The Hidden Cost of Volunteer Notetakers

The volunteer notetaker system is still popular in higher education. This looks like a good solution. However, there is a hidden cost. And that cost is time.

Clock 2 min read Calendar Published: 16 May 2019
Author Luke Garbutt
The Hidden Cost of Volunteer Notetakers

The volunteer notetaker system is still popular in higher education. And at first glance, it might seem like a straightforward solution. A student needs notes, so why not ask peers to step up? This looks like a good balance between keeping costs low and providing reasonable accommodation.

However, there is a hidden cost to the volunteer system. And that cost is time.

We’ve been doing some research into the typical processes institutions use to facilitate peer notes. What we’ve discovered is that, even with streamlined procedures, the whole business of getting notes to a student through volunteers is hugely time (and labor) expensive.

So let’s go through a typical process. And let’s see if it doesn’t remind you of a game of Chutes and Ladders.

A student approaches disability support to ask for notetaking accommodation.

They fill in a form and send it back to the office.

The administrator pulls up a list of that student’s classes and their classmates.

They then send an email to each of these other students asking for volunteer notetakers.

The administrator waits for a response (maybe a week, sometimes two).

There’s no response from emails.

  • Admin emails professors to ask if they know any potential volunteers
  • Admin then emails recommended student(s). Student might reply, but might not either.
  • This whole process could take up to a month

A notetaker is found.

Admin sends out an email each week as a reminder to produce the notes and bring them to the office.

The notetaker brings them, they’re photocopied and scanned.

The notes are hard to make out / illegible.

  • Student workers in the Disability Support department type up notes.

Notes, when ready, are sent to the student.

Laying it all out, it’s clear that there are a lot of dependencies in the way of students getting notes. And the indirect cost of it all through admin time alone should give pause for thought.

It’s labor-intensive, subject to delays, there’s no guarantee of actually finding a notetaker, and no guarantee of quality in the finished notes. So ensuring that a student gets what they actually need out of the process costs a lot of time.

No guarantees

We recently conducted a survey of disability support professionals from over 100 institutions across North America. Asking them about their experiences with peer notes, we discovered that 53% struggle with recruiting note takers.

If this is representative of most departments, the picture outlined above becomes even more problematic. The ‘hidden cost’ of failing to provide an accommodation could be a lawsuit.

This is why departments need to be flexible with how they provide note taking support to their students, and provide alternatives to a traditional model.

Dependable support through Covid-19 and beyond

Glean, our new note taking web app, is designed to reduce admin burden, improve student independence and avoid common pitfalls with peer note takers and other note taking tech.

But it’s also perfect for remote learning.

To find out more, follow the link below.


Written by Luke Garbutt

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