility Services, a different set of established time-keeping procedures, and, above all else, the demand for us to cover more classes in more places than ever before (including classes at Potomac State College, ninety miles away).
Switching to remote transcribing would mean dramatically increasing our efficiency and our flexibility.
West Virginia University is unusual in that it comprises two main campuses (Downtown and Evansdale), separated by a steep mile-and-a-half stretch of road. Morgantown is a small town with a large population. Gridlock is a real problem. Parking is almost non-existent. Students and staff typically travel between campuses using designated bus lines, or else they crowd shoulder to shoulder, waiting to ride WVU’s one-of-a-kind personal rapid transit, which vaguely resembles the monorail at Disney. Switching to remote transcribing would not only mean avoiding these pitfalls; it would mean dramatically increasing our efficiency and our flexibility.
"The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system is a unique and easy-to-use transportation solution for WVU students, faculty, staff, and the Morgantown community." (photo: Sheree Wentz)
In order to make this change from in-class transcribing to remote transcribing a functional reality, we had to make many decisions about our work space, our technology, and our procedures. We needed a room large enough to house both the Transcribers and the Interpreters at WVU. It needed to be part of the main Office of Accessibility Services but also separate enough to insulate us from the normal office distractions—whirring copy machines, ringing phones, the constant stream of students and employees.
Our work space had to have a fast, reliable internet connection, and it needed to have secure storage for expensive equipment and sensitive records.
We also had to make sure that the campus itself was equipped to manage this change. That meant working to build communication between our office and other campus offices, such as ITS and Student Services, in order to have Wi-Fi access points installed both here and at Potomac State, addressing known dead zones with connectivity issues and arranging the proper funding for upgrades. Finally, we needed help from our brilliant Assistive Technology Specialist Lisa to make sure that both students and Transcribers had access to the technology that they would need in order to make it seem as though the Transcribers were still right there in classroom—namely, high-powered microphones, reader devices, secure remote networking software, and our trusty lap tops loaded with TypeWell.
Because this transition occurred between fall and spring semesters, we had only weeks to put all of this in place. Still, come the New Year, we moved into our new home, a tabula rasa of empty desk drawers and plain white cubicles, and began figuring out how to adjust to a new manner of service provision.
There were definitely growing pains (as you’ll see in the next blog entry), but as we continued pushing forward, we did so with the collective philosophy that all transcribing assignments present unique challenges; our job as service providers was to be “problem solvers,” to figure out how to meet each challenge as it arose.
If we waited on “perfection”—for technology to reach its zenith, that point in time where every bug had been eliminated from the system—then we would be waiting forever.
So, we made the leap from classroom to Transcriber/Interpreter Room. We peeled the old placard off the wall, planted our flag in the name of accessibility, and haven’t looked back since.
>> Part two: Challenges and Triumphs
Jason Kapcala is Lead Transcriber for West Virginia University’s Office of Accessibility Services. Prior to becoming a Transcriber, he worked as a writer and college English instructor. His fiction, poetry, and nonfiction has appeared in a number of magazines and journals. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, listening to rock music, and working on his Dodge Challenger.
Holly Fox-Schauffner is the Coordinator of Auxiliary Aids for West Virginia University’s Office of Accessibility Services. She began working as a sign language Interpreter in 2000 before transitioning into the role of Lead Transcriber and eventually Coordinator of Auxiliary Aids. In her spare time, Holly enjoys playing guitar, landscaping, skiing, and spending time with her partner, Enis, and their three children, Paige, Rune, and Kadence.