Note-taking is one of the most frequently used disability accommodations on college and university campuses. While there are numerous ways to provide students with supplemental notes, many disability services offices struggle with creating a system that is both consistent and confidential.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Office of Disability Services has addressed some of the most common challenges inherent to note-taking accommodations by implementing a streamlined, electronic delivery system that is volunteer-based yet confidential.
If you’re looking for ways to better serve students needing note-taking as an accommodation, our model may provide you with some helpful ideas.
Automated system makes managing accommodations easier
The DS office created an automated system that is used to store student and course information, recruit volunteers, deliver notes, and help manage the note-taking accommodation. The program uses Microsoft Excel, Visual Basic, a specific Outlook email account, a designated note-taker website, and a university server. It pulls student and course data from Banner, the student information system used by the university, allowing DS counselors to easily identify the students requiring the accommodation and the classes for which notes are needed.
Once indicated within the system, the information is saved to a note-taking database that uses an Excel spreadsheet. Emails requesting volunteer note-takers are then sent to students enrolled in the classes where the accommodation is required.
Volunteers, online submission are key components
The voluntary nature of our program is beneficial for everyone involved. Volunteers see this as meaningful work, which results in high-quality and consistent notes for our students. Volunteers are also rewarded with community service hours. At a time when doing more with less is critical, this option allows the DS office to avoid having to financially compensate note-takers.
Interested students respond to a recruitment email. Once selected, volunteers are provided with instructions, including guidance for taking “good” notes. They then log into a website designated for volunteer note-takers and select the class for which they have notes using a drop-down menu.
Volunteers’ notes, which are scanned or typed, are uploaded to this same website and saved to a university server. A Web address is assigned to each submission. The DS office receives the Web links and forwards them to the students needing the notes.
Management, assessment processes ensure effectiveness
To help maintain the program, the office employs two part-time graduate assistants. They undergo training and work closely with DS counselors and the assistive technology specialist to monitor and manage notes.
A programmable, color-coded system within the note-taking database makes that task easy and allows problems to be identified and addressed quickly. Colors are assigned to alert graduate assistants if notes are late or missing. To resolve issues, GAs can then send follow-up emails to the appropriate volunteer note-takers. If the issue continues, the DS office will recruit and hire another volunteer as a replacement.
Because the notes are stored on a university server, they are available for review if complaints regarding quality arise.
While this program was created specifically to track issues, additional evaluation and quality-control measures are also in place. Feedback is encouraged throughout the term, and a more formal evaluation occurs at the end of the year to gauge students’ accommodation experience. Results allow the office to identify where improvement may be needed.
Serving as intermediary ensures confidentiality
The note-taking system ensures confidentiality, since all correspondence is mitigated by the DS office. For one, it doesn’t require public announcements from instructors. Also, it avoids interaction between volunteers and registered students by not requiring them to go to a shared space for note delivery and pickup.
In fact, names of registered students and volunteers are never disclosed to each other. Emails requesting volunteers are sent from the department and specify that the DS office, not specific students, is in need of volunteer note-takers. Because links to notes are forwarded via email to registered students by the DS office, and not by the note-takers, students’ privacy isn’t compromised.
Results have been positive, issues rare
While infrequent, there have been instances when volunteer note-takers are unavailable and alternate accommodations such as recorders or “smart” pens must be provided. However, this is typically the exception, as we often have more volunteers than we need.
Using this system, notes were provided for approximately 1,700 courses last academic year. With limited resources, the DS office was able to address some of the most problematic issues associated with providing note-taking accommodations, including workload, note quality and continuity, student confidentiality, and cost-effectiveness.