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When the lockdowns happened in 2020, schools rushed to virtual options to maintain some semblance of “business as usual.” There were unintended consequences, and that was to be expected. However, one company’s unique solution became integral to Irvine Valley College’s virtual instruction, and it continues today. This week, I want to look at Otter and its benefits for education and business environments with assistive technology.
About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers managed an enterprise IT network from 2009 to 2021. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.
What is Otter?
Otter is a service for creating automated meeting notes with audio recordings, transcribing text, and highlighting summaries. Otter connects to Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc., and turns your meetings, conversations, or thoughts into smart notes that you can easily search and share with others. You can even snap photos (of a whiteboard, a speaker, or a presentation slide at an event, for example) during a recording, and they will be inserted in line with your transcripts. Services like Zoom already offer a transcription service, but Otter takes it to the next level with accuracy and functionality. Many executives use the mobile app to dictate thoughts, emails, or even blog posts while driving.
Irvine Valley College
Irvine Valley College is a public college within the California Community Colleges and has a total enrollment of more than 14,500 students. As the lockdowns hit, Irvine Valley College began looking at Otter. After signing up for an account to do a trial of Otter, Tim Van Norman uploaded over 200 videos and was able to access fully completed transcripts within a few hours. He felt that Otter was not only really fast but also responsive as he corrected mistakes. When the team first began with Otter, they initially wanted a way to do captions for online lectures, and Otter made that a reality. With deep integration into Zoom, Otter is automatically turned on when a teacher starts a lecture, and then transcripts and captions are automatically generated. For some, the captions are a bonus. For students who rely on accessible technologies, Otter was and continues to be a lifeline.
“We’ve got a big mix of people here, including people who have disabilities and people who utilize different technologies for different reasons,” describes Tim Van Norman, an instructional technologist at the college.
Collaboration tools in Otter
When I was doing a trial of Otter, I was blown away by its transcription quality. I’ve used services that create transcriptions before, and what Otter can create is on another level. It works great with Zoom, but I was also impressed by the ability to upload audio files to the service and get a really accurate transcription.
The rock-solid transcriptions are great, but Otter offers several organizational and collaboration tools inside its interface. Meeting Gems can be generated directly from your meetings by highlighting snippets within the notes. Otters lets you easily capture action items, decisions, and key moments of your meeting; you can use the Meeting Gems panel to assign action items, add comments, or ask a question, saving you the step of sending follow-up emails or Slack messages. After a meeting, Otter’s proprietary AI will automatically create a meeting summary so you and your coworkers can easily access a summary of what was discussed in the meeting. In my experience, it was incredibly accurate
Overall thoughts on Otter
I initially checked out Otter because I was interested in the accessibility aspect of the service. For students and employees who rely on text-driven content, it’s a significant improvement over other services, and the service gets better the more you train it. As I dove into the service further, I was quite impressed with the collaboration tools as well. It works well on macOS and iOS alike and is a tool I will highly recommend in the future. It could be an incredible addition to the workflows of students, teachers, or busy executives.
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