Why provided notes aren’t working

Provided notes have been a primary support for decades. But when you take a closer look, it's not long before you notice some major problems with this set up...

5 min readPublished: 17 Feb 2021

For decades, institutions have turned to peer note takers, transcription services and lecture notes to provide accommodations for eligible students.

And, according to a survey we conducted last year, 43% use provided notes as their primary note taking accommodation. So why rock the boat?

But as we’ve learned through talking to hundreds of disability support professionals and students (and confirmed through research) provided notes just aren’t working. Here’s why:

Finding note takers is a constant headache

So let’s say you have 10 students eligible for note taking accommodations. If you have a peer notes system, that’s 10 sets of notes needed for each class these students are in. That’s a lot of note takers to find.

Even with small numbers like this, it can prove a real challenge for departments.

In fact, 53% of disability services professionals using provided notes as their main accommodation said that recruiting peer note takers was their biggest challenge.

And if you struggle to find note takers, you could have a much bigger problem…

ADA compliance

As our blog on ADA and note taking demonstrates, departments can quickly run into problems with compliance if they promise provided notes and fail to deliver.

If your department specifically offers peer notes to a student and the note taker fails to turn up to class, you better have a failsafe option ready. Otherwise, you could face a complaint.

Human error is part of the fabric

You manage to get each of your eligible students a set of notes for their classes. But a few are illegible and need to be fixed up. Others are missing whole swathes of content from the class. Then there are a few with scanning errors, missing pages…

You can never guarantee the quality of a set of provided notes, as the chance for human error is weaved through the whole process of creating and distributing them.

But even if you hired a well-heeled professional note taking service for your students, you’d still run into a few truths that hold no matter how good your provided notes are.

Providing notes creates dependence

Note taking is a key learning skill. By denying students the opportunity to develop this skill, you could be preventing them from achieving independence in their learning.

‘Give a man a fish…’ this is the central message of our #NoteTakingNotNotes campaign. And the principle applies to note taking, too. Providing notes is the equivalent of giving students fish - a quick fix that cuts off a long term solution.

Note taking itself has real benefits for learning

There’s been plenty of research into note taking over the past decades. One fact that stands out is that the process of taking notes itself improves retention.

‘The process of note taking is effective because the activity focuses students’ attention on instruction and leads to better assimilation of lesson ideas’ - ‘Note this: How to improve student note taking’ by Kenneth Kiewra et al, IDEA Paper #73 (2018)

In providing notes to students, departments are focusing their efforts on the product of note taking, rather than supporting students with the process of note taking. This means that the benefits gained from taking notes are missed out entirely.

By empowering students to take notes independently, the benefits of both process and product can be gained - a real win for classroom equity.

Let’s look at the solution

We’ve taken a few minutes of your time to describe the problems with provided notes. For a few minutes more, we’ll give you the solution.

Follow the link below to learn how we’re helping departments teach students to fish.

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.