UI Office of Disability pilots three new programs for note-taking accommodations

University of Iowa Office of Student Disability Services launches three pilot note taking programs for accommodated students.


Tate Hildyard

A Life Scribe Pen is seen in the University of Iowa Student Disability Centers on Monday, September 9th, 2019. Life Scribe Pens, record and upload handwritten notes to a computer.

Rin Swann, News Reporter

The University of Iowa Office of Student Disability Services recently piloted three new note-taking applications, which are technological options offered to eligible students that require accommodations in the classroom.

Last year, over 1,200 students were enrolled in the service. More than 600 of those students required note-taking accommodations in the classroom, which is one of the most popular services within the unit. 

Note-taking accommodations are designed to ensure that disability does not interfere with the education process according, to the SDS website, and are aimed at students who may struggle to take notes in a classroom or lecture setting.

Previously, the office offered four services to eligible students: a copy of instructor notes, a copy of a teaching assistant’s notes, notes taken by a volunteer notetaker, or notes taken by a group and then provided for the entire class. 

Now, the office provides three additional technological services. The first is Sonocent Audio Notetaker, which allows students to embed PowerPoints, images, and their own notes into an audio file.

Second is Note-Taking Express, where a student can record a lecture, upload the audio file, and receive professional notes in 24 hours.

Finally, Livescribe Pens are a specially formed pen and notebook that allows users to upload their own handwriting and notes to an app on their phone, along with a recording of the lecture. 

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“I’m using Livescribe because I have a class notes accommodation, and I’m allowed to record notes,” UI student Robert Weiland said. “I can record notes physically on pen and paper, and it reflects on my phone so I can see a digital copy and a physical copy, which is very beneficial to have.”

The decision to implement these programs at the UI was, in part, inspired by peer organizations that offer similar services, such as Rutgers University, and all three programs were decided upon by a desire to give students as many options as possible, said UI Assistant Director of SDS Michael Venzon.

“I think students like feeling empowered especially when there is technology that allows for that,’’ Venzon said. “I think this allows for both student and instructor to work together and to collaborate on what works best for a student.”

Additionally, these programs come at no cost to students with accommodations. Venzon said all of the funding comes from the Central Administration for Accommodations. 

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While Sonocent has a free semester trial until December, Note Taking Express comes with an hourly fee, and Livescribe is sold in individual units. 

“The expense is really nominal on our part,” said Mark Harris, UI Director of SDS. “There may be curiosity about what it costs, but it is never going to cost the student anything, and we don’t want price to be a consideration.”

All three programs will continue their pilot until the end of the first semester, so students using these services have a chance to talk to disability-service officials about what they determined to be most helpful and the simplest to use. 

“I think what we’ll do is assess how students feel using those technologies and then make a final decision,” Harris said. “But my commitment as the director is to make the widest number of options available.”

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