As spring semester classes take off, over 100 students look forward to receiving class notes provided by the Resource Office on Disabilities through a more streamlined process than ever before.
Each term, the Resource Office on Disabilities (ROD) hires student note-takers to offer their class notes to students with either temporary or permanent disabilities that hinder their note-taking ability in class. The system — which serves both undergraduates and graduate students with the exception of law school students — includes a work force of 108 students who sent more than 300 sets of notes to roughly 113 recipients, last fall. A December report by the Yale College Council highlighted a YCC investigation of the process, after the Council received complaints about “delays in receiving notes and a relatively low quality in some of the notes that were received.”
Preserving the anonymity of the recipients of these notes is a key tenant of the process and fundamental to the integrity of the service, according to Judy York, director of ROD. In order to do this, the original system had note-takers sending their typed notes to Carolyn Barrett, the office’s senior administrative assistant, who then distributed the notes to recipients.
“We’re like a firewall between the note-takers and the recipients,” York said. “We ask the students to be their own quality control … if the students receiving the notes are not satisfied, we ask them to let us know as soon as they possibly can.”
Inevitably, she said, some recipients may forget to review the notes they receive until right before exam season, when ROD has little to no time to address problems in the quality of notes from weeks earlier.
About halfway through the fall semester, the YCC began a two-month investigation to improve the quality of the system — a process that included meetings with residential college deans, online research and collaboration with ROD staff members.
“I was so pleasantly surprised to see how willing and excited Judy York was to dive head first into the path of improvement,” said YCC representative Kathy Khalvati ’17, who managed the investigation. “Her concern for the well-being of the students at Yale is heartwarming and her dedication to her work is inspiring.”
Ultimately, Khalvati, her YCC supervisor Sara Samuel ’15, and York created a list of recommendations to improve the system. The general goals of the investigation included improving the delivery system of the notes while still maintaining its integrity — specifically, ensuring that the anonymity of the recipients remained protected and that the notes were available only to registered students — and systemizing a training effort for note-takers.
The recommendations of the December YCC report are currently in the midst of implementation. Recommendations include the launch of a private Classes*v2 workshop page for note-takers and note-receivers to access notes, as well as an online training system that features a video module of Dean of Academic Affairs Mark Schenker’s note-taking seminar and a checklist that streamlines note takers’ responsibilities. Additionally, long-term and short-term note-takers will be recruited separately in order to manage quality control, and surveys will also be sent out periodically.
One large change in the system will be the creation of a a new “note-taking services assistant” student position. The assistant will work for eight hours per week for a wage of $14 per hour to help ROD establish the YCC’s proposed changes.
Khalvati said applications for the position have been submitted, and the top three finalists are currently being reviewed. Associate Director to the Resource Office on Disabilities Tony Kulikowski has been charged with putting the YCC’s recommendations as his priority in creating changes in the office, and a YCC student task force has also been established.
“This process caters to Yale’s time of innovation and change under the new leadership of President Salovey,” Khalvati said. “This project, which YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 has called ‘one of the most rapidly successful projects in YCC’s history,’ is a manifestation of the incredible work and progress that can be made when students, representatives, and administrators come together.”
Student note-takers are paid $12.50 per hour.