Several months after the Yale Resource Office on Disabilities sought to revamp its note-taking system, students are yet to see real changes.
Every semester, the ROD hires students to take notes for disabled students who cannot take their own notes, for reasons ranging from blindness to concussions or broken arms. Last December, the Yale College Council, working in conjunction with the ROD, released a report with recommendations for improving the system. The suggestions aimed to increase accountability and consistency among note-takers. Though the ROD introduced a policy this semester for vetting new note-takers, overall, there has been little effect on the system’s execution, said Michelle Hackman ’15, a former city editor for the News, who has received notes since her freshman year
“I know there has been a movement to make note-taking a more reliable service,” Hackman said. “[But] I never had any problem with my note-takers to begin with, and in accordance with that, I haven’t seen anything change.”
The note-taker system has always faced several minor but perennial issues, said ROD director Judith York. She cited the variability in students’ note-taking styles, lack of a quality control system, confidentiality concerns and difficulties with recruiting note-takers, since schedules may be in flux, especially during shopping period.
In addition, she added, demand for note-takers changes throughout the semester, as new cases of injuries and disabilities may arise.
“We have a huge volume of students [who need notes], and we don’t sit in on all those classes, so we can’t judge whether the quality of the notes is sufficient,” York said.
To address these issues, the YCC report offered seven recommendations, ranging from a video module to streamline note-taking styles to the creation of a private Classes*v2 workspace that would allow the ROD to distribute notes anonymously and monitor their quality. It also recommended the creation of a new student position, a note-taking services assistant who would aid ROD staff in recruitment and quality control.
According to the report, at the time of publication, the student position had officially been created, the YCC was establishing a task force to oversee changes and the ROD had reached out to both the Yale College Dean’s Office and Information Technology Services to begin collaboration on the Classes*v2 workspace.
In addition, this semester, the ROD implemented a new system for screening potential note-takers, said Carolyn Barrett, senior administrative assistant for the ROD. The office now sends via email a sample of a potential note-taker’s notes to the disabled student for approval before hiring them, she said.
However, other than the new vetting process, none of the other changes have materialized. Hackman said she does not know of a current student employee at the ROD or of any new method of distributing notes. Her note-takers simply send her notes via email after class, she said.
Though York said the ROD is always looking for new technology that will streamline the distribution process, Julia Calagiovanni ’15, a note-taker, said that a new system does not seem necessary.
“I don’t really get what [the search for new technology] means,” she said. “I just email the notes. It seems like a totally fine system to me.”
Another concern that the ROD sought to address was keeping notes confidential and secure, York said. Faculty trust her office to ensure that the disabled students are the only ones to receive the notes and that they are not loosely distributed, she said.
However, professors interviewed who had note-takers in their classes said they were not overly concerned about distribution. History professor Joanne Meyerowitz said the thought of improper distribution never crossed her mind, and psychology professor Gregory McCarthy said that he thinks notes should be shared widely anyway, since the point is for students to learn.
According to political science professor John Gaddis, efforts to restrict distribution are futile.
“I have no knowledge of what happens to the notes after they’re distributed to the disability students. Or, for that matter, what happens to notes non-disability students have taken in previous classes,” he said in an email. “I’m not so naive as to believe that they automatically self-destruct after the final.”
Still, York said that the ROD will meet with YCC representatives again later this semester to reevaluate the note-taking system and assess any further changes that need to be made.
For Hackman, though, the YCC’s efforts would be better spent elsewhere.
“When this whole note-taking thing came out, it seemed really strange to me because I’ve just never had a problem,” she said. “My question was, why fix something that doesn’t seem broken? It just seemed like a weird thing to pay attention to when there are so many things that manifestly need so much more attention.”
There are currently 105 note-takers for 145 students in 206 classes.