Vlog 2: But what about the subtitles?

I’m starting to get into the swing of my new vlog!

Edited vlog transcript

Hello again so it has been a little while since I last vlogged but that’s because I have been working on things and reflecting on my practice. This feels like the right time to come back. I have been thinking very actively about inclusive online spaces. Specifically, I have been thinking about Watch Parties. So, watch parties aren’t a new concept, we could think back to VHS tape, where you say… “I own a video and I would like to watch it with other people how about you come and watch it with me?”.

How that translates to Higher Education is that there’s been some really interesting use of the notion of a watch party as an alternative format instead of a traditional lecture format. So how that’s been working during Covid is that people would structure a session around lecture recordings rather than live lecturing over a webinar tool. They would record say 20-minute segments of a lecture and then have discussions in between those segments. Potentially have activities for students, but the idea is that the instructor would be watching alongside the students and there could be this active dialogue going on in the background with chat.

Why am I thinking about these [Watch Parties]? Well it goes back to January when there was a really good guide released by someone called Emily Nordmann at the University of Glasgow, Emily released a guide just outlining their key tips for running Watch Parties. It occurred to me that there was one thing that needed to be refined technically with watch parties and I wrote a blog about this which I will link to and that is how do we share that video effectively. So, if I think about Microsoft Teams which is the main teaching tool that I use on a day-to-day basis it has some really great screen sharing options, but they are exactly that they are screen sharing options. So, if I’m playing a video on my computer and I want to share that with other people my only option is to play that video on my computer and share it out to all of the people who are watching my session. You might be like well “yeah, everyone could just play press play at the same time on their own computers” and yes essentially that is what we are doing at the moment, but it sort of means that you’re not watching synchronously together and that’s part of the value proposition. There’s something really magical about watching other people watch things and watching things simultaneously with other people.

So, I’m a huge movie fan and the thing I miss the most right now is being able to go into a cinema and watch a scary movie. It’s the way you can feel the atmosphere in the room, and you can feel how other people are responding to the content that you’re all watching together at the same time. As of yet with online tools we don’t really have a great way of doing that. So, in Microsoft Teams if you play a video and you want everyone to watch it at more or less the same time your only option is to screen share that video but the number one issue with that is that for the people watching on the other end there’s potentially artifacting issues, there’s quality issues, there’s potentially broadband issues. It’s not it’s not a great experience really. If you need subtitles or you need to adjust the video in some way, you can’t do that because essentially what you’re seeing is a kind of frozen stream of that video, it’s not interactive you can’t turn on the subtitles. It is just my view of that video being shared with you.

“If you need subtitles or you need to adjust the video in some way, you can’t do that because essentially what you’re seeing is a kind of frozen stream of that video, it’s not interactive…”

I thought well there must be a better way of doing this. There must be some tools out there to do this and I did find some tools that are genuinely promising but the thing that really struck me was that almost everyone was overlooking subtitles and subtitles to me are part and parcel of the video itself like subtitles should be considered as part of every video interface. You’d build in theory, a tool, that allows you to embed a video and allows you to set a date and time for that video to play. I think the thing that got me was that you’d go to all of this effort putting in all this functionality and then you put in a user interface that overlaps the subtitles so for a whole bunch of people who could be enjoying this video with you, they can’t actually use the video. Or for me where I rely on subtitles to help decipher meaning or help me to process information it’s like I’d be missing half of the message. I just found it really interesting so yeah that was one of my main observations. If you build a video tool don’t overlook the subtitles because that’s so important and especially if you’re just letting people embed something like YouTube or Vimeo like all that subtitle functionality is already there so don’t build something that goes over the top of it so people can’t use it. Your frame should not interfere with that video, that video is its own object, and it needs to be viewed as an interaction tool in some way and not just as media, it’s an interaction. So that that was a key observation I’ve had over the last few weeks Another thing is that I did actually run a watch party yesterday and it was just so much fun.

[Comment: you will need to wait until the next post for more on this].

I must try and get all of this collated into a written blog because there’s lots of cool useful bits, I probably need to share thanks for watching!

Fiona MacNeill
Fiona MacNeill
Learning Consultant &
UX Researcher

Passionate about creating inclusive and accessible experiences, tools, and services for learning and doing.