At the beginning of each semester, LSU professors make an announcement about needing note takers for the class. Some veteran students used to the routine may tune it out. Others hear an opportunity for priority scheduling and immediately volunteer. But many of these students don’t think about the responsibility involved with taking notes for someone who can’t take notes themselves.
“It’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously,” said psychology junior Josh Price. “Because unfortunately, for my success, I have to have someone who is going to do a good job and who’s going to be dedicated.”
Price lost his vision completely in a motorcycle accident when he was just 21 years old. Price’s academic pursuits at the University have come with their own set of challenges, and difficulty with note takers is one of them.
Price said he had to drop a class last semester because he never heard back from his note taker. He had forgotten about the class until he received an email from his note taker at the end of the semester.
Price’s note taker told him in the email he would have all his notes by the time of the final exam. When Price told her he’d already dropped the class, the student asked if Price could still fill out her verification form, so she could receive early registration.
“The people that volunteer for this have to keep doing it, and they have to do a good job,” Price said.
But the note taker form doesn’t currently include a statement about note takers’ responsibility to the student receiving the notes. Director of Disability Services Benjamin Cornwell said he thinks the Office of Disability Services could add information explaining the significance of providing notes, but whether students read the information is up to them.
“I think when people volunteer to take notes, they should talk to the person they’re taking notes for and figure out their exact needs,” Price said.
Price said students signing up to be note takers should communicate with their recipient to determine the specific accommodation that the recipient might need. In Price’s case, some students take notes using symbols like hyphens, colons and equal signs, which make notes difficult to study through a screen reader.
“If you’re writing notes for a completely blind person, it’s just a whole lot different,” Price said. “Basically, that’s the only way I get to study. That’s the only way I do good in a class is if I have a good note taker.”
ODS offers incentives to encourage students to sign up as note takers, the most common of which is priority scheduling, Cornwell said. But note takers only receive the incentive if verified by the student. ODS sends a verification form to students about midway through the semester.
Instructors make the announcement about note takers, but aside from that, they’re not involved in the process, Cornwell said. But some instructors will provide their personal notes to students in lieu of identifying a note taker.
Identifying a note taker usually doesn’t take long, and ODS works with students throughout the process, Cornwell said. But students often don’t report issues with note takers to ODS, which makes it more difficult to provide the correct accommodations.
Cornwell said he’s occasionally encountered problems securing note takers for smaller, upper level classes, especially courses in computer science and engineering. In these circumstances, ODS has had to take “extraordinary steps” to find a note taker or provide one from the office.
Cornwell said he suspects the difficulty arises from students not feeling confident in their own understanding of the class to be able to provide notes for someone else.
ODS doesn’t hesitate to replace note takers that aren’t giving students quality notes in a timely manner, Cornwell said.
Jake Sicard, an accounting junior, started gradually losing his vision when he was 11 years old, but he still retains some of his vision. He also emphasized that the most important thing for a note taker to do is communicate with the note recipient.
Sicard said he’s had good and bad experiences with note takers, but either way, if there’s a problem, he’ll figure out how to solve it himself. He had one student never respond to his emails but, luckily, he had other friends in the class to help him out.
Price said he too has come to rely on other students in the class more than the specified note takers because they tend to be more reliable sources.
Sicard said he thinks professors are kind of “routine” about finding a note taker and tend to stress the incentives to encourage note takers to sign up. So several note takers end up volunteering just to get the benefits without understanding the importance of their job.
“Definitely, take into account that other people need it,” Sicard said. “If you’re doing it, don’t just look at the compensation you’re getting out of it.”
Cornwell said he encourages students to give ODS feedback on the note taker process, so they can implement change in the future.
“I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken,” Cornwell said. “If someone lets us know they’re having a problem, that’s a concern for all of us, and that’s something we want to make sure we address as quickly as possible.”
To receive a note taker, students registered with ODS turn in accommodation and note taker forms to their instructors, Cornwell said. ODS recommends students notify their instructors at the beginning of the semester.
Once professors receive the note taker form, they will ask students in the class to volunteer to take notes. If no one volunteers to be a note taker after two announcements by the professor, ODS will intervene by contacting students in the class separately, Cornwell said.
When a students volunteers to be a note taker, he or she receives a form with a code at the bottom, which identifies the student to ODS, Cornwell said. The code is only relevant to ODS and is not related to the note recipient’s student identification number or social security number.
Once the note taker signs up with ODS, both the note taker and the note recipient receive an email with the other’s contact information to coordinate notes exchange, Cornwell said. Students and note takers can either exchange notes on their own, or note takers can drop the notes off at ODS for the student to pick up.
ODS encourages students registered with the office to contact their note takers as soon as possible, Cornwell said, but it’s the responsibility of both the note taker and the recipient to reach out to each other.
ODS will coordinate note takers for those students who wish to remain anonymous, Cornwell said. ODS will contact instructors and students in the class to identify a note taker and will have the note taker drop notes off in the office for the student to pick up.
“The notes are there to help make up for a deficit caused by the student’s disability,” Cornwell said. “The notes are essential to helping make up for that deficit. That’s why it’s an accommodation.”