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How I conquered my fear of math: a transcriber's journey.

TypeWell transcribers can work in a number of disciplines, from English to history to even heating and air conditioning courses (I know this from personal experience). But what happens if you are in a math class with complex equations, like statistics or calculus? For example, below is an equation from statistics to find the "inverse normal" in a set of data:

Math Equation

To transcribe this in normal English, I would have to type: "z equals x minus mu all divided by sigma." This version is wordy and can take up a lot of space on both the reader's and transcriber's computer. 

I read through the math tutorial built into the transcriber software a few months ago.  But when I finished, I thought, "now what?" 

To help transcribers' fingers, TypeWell created Math Mode, which is a mode in the transcriber software that includes abbreviations for symbols like "plus," "multiply," and other math or specialized vocabulary. This mode helps me type the equation above in fraction format, rather than translating it into an English sentence.

I read through the math tutorial built into the transcriber software a few months ago. But when I finished, I thought, "now what?" I learned how to type some math and science symbols — others just went over my head — but I didn't really know how to use Math Mode effectively during a lecture.

Mastery Highway

photo credit: jenhegna1 via photopin cc

To address this concern, I attended Sharon Allen Brown's presentation on using Math Mode at the TypeWell conference in Portland, Oregon last April. I thought, "maybe I'll get faster and be able to use Math Mode like an awesome transcriber!"

But one point in Sharon's presentation really surprised me, and since then has stuck with me:  "Transcribe the lecture, not just the notes."

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing don't have access to that aural explanation of the problem unless we transcribe it. What's important to capture are the verbal explanations of the problem-solving process — not simply a series of equations written on the board.

Sharon's advice makes sense and eases me a little. Seeing scribbled notes on the board brings me back to my own school days, frantically taking down equations on the board and trying to follow along with the class. In hindsight, all that equation-scribbling was an important part of my learning. But I am no longer a math student — I am a transcriber, and as Sharon reminded us, I am a "conduit of information."

In most math classes, the teacher works through a problem step by step, thinking out loud while the students follow the instructor's train of thought.  Students who are deaf or hard of hearing don't have access to that aural explanation of the problem unless we transcribe it. What's important to capture are the verbal explanations of the problem-solving process — not simply a series of equations written on the board.

A good rule of thumb — when the instructor is speaking too quickly to capture everything from the board in addition to what's being said — is to at least include the original equation and the final solution in the transcript. This helps the student to orient herself when referencing the transcript later, even if you don't have time to copy down each step in between.  Some resourceful students even take snapshots of the board with their phones, merging them later into their notes.  

With my new knowledge, I now breathe easier and feel more confident about transcribing math courses. The student gets the information she needs, and I can save my mind by not trying to transcribe every single calc-level equation from the board. Instead, I just need to use my ears and chunk the instructor's thoughts, meaning-for-meaning, in a way that's easy to understand.

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Carly Gerard

Carly Gerard is a TypeWell transcriber and writer for TypeWell. Although she is comfortable with Math Mode, Carly would prefer an English class any day.

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