Class Notes

What is current practice?

Provision of note-takers as an accommodation is very common. In fact, when students ask for a note-taker, there is usually little question about whether a barrier exists. 

Once it is determined that note-taking will be provided as an accommodation, a typical approach is to have students ask someone in the class to assist them by sharing notes. If students are unable to find someone on their own, they are encouraged to give the course instructor an announcement to read to the class asking a classmate to volunteer to assist with note-taking. Note-takers are sometimes compensated but more often are volunteers. Volunteers are sometime offered a letter of commendation for providing this service.

What are the implicit messages?

  • Disabled students are dependent on the charity of their classmates and cannot achieve academically on their own.
  • The time, effort and awkwardness required of disabled students to coordinate note-taking (likely over 40 times during an academic career) is justified because the student is getting something others do not.
  • Having a disabled student in class is a burden to both the instructor and other students.
  • Note-taking is the best (or only) way to capture what is happening in the course.

How might this be different?

Clarify that a barrier truly exists. Typically, students who request class notes as an accommodation report that it is difficult to keep up with the lecture and take notes at the same time. With the many technologies available to students, it is possible to capture the lecture and take notes after class, pausing the recording so that the barrier no longer exists. This would allow most students to take their own notes, which would likely also improve their comprehension of the material. The appropriate accommodation would instead be to modify a policy that prohibits the use of recording devices or other technology.

When a barrier does exist that cannot be resolved by technology or policy modification, engage the student to find solutions that work well. If disability resource offices spent time to discover whether a barrier to capturing the lecture content for a study aid truly existed, the provision of note-takers would be fewer and when a barrier truly did exist, there would be adequate resources to more effectively provide this accommodation.

Engage faculty to remove unnecessary barriers. Finally, conversation about capturing lecture content could locate the problem within the course design, rather than within the student. Policies that limit the use of technology in class to record the lecture, for example, would present a barrier. Providing large amounts of content in lectures that is not provided in other materials, presents a barrier. Encourage design that reduces the need for students to basically transcribe the lecture in order to do well on the exam.

Examples of communication with students and faculty

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