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Using MAGpie 2.0 (Media Access Generator, version 2.0) from NCAM

Geoff Freed
Project Manager
CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
WGBH Educational Foundation
125 Western Ave.
Boston, MA 02134
voice: 617 300-4223
fax: 617 300-1035
e-mail: geoff_freed@wgbh.org


The CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) is a research and development facility dedicated to the issues of media technology for disabled people in their homes, schools, workplaces, and communities. NCAM's mission is to expand access to present and future media for people with disabilities; to explore how existing access technologies may benefit other populations; to represent its constituents in industry, policy and legislative circles; and to provide access to educational and media technologies for special needs students.

NCAM is also pioneering the use of accessible multimedia, both on the Web and in the classroom, through projects which educate software and hardware developers, design new media access devices and procedures, and in general help assure that disabled people can reap the benefits of electronic and educational media.

One project at NCAM is expected to have a particularly wide effect on accessible multimedia on the Web and in the classroom. The Media Access Generator (MAGpie), NCAM's digital captioning application, originally released in mid-2000, has been redesigned and re-released as version 2.0. Intended to simplify the process of adding closed captions and audio descriptions to digital media, MAGpie 2.0 expands and improves the application's original capabilities. With more and more on-line distance-learning Web sites taking advantage of multimedia, MAGpie could have a significant impact on the amount of multimedia which is accessible to deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and visually impaired users.

MAGpie 2.0

Developers of Web- and CD-ROM-based multimedia need an authoring application for making their materials accessible to persons with disabilities. MAGpie allows authors to add captions and audio descriptions to multimedia in formats used by several popular players. MAGpie 1.0 has been used since 1999 by educators and webmasters everywhere to add captions to digital media. MAGpie 2.0 greatly improves the application's captioning capabilities, as well as its ability to integrate audio descriptions into multimedia. And because it is Java-based, MAGpie 2.0 works nearly identically on both the PC (Windows 9x, 2000, NT 4 and Millennium Edition) or Macintosh OS X. MAGpie 2.0 was released in the fall of 2001.

Funding for MAGpie 2.0 is provided by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education; and by the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin. MAGpie may be downloaded at no charge from NCAM's Web site.

Adding captions to multimedia with MAGpie 2.0

The MAGpie 2.0 caption interface is based on a grid, as shown below.

Screen shot of MAGpie 2.0 editor

The user can transcribe the original media's soundtrack into discrete caption cells, or import the transcript from an existing external file. After formatting the text into separate captions and applying stylistic effects such as colored text or backgrounds, timecodes are assigned to the captions by playing the original media and pressing a single key once per caption. Captions can also be segmented so that individual words or phrases are highlighted at specific intervals, producing a read-along effect.

Once the captions have been properly formatted and timed, the user can combine the captions with the original media without exiting the application itself, as illustrated below.

Screen shot of MAGpie 2.0

Captions can be reviewed for timing accuracy and typographical errors, and corrections can be made in the editor. When the work is finished, the user can create a complete captioned multimedia presentation in two popular playback formats: SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language), which is playable with the QuickTime Player, RealPlayer or GRiNS player; or Microsoft SAMI (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange), playable with the Windows Media Player. MAGpie can also create a plain text transcript for export or printout.

Below are screen shots of what captions look like in three different multimedia players.

Captions displayed using the QuickTime Player:

Frame from a captioned QuickTime movie

Captions displayed using the RealPlayer:

Frame from a captioned SMIL movie

Captions displayed using Windows Media Player:

SAMI captioning in Windows Media Player

Adding Audio Descriptions to Multimedia with MAGpie 2.0

The audio-description capabilities of MAGpie 2.0 have been greatly improved from the previous version of the software. The user can now record audio descriptions directly into MAGpie, instead of having to use a separate sound-recording application. Audio descriptions may be recorded to fit into existing pauses in the original media's soundtrack, or the user may choose to pause the media and insert an extended audio description. Timing is handled similarly to captions in that the user plays the original media and presses a single key to assign a playback timecode to each audio description. Audio descriptions may be reviewed, re-recorded or re-timed as necessary before automatically integrating them into a QuickTime, RealPlayer or GRiNS SMIL presentation. (Microsoft's SAMI format does not currently support audio descriptions.)

Using MAGpie in the Classroom

Today, more and more educators are taking advantage of digital media and the ease with which it can be recorded, edited and distributed to students and other teachers via the Web or CD-ROM. MAGpie will provide a simple, no-cost method for teachers to add accessibility features to the video and audio clips they use in the classroom.

Teachers of deaf and hard-of-hearing students have long used captioned media on videotape to make educational programs more accessible to their students. Other educators are also discovering the many and varied uses of captioning. Teachers of English as a second language find that listening to and seeing English improves their students' ability to learn new vocabulary and enhances their reading fluency. Middle and high-school teachers report that captioned video provides just the hook they need to motivate students to read. Once students' attention is captured by a favorite program, the teacher can turn off the sound and students must read the captions to find out what happens. Teachers of disabled students appreciate the multisensory nature of captioned television. The rich visual images help many students make sense of the spoken language and print. Moreover, students are more willing to re-read a videotape, which adds to their reading fluency and comprehension.

Students benefit in many ways from the classroom use of captioning. Both the process of writing captions and creating a finished product to show others contribute to the learning value of captioning.

During the writing process...

  1. the video draws students in, holds their interest and helps them focus their attention on the task at hand. Even students who don't like to write find it interesting to write with video.
  2. students must participate in and use the video actively, not passively.
  3. the video provides a topic and structure for writing-- necessary for organization for many students.
  4. students focus on specific, targeted skills, and willingly spend more time on their project, learning both concepts and skills with depth and thoroughness.
  5. students get concrete visual feedback that helps them evaluate whether their text makes sense.

When students make their own captioned movies, they...

  1. are motivated to write well and edit their work.
  2. take pride in their work. As their confidence grows, they are willing to take more risks with their writing.
  3. gain a new way to demonstrate to others what they really know. By keeping videos in a portfolio, they can see their skills improve over time.

Teachers benefit because...

  1. they gain a new and different way to reflect on student progress.
  2. the more they know about gaps in students' understanding, the more they can gear their lessons toward students' needs.

Like captions, audio descriptions also can help students gain better understanding in the classroom. See a description of NCAM's eDescription project, below, for more details.

Further Information

NCAM's Access to Rich Media project is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about MAGpie and accessible multimedia. Visitors to this site will find a listing of applications used to create various types of multimedia, tutorials on creating captioned and described movies, and information on current research to help developers understand and deal with accessibility issues. Tutorials on adding captions and audio descriptions to multimedia, and making other forms of rich media accessible, may be found here, as well. Finally, users may download MAGpie or view many examples of accessible multimedia, many of which were created with MAGpie.

Funding for the Rich Media Accessibility resource center provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education.

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