Northwestern University explores the value of note-taking technology

170 students at Northwestern were receiving a peer notetaker, costing $100 per class. Do we know if peer notetakers are truly value for money for our students?

5 min readPublished: 6 Nov 2018

170 students at Northwestern were receiving a peer notetaker, costing $100 per class.

In 2016, Jim Stachowiak, Director of Assistive Technology and Assistant Director of Accessible NU, asked: do we know if peer notetakers are truly value for money for our students?

60% of students that requested a note-taking accommodation received a peer notetaker at the time. However, they weren’t always getting quality notes in return.

Northwestern University overview:

  • 21,500 students
  • 1153 with disabilities
  • 207 with note-taking accommodations
  • 3 quarters with optional summer quarter
  • 1 central hub for accommodation coordination

Why wasn’t the peer notetaking scheme working?

Recruiting was difficult

In competitive subjects, like Law, students didn’t want to share their notes and observations. If a match wasn’t found, students could be without notes for some time.

Notes are personal

Students found their peer’s notes difficult to decipher or lacking focus on an area they didn’t understand.

Notetakers were late

If notes weren’t uploaded within 24 hours, students couldn’t rely on peer notes to start engaging with course content and assignments.

The conclusion: peer notetakers were a budget drain with limited student gain.

Finding value with note-taking technology

Northwestern needed an alternative solution to peer notetakers, so Jim set out to pilot two note-taking technologies throughout 2016/2017. Both utilized audio recordings of lectures and classes to allow students to take notetaking at their own pace and return to information as and when they needed.

"Using technology, the students control the note-taking process from the beginning" - Jim Stachowiak

Reductions in requests for peer notetakers

Introducing note taking technology saw requests for peer notetakers fall dramatically.

Students with peer notes vs. technology

The data showed that Freshmen were the most open to adopting note taking technology, which suggests requests for peer notetakers will continue to fall.

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Glean is the online note taking tool that makes compliance simple, reduces cost and admin burden, and improves student outcomes.

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