2001 Conference Proceedings

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Dr. Robert H. Paine
Visiting Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
College of Science, Rochester Institute of Technology
85 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, New York 14623-5603
Telephone: 716-475-2516
Fax: 716-475-7800

This presentation described the experiences encountered while using voice recognition technology (VRT) for instantaneously creating captioning on videotapes of lectures for two new sequential chemistry courses to be used for distance-learning (DL). Part One, titled "Voice Recognition: An Unexpected Synergism" was presented at the 1999 "Technology and Disabled Persons" conference. Part Two, titled "Voice Recognition: A More Complete Story" was presented at the 2000 "Technology and Disabled Persons" conference. The following describes the work that has been supported by a grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation for the advancement of Chemical Sciences.

Distance Learning as a methodology has been in vogue at Rochester Institute of Technology for more than 22 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 courses. It is the intent of this work to add instantaneous captioning to this present method of presentation of Distance Learning and to further Rochester Institute of Technology's leadership in Distance Learning pedagogy and practices.

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, 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."

Our DL programs have been and continue to be successful student learning experiences for the following reasons:

The student can study any time he wishes.

The tapes can be rerun, stopped or repeated to match the students' note taking and comprehension rates.

Videotape material is not as intimidating as a formal lecture might be.

Rochester Institute of Technology is a comprehensive, independent technological university, which is predominantly a teaching institution, that enrolls over 17,000 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. An 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, Fundamentals of Chemistry, Introduction to Chemistry of Materials, Introduction to Organic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry I, Biochemistry I, Biochemistry: Conformation and Dynamics and Biochemistry: Metabolism) 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, as well as hearing-impaired students throughout the world, 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.

To overcome these disadvantages, efforts have been directed toward conversion of voice signals to printed alpha-numeric. This project examined the voice recognition technologies available (IBM et al.) to convert voice signals into visual words which appear instantaneously on a television monitor and are simultaneously printed on the videotape (and streaming video as a future direction) as they are produced. Successful accomplishment of this means that all study materials will be available to hearing impaired students right away, rather than after a two to three week delay. These techniques will also be utilized to close caption Chemistry tapes which have already been produced.

It is recognized that the Science of Chemistry, like all mini-cultures, has developed an argot which may require specialized software preparation to complete these goals. For example, the spoken syllables "aitch two ess of four" will have to be translated and printed as "H 2 S 0 4"; "see aa see ell two" as C a C 1 2" and so forth.

The Department of Chemistry here at RIT initiated DL with foundation chemistry courses supporting the Electrical/Mechanical Technology BS degree program in 1992.

The success of this program allowed us to add it to the RIT Summer program; in this instance, students rented the tapes for viewing at home, and came to campus for weekly recitations. The following year these programs were offered at several community college sites in western New York. As the enrollment of these classes grew, it was inevitable that some hearing-impaired students would register; captioning for this portion of our student body became requisite. The usual methods of scripting and captioning were both time consuming and expensive.

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 to 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.

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:

Hearing-impaired students

Dyslexic students

Students who are slow readers or slow note takers

Students for whom English is a second language

Many are now engaged in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). These are simple, such as short verbal commands into your telephone, slightly longer commands used to control computer functions; in 2001, Cadillac owners will be able to push a button and then use voice-activated commands to access their e-mail. On the other hand, some companies have retailed very extensive software, designed to recognize many spoken words, often to print them out on a computer screen. These are very helpful for users in those categories described earlier. However, there is less effort being focused on converting the output of these software programs into the printed word, and more specifically into captions on tapes.

After examining the available voice-recognition software, the Dragon Naturally Speaking® software, Professional Version, was selected. One chief advantage of this software was its extensive (20,000+-word) vocabulary.

This presentation will describe the efforts, successes and nuances that have occurred while taping two chemistry courses before live classes. It will include the expected, the unexpected and the thrills which occurred during these courses. Following this, I will speculate on our future course of action and efforts, and other applications.

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