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For the last six months the University of Melbourne, Ai-Media and innovation charity Nesta have been working together in partnership to explore the potential of real-time captioning and transcription in schools across England, with the aim of helping to improve both student access and teachers’ professional development. This work has been funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity set up with a £125m grant from the UK government to fund and evaluate promising educational interventions to address the needs of disadvantaged children.

Real-time captioning and transcription have been used for some time in education to provide access to learning for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. During a school trial in Australia, Ai-Media and The University of Melbourne noticed that not only was it improving access for deaf students, but many non-deaf students were also using the transcripts to review the lessons for revision, and many of the teachers were using them to reflect on their professional practice.

In ‘The Visible Classroom’ project we have been trialling Ai-Media’s technology coupled with the educational expertise of the University of Melbourne. Thirty-five primary school teachers have been running real-time captions in their class, with children able to read their words as they speak and review explanations during the lesson by looking back at the transcript. This gives the children a ‘second go’ at the learning, catching up on what they may have missed or misunderstood. They also have the opportunity to rate the learning in each lesson through a feedback survey at the end of every lesson, giving their teacher data on how effective they think the lessons have been.

Once the lesson has finished, teachers can access the transcript of their entire lesson and reflect on the elements that went well. This makes visible to them how their planning and intentions actually translate into action in the complex environment of the classroom.

Throughout the project we have been developing the feedback teachers can get from these transcripts, with researchers at the University of Melbourne analysing the transcripts and providing a dashboard of data on aspects of their teaching. These include the balance of teacher and pupil speech, the types of questions pupils are asking, and how often teachers draw links between learning and the real world in their explanations.

In our initial training days, some of the teachers were sceptical about how useful captions would be for the seven to eleven year olds in their classes unless they experienced difficulties with their hearing. Many of them have been pleasantly surprised to see that pupils have been spontaneously looking back through the transcripts to check their understanding of tasks. This has been a collaborative pilot project and the teachers have been feeding back on their use of the technology throughout, helping us to develop it and maximise the impact of this technique for supporting both teachers and their pupils.

The teachers have also reported that they have been able to look at their lesson with different eyes by looking back through the transcripts and analytics.

I have had my own teaching and training sessions transcribed throughout the project, and I felt the immediate awareness that this can bring. I noticed that I tend to over-explain the instructions for tasks, taking the focus away from the content I am teaching and instead focusing on procedure. Since becoming aware of this I have managed to make my instructions much more succinct and precise, allowing the learners to focus more on the content of the lesson rather than just understanding what I tell them to do.

The pilot has been independently evaluated by NatCen Social Research. Its report will be published later this year, informing the ‘EEF Toolkit’ of research evidence into educational interventions.

We await NatCen’s results on the impact that this process has had on learning and professional development. However, it has been clear from my conversations with teachers, and my own experience, that this opportunity to take a second look into what happens in lessons and explore some of the key features of your teaching could be a powerful tool for developing learning in schools.

Written by Oliver Quinlan, Project Manager – Digital Education, Nesta

Oliver Quinlan