Transcription as deep listening

By Rebecca J. Hogue, Helen DeWaard, and Britni Brown O’Donnell

[Helen] As a Virtually Connecting virtual buddy I’ve had so many great conversations that leave an impression on my thinking. The voices within the Virtually Connecting hangout from the Digital Pedagogy PEI with Audrey Watters and Jesse Stommel left echoes resonating in my thoughts. I felt a strong need to re-listen to honor the voices and listen deeply to the messages shared.

As an educator I’ve always considered the importance of ensuring everyone can access learning materials in a variety of ways. Universal design for learning is a big consideration for my teaching practice. This includes the provision of an accurate closed-captioned transcript to accompany video. As I began to review the Virtually Connecting session, I realized that creating an accurate transcript could become a mechanism for me to listen deeply and reflect on the ideas shared.

Out of the flow of conversation, interjections and laughter, the meaning and message began to crystallize and clarify. As I corrected the timing, synched words with speakers and edited the errors made in the automated transcription, I was able to catch nuances and a depth in the dialogue that I missed the first time I experienced the conversation. While the closed-captioning process can be tedious at times, the transcription work for this Virtually Connecting session became an opportunity to enjoy and gain insight from the moments of humour and camaraderie between the onsite and virtual participants. By completing the transcription process I was able to not just hear the words but make sense of the conversation.

It started as a way for me to review the session and to listen to the conversation in a more controlled and relaxed way (stopping, starting, replaying, fixing text to match the words). It became a purposeful process to pay attention to the message, gain meaning and understanding of the ideas that emerged, and honor the voices of those sharing their thoughts. In the end, the transcription process gave me a reason to spend more time with the individuals involved, get to know them better through their words and actions, and to listen deeply.

[Rebecca]: When Helen first mentioned to me that she had spent a few hours correcting the YouTube transcription for a Virtually Connecting session, I was inspired. In previous work I was required to find a way to close-caption videos, so I was familiar with the concepts of closed-captioning. I had heard that YouTube provided auto-captions, but the quality of those captions was not adequate for anything being posted on the university’s YouTube channel. We ended up paying for transcription services, but that option isn’t feasible for Virtually Connect. At $1/minute, we just couldn’t afford it.

In addition to the accessibility aspect, Helen mentioned that the act of going through the YouTube recording at the slower pace, and validating and correcting errors in the closed caption transcript helped her listen more deeply to what was said, I immediately saw the value in it.

I also had a secondary motivation. If researchers were to use what we were saying in the video they would need a transcript. The transcript would make it a lot easier for researcher to quote the video or paraphrase what was said and to give the right person credit for their words.

I started with transcription of the ePatient blog video, but discovered that YouTube had not done the first pass auto-transcription. Although YouTube has a pretty cool transcription tool that stops the playback automatically every time you type, this meant that transcription was taking more time than I had. After some investigation I learned that the video was too long (over 90 minutes). I downloaded the video, clipped it into three smaller videos, and re-uploaded them. Almost instantaneously YouTube provided the first pass close captioning.

While I was waiting for the ePatient blogging clips, I went back to the Virtually Connecting ePatient Launch and cleaned up the closed caption transcript for that video. I as I was doing it, I was reminded of the rich conversation we had during the launch. I found myself taking notes about what we were saying but also hearing what others were say. I found myself really listening. I was reminded of a research article I had read in my first year of my PhD studies (i.e. Bird, 2005).

In addition to deep listening and providing accessible content and transcripts for research, I also see this process as helpful in my PhD studies. I see the way transcription will help me better see dialogue. I see it how it will help me become a better autoethnographer.

[Britni]: My first live participation with Virtually Connecting went quickly. It was a whirlwind of conversation, as occurs when there are numerous eager and excited participants, and I found myself getting lost along the way. I didn’t speak much, because I couldn’t process what was being said, and synthesize a reply, as quickly as the conversation was occurring. Afterwards, while reflecting on my participation on Twitter—particularly my reservations in participating again if I couldn’t keep up—Autumm Caines reached out to me and suggested that I use the recorded video as an opportunity; re-watching the conversation at my own pace and then reaching out to participants via Twitter to extend the conversation. She shared that she often used the affordances of a recording to engage in deeper listening and extended processing.

With renewed confidence, knowing I can catch up when needed and participate in other media, I have continued to engage in live Virtual Connecting sessions. Of particular importance to me have been the Virtually Connecting ePatient (VCePT) conversations—given the intersection between health and academia I have personally experienced. Rebecca has kept me involved in the growing VCePT community, and work. As she was correcting the YouTube generated closed-captions, she reached out to me a few times to clarify what I had said. As we talked through the transcription, I volunteered to take the work Rebecca had already put together and add in speaker changes; however, encountering the transcription wasn’t what I expected. I was unfamiliar with closed-captioned transcriptions and more familiar with a transcript formatted for qualitative research.

Given one of the key aspirations of VCePT is to help researchers access and use publically available engaged patient data, I felt it was particularly important to provide researchers with a transcript they were familiar with. In a separate document I collapsed the closed-caption transcription, into a transcription delineated by speaker. Then I went to work adding in the minute details, like punctuation and noting expressions, particularly laughter. Along the way I made small corrections in the transcription that made more sense in context, once punctuation was added.

The transcribing process took Autumm’s suggestion of re-watching a step further. I picked up on strands of thought that I had completely missed when participating and in my first few re-watches: times where we, as participants, seemed to be talking about similar things but from distinctly different mindsets and perspectives. Moreover, it forced me to slow down and pay attention to every utterance, every break in thought. I came to appreciate the conversation not just as a participant, but as a researcher. I noticed changes in tone, laughter emphasizing or denoting points–usually critically—and the messy process of thinking. I noticed the power of things that weren’t said—what was implied; we all used a lot of “right” and “you know” as fillers, in addition to a fair amount of “uhms” and “uhs,” implying that there was a level of trust among us as peers, and that we had expectations of familiarity and shared experiences; things could be understood without being explicitly said.

Additionally, listening to the recording so many times really made some phrases and points stand out. Hearing their emphasis and distinction compared to some of the messy thoughts we worked through highlighted them as key take-aways: the conversation wasn’t just about how to move forward with this VCePt conversation thing we are trying to do, but how to approach a new frontier and what barriers and important factors really need to be kept in mind as we do so.


From these disparate actions with transcription, common threads emerged. We felt it was important to pull these experiences together and share our understanding of how closed-captioning and transcription can enhance the Virtually Connecting experience. This may lead to an awareness of the importance of closed-captioning and accurate transcription as a way to revisit a conversation and listen deeply to the voices and ideas.

Our first VCePt transcript has been posted to the Virtually Connecting website at: Take a look. We’d love your comments.

Virtually Connecting welcomes volunteers to help with closed-captioning and transcription of the Virtually Connecting ePatient sessions or any of the Virtually Connecting Ed Tech sessions.

For VCePt, we are planning to have 1-2 sessions per month on topics that are of interest to the ePatient community. If you are interested, please contact Rebecca (


Bird, C. M. (2005). How I Stopped Dreading and Learned to Love Transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(2), 226-248. doi:10.1177/1077800404273413
Feature image: CC licensed by Aftab Uzzaman

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