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Going Remote: What the Future Holds

Just over a year ago, the Transcribers at West Virginia University moved out of the classroom and began providing services entirely through remote transcription. In the process, they learned to embrace technology, rather than fighting it. So what does the future hold? To read more about this experience, check out part one and part two of this series.

Some days, the urge to push against technology is strong. From our office on the outskirts, it is easy to look out the window on a bright, sunny morning and long for those days of walking around West Virginia University’s scenic campus, hurrying from one class to the next. 

The words 'planned obsolescence' are used often in our office, the catch-phrase for everything we are trying to avoid.

Of course, compared to what we have given up, the gains have been substantial. We just got done installing new docking stations in our office with large monitors that will allow us to use two screens when transcribing (one for notes, the other for TypeWell)—one station for every Transcriber—the kind of setup that would be the envy of any office on campus. We have comfortable chairs, storage for our belongings, and other creature comforts that we never had before.

Tidy, organized transcriber office with window

As word gets out about transcription as an accommodation, the demand for our services will only increase. We cannot be everywhere at once, but thanks to remote transcribing, we can be more places more of the time. The possibility exists now for us to do as Interpreters do—to work University events that are not related to specific classes, to provide our services to staff and the general public, as well as students. We haven’t squashed every bug in the system yet, but the overall experience, for Transcribers and students alike, is better than it ever has been, and through the work we do now, we ensure that it will only continue to improve as we move into the future.

As the push toward universal design gains momentum, Transcribers are going to be more valuable than ever.

While remote transcribing may never fully replace on-site transcribing at most institutions, we believe that it is one prominent face of the future. That’s to say, using technology to provide transcription services to more people across larger distances seems to be a growing reality. For us, it is also an opportunity.

We cannot be everywhere at once, but thanks to remote transcribing, we can be more places more of the time.

The words "planned obsolescence" are used often in our office, the catch-phrase for everything we are trying to avoid. We’ve sat through classes where professors have opted to use terrible YouTube captioning instead of having the captioning done in-house. We know that, if something is not easy and convenient, people will often gravitate instinctively toward lesser options, choosing ease and expediency over quality. Eventually, voice recognition software will improve. If we are to continue to remain useful, then we need to continue to make it clear, to the students that we serve and the administrators who pay for those services, that employing human Transcribers is a better choice than purchasing software. We can accomplish this, not by resisting technological advancement, but by using technology to refine our approach.

A couple of weeks ago, we began classes again here at West Virginia University. We arrived at the Office of Accessibility Services with schedules in hand and a folder full of syllabi and course notes. We donned our headphones, opened up the TypeWell Transcriber software, called our students, and resumed a process that began a little under a year ago. 

Transcriber wearing large headphones, typing on a laptop at a desk in an office

It hasn’t been perfect. A few calls have been garbled, muffled, or otherwise distorted. Some of that is due to unfamiliarity—students are still figuring out their equipment and the best place to position their microphone in the classroom. Some of it may be issues with the equipment itself, the internet connection, or the software.

It can be frustrating. We run into glitches. We plot solutions, consider new approaches. 

But then a call comes through and it’s as clear as a concert hall. Closing your eyes, it’s as though the teacher is speaking directly to you. You hear everything. You capture everything. And your transcribing finds another gear you didn’t know existed. The next call comes in, and it happens again. Students who had previously declined services start showing up, enticed by the new technology. A quiet buzz starts building in the office. And you realize this is actually working.

sidebar photo credit: Beats by Dre on top of a MacBook pro via photopin (license)


Jason Kapcala

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

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.

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Guest contributors: Jason Kapcala and Holly Fox-Schauffner

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