1999 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents


Dr. Robert H. Paine
Visiting Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
College of Science
Rochester Institute of Technology
Telephone: 716-475-2516
Fax: 716-475-5766

The original project, instantaneous closed captioning of videotapes used with Distance Learning Chemistry courses by voice recognition technology, was conceived to save both time and money while maintaining high quality productions. As the initial work has proceeded, some unexpected pedagogic synergism has appeared.

One goal of the Department of Chemistry at Rochester Institute of Technology, and of the Institute itself, is the advancement of Chemistry as a major science throughout the world. As part of this goal, this paper describes a logical but significantly unique step in improving the educational effectiveness of Distance Learning courses in Chemistry. When achieved, these techniques may be applied to other Distance Learning Science courses.

Distance Learning as a methodology has been in vogue at Rochester Institute of Technology for more than 21 years and has gained wide acceptance throughout educational institutions globally. Because of Rochester Institute of Technology 's early entry in this innovative pedagogy, videotapes and compact disks have become a welcome, non-intimidating means of presenting lecture material in Chemistry and other sources. It is the intent of this work to improve the present methods of presentation of Distance Learning and to further Rochester Institute of Technology's leadership in Distance Learning pedagogy and practices.

Before describing this effort it is valid to first state the author's definition of Distance Learning:

Distance Learning is often described as education "anywhere, any time," which usually means bringing the course material to the student, rather than the student to the course. Today and well into the future, this particular definition suits the part time student who is gainfully employed and is striving to gain his/her degree concurrently. Videotapes and ancillary functions make this quite feasible; the student is more able to fit study hours to his/her own schedule rather than a rigorous class schedule.

However, as we view these techniques, it is readily apparent that the methodology can be utilized by all students, full-time, part-time or co-op, anywhere in the world. The financial pressures and burdens of collegiate education have presented us with a situation where more than 60% of the full time are working part-time to help pay for their college education. I would like to suggest the following somewhat broader definition for Distance Learning:

"Distance Learning embraces those technologies which are utilized for educational processes whenever the student and the professor are separated by distance and/or time."

The last phrase then lets us divide all Distance Learning categories into four main partitions:

  1. Remote sites, where groups of students come together to review previously prepared lecture material, and interact with the professor in recitation meetings and via telephone and telewriter (a two-way electronic magic slate, also transmitted via telephone wires).
  2. Home sites for students who wish to pursue a program, but are not associated with groups listed in 1).
  3. Full-time students whose study/working schedules do not have sufficient flexibility to permit them to follow the usual educational schedule.

    a) On-campus students
    b) Continuing Education students
    c) Weekend College students

  4. The student in this growing category utilizes the videotapes and the Ethernet to communicate with the professor; this expanding category permits registration of students in Chemistry courses all over the world, and will soon eclipse some of the first three categories. Rochester Institute of Technology is a comprehensive, independent technological university, which is predominantly a teaching institution, and enrolls over 16,000 students in a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs. Founded in 1829, Rochester Institute of Technology has throughout its history been known as a university that is committed to technology-based education that has meaningful application to industry and the community at large.

The University is comprised of seven colleges: Applied Science and Technology, Business, Continuing Education, Engineering, Imaging Arts and Sciences, Liberal Arts, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and Science.

For many years the National Technical Institute for the Deaf has been situated at Rochester Institute of Technology; Rochester Institute of Technology is considered a world leader for educational support of the hearing impaired. More than 1,100 deaf students from across the United States as well as from several U.S. territories and other countries study and reside at Rochester Institute of Technology each year.

The National Technical Institute for the Deaf provides Rochester Institute of Technology's deaf students with technical and professional training in over 30 programs. And the National Technical Institute for the Deaf education prepares students for technical careers in areas such as applied accounting, applied art and computer graphics, applied computer technology, engineering technologies, ophthalmic optical finishing technology and photomedia technologies, to name a few. Most of these programs require proficiency in fundamental chemistry.

Since 1977, Rochester Institute of Technology has been offering a variety of college courses for Distance Learning students, employing multi-media techniques, including creation and presentation of lecture materials via videotapes. Beginning in 1992, the Department of Chemistry prepared Chemistry courses (Chemical Principles I & II, Fundamental Chemistry, Introduction to Chemistry of Materials, Introduction to Organic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry I and Biochemistry I) for various Distance Learning programs. This is an expanding effort and more Chemistry courses offered by this methodology are planned.

Many National Technical Institute for the Deaf students desire and need courses in College Chemistry (listed above). For these students to avail themselves of Distance Learning courses in Chemistry, since there has been no closed captioning on these tapes, there are two alternatives presently available: the student must hire an interpreter to translate the audio portion of each tape; or preparation of exact scripts for closed captions must be prepared well in advance and executed, or if after the fact, an exact synchronization with each tape is required. Both of these methods are expensive and lengthy.

Over the past several years, some modest experimentation has proceeded with great success, delight and some revelations. One such experiment is described:

A group of students were gathered in a TV studio/lecture room (four hearing-impaired students and sixteen others) and were told of the experiment. The room was prepared for Chemistry Lecture Demonstrations and all proceedings were recorded on videotape. A large TV monitor was available so students would see the live action, but where captioning could be superimposed, as well as on tape. Two phone lines were available, linked to a stenotypist-captioner 40 miles distant. The first phone line was to carry the voice of the Professor (RHP) to the captioner, the second for the return of the captioning. One half hour before the start, a list of technical chemical terms was sent by Fax to the typist-captioner. Present also was an American Sign Language interpreter. With only two mistakes, this hour experiment succeeded more than expected.

The return of the captioning was almost instantaneous and none of the students watched the Professor or the interpreter; all were glued to their images on the screen! The students asked if they could expect this every session! (Total costs for this hour: $400).

What we observed in this live presentation is that hearing-impaired students (as well as all others present) no longer had to divide their attention: glance at the interpreter, then glance at the instructor - back and forth - through the entire lecture. The students' attention was now directed to one single place - the TV monitor - where words and actions were simultaneously displayed. These students exhibited a degree of concentration not previously seen in our "regular" presentations. And further, as our original project planned, there will be significant time and dollar savings. However, our delight is that we see a significant improvement in teaching effectiveness, and frustration and intimidation have been minimized.

Further examination of these techniques reveals that the audience served by closed captioning is much greater and includes:

  1. Hearing-impaired students
  2. Dyslexic students
  3. Students who are slow readers or slow note takers
  4. Students for whom English is a second language

It is the intent to implement Voice Recognition Technology to provide instantaneous captioning and eliminate other costly methods, while improving the quality and the pedagogy in the Chemistry courses. Should sufficient statistical evaluation be available at the time of this paper, these data will also be presented.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 1999 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.