Researchers team up with CBC Kids to make closed captions better

Image of three little kids hugging one another smiling

McMaster grad Melda Coskun is working on an interdisciplinary project that explores best practices for closed captioning in kids’ TV.

Closed captions play a crucial role in making the viewing experience accessible for children with hearing impairments and limited language proficiency.

That’s why pediatrics researcher Olaf Kraus de Camargo, from McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences, and linguistics researcher Victor Kuperman, from Humanities, are working with CBC Kids to explore ways to improve closed captions in children’s programming.

The study benefits greatly from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on linguistics, pediatrics and media, says research coordinator Melda Coskun.

“Linguistics provides insights into what type of text should be used and how comprehension can be measured effectively,” Coskun explains. “Pediatrics helps identify child groups with various backgrounds and determines appropriate measurements for each group.

“Our industry partner plays a crucial role in the development of videos and production of closed captions in the required format, ensuring alignment with industry standards and practices.”

The goal of the study is to determine a format for closed captioning that improves comprehension and enjoyment of the content for all children, regardless of their needs.

“In addition to evaluating children’s comprehension, we are leveraging eye-tracking data to gain insights into how and why certain caption styles may be more effective,” Coskun says.

The experiment compares three closed caption styles to determine which is most effective.

“Our preliminary results indicate that “karaoke-style” closed captions, where the audio and text synchronize together one word at a time, elicit increased engagement and attention from viewers, and lead to better comprehension,” Coskun notes.

Real world applications

Conducting research with an industry partner — in this case, CBC Kids — differs from a typical lab study: Maintaining clear communication between partners and providing regular project updates are integral parts of Coskun’s responsibilities.

“In academic research, practical implications may not always be the primary focus, as the main goal is often to advance knowledge and understanding in a particular field,” she explains.

“However, in industry-driven projects, practical implications are more important, as the industry partner is looking for tangible outcomes or solutions that can be implemented.”

What’s going to happen with the results of this study?

“Once this study concludes, CBC will publish the results and make efforts to implement this style in their future releases. We will also present the findings at various conferences on Quantitative UX Research, Accessibility, and Linguistics domains.”

Academia to industry

Coskun comes from an interdisciplinary background, having completed her bachelor’s degree in computer education and instructional technology, a master’s degree in cognitive science, and her PhD in the Cognitive Science of Language program here at McMaster.

Image of a child doing an eye tracking test

Coskun demonstrates eye-tracking technology to visiting high school students in the Reading Lab at McMaster University. 

“My past research has used quantitative methodologies to analyze the reading behaviours of diverse groups,” she explains. “It equipped me with the skills to use tools like online surveys and eye tracking technology, which have been important in our research now.”

Wrapping up data collection

“We’re currently in the final stages of the data collection phase, which will end in late March,” Coskun says. “We’re analyzing the data we’ve gathered. We’ll gain a clearer understanding once we’ve reached the required number of participants.”

The research team is currently recruiting children ages 6-10 to participate in the study. Interested parents can email

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