The Challenge of Note Taking
Note taking is one of the most challenging accommodations to provide, and the Disability Resource Center at Missouri State University was struggling to find a consistently effective solution to the problem. The department was relying heavily on digital recorders and smart pens, as well as a network of peer note takers, employed by the school to take notes on behalf of other students. However, each of these solutions brought with it its own set of challenges:
The archaic peer note taking system is notoriously difficult to manage, with a huge administrative burden placed on disability services departments in order to recruit and manage note takers, who are then often unreliable and provide notes of varying quality. At Missouri State this was no exception. Note takers were often sick, or failed to show up to class. Some provided notes of varying quality, which left students questioning if the information provided was factually correct, or even if the most important information was actually recorded. Accessibility of notes was also an issue; the university faced instances of notetakers sharing a picture of their notes to students using screen readers, making the notes inaccessible.
Digital Recorders and Smart Pens
When it comes to assistive tech, digital recorders are simply outdated, and something Missouri State students were very reluctant to use. They realised that listening back to an hour-long recording of a lecture wasn’t equitable to learning, and didn’t provide them with a robust set of notes to enable them to study effectively. While Smart Pens seemed the more modern alternative, there was a pretty daunting learning curve that came with them. In fact, some accessibility faculty sometimes struggled to get the tech to work correctly the first time round, and connect with the tablet or computer.
Twon Maddison, Access Technology Center at Missouri State University, said: “One of my biggest concerns with the note taking accommodation is that students aren’t note taking themselves. So if you’re looking at a peer note taker, they’re not taking the notes anymore, someone else is doing it for them. I didn’t want students to once again fundamentally lose a piece of their instruction or their own learning.
“One thing that I also personally battled with was, ‘why do we have to make students with disabilities go through so many hurdles?’ Firstly, students must register with their disability resource center then meet with an adviser. Following that, the adviser has to recommend them to our office to get assistive technology or software. Why do they have to jump through so many hoops to get an accommodation or receive assistive technology? We need them to start taking their classes and learning and working the same as everyone else.”
Missouri State University implemented a software application called Glean. The application allows teachers and students to save all learning content in one place, structure and prioritize their notes through a simple color-coding system, and store it for future reference. The audio note taking tool is designed to improve learning and productivity, by helping students to capture and digest key pieces of information without distraction, that they can then review and process at their own pace, something which was key for students at Missouri State.
By enabling students to take their own notes, Glean removes the administrative burden from institutions, while creating independence and self-advocacy for students. In contrast to other note taking accommodations, Glean requires little training and reduced admin. It’s simplistic dashboard is incredibly easy to use and makes it effortless for institutions to invite, manage, monitor and support hundreds of students at a time. This meant that it could be used to entice students to try something new and help Twon support them more efficiently.
Twon commented: “Two things that really got our attention were Glean’s simplicity and ease-of-use. What I really loved was the onboarding of students onto Glean. It’s an easy setup; I type in a student’s name, type in their email address and boom! They’re ready to go! There was no laborious process to get them set up and going.”
Now that the dust has settled?
Speaking of the benefits of Glean to the Missouri State Disability Resource Center and its students, Twon said: “Since the implementation of Glean there’s been a really big increase in students using their note taking accommodation. I’ve had more Glean set ups than I have ever given out a smart pen or digital recorder. I can actually see through Glean Admin that students are using their note taking accommodation much more.
“One thing I have noticed within our office here is there are more note taking referrals. My advisers are sending me more note taking referrals than I have seen in the 3 years I’ve been here. I think that goes to show that having a one-stop-shop solution really works. It makes those advisers a little more comfortable with going, ‘Hey, what do you think about this note taking accommodation? I think this would be really helpful for you’.”
As a grad student, Twon decided to take Glean into his own classes to see first-hand how the app worked for students. As a result, he found himself asking questions of his own note taking.
“I just write down every single thing I hear. Glean proved the point that there was a much better way to go about it and I was able to be way more engaged in my classes as a result. Glean can benefit more than just our students with disabilities. Assistive technology doesn’t just have to be for students with disabilities, it can be for everyone. It helps create a much more equitable experience for students.
“Glean has been a big help in getting us to the point where the students don’t need us. You’ve got to put your students first. So you’ve got to say what’s going to benefit them the most. And I think Glean is going to benefit them the most. I really think it’s going to be a game changer.”