Queen’s note-taking program fails to make the grade

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Considering it’s a system that relies on student contribution, Queen’s should better incentivize and reward student note-takers who ensure consistent course notes for students with disabilities. 

An opinion piece in The Varsity recently articulated the flaws in the note-sharing system for students with disabilities at the University of Toronto (U of T). The author suggested implementing a compensation model to reward student note-takers for their efforts to take notes often enough and well enough to share them with their fellow students who require academic accommodation.

Queen’s has a similar system to U of T for sharing class notes. Students with accommodations rely on submissions from volunteer note-takers, coordinated through the University’s Accessibility Services. Should volunteers request it, they are entitled to a letter of recommendation outlining their volunteer commitment from the executive director of Student Wellness Services.

Given that no other reliable mechanism allows students with disabilities to acquire notes for classes, note-takers play a vital role in promoting academic accessibility for their classmates who need it.

Despite the importance of this role, professors are often left asking for students to volunteer as note-takers. If volunteers fail to uphold their commitment during the semester due to a dropped course or missed classes, some courses—and the students who rely on this system—are inevitably left without reliable note-takers.

It’s unfortunate that more students don’t volunteer for these positions, but adding incentives to inspire students to join the program could mitigate this problem and hold volunteers to a higher standard of note-taking. This could be accomplished through part-time pay, a work-study program, extra credit, or an honorarium. 

Adding a monetary benefit to note-taking wouldn’t just encourage note-takers to better serve students with disabilities who count on supplied notes from their classmates. It would also provide an opportunity for low-income students to earn money in a way that doesn’t interfere too much with their studies. 

Of course, throwing money at a problem isn’t a catch-all solution. 

Emphasizing the importance of the service note-takers provide with academic or monetary compensation could increase the amount of quality notes available to those who need them. However, Queen’s Accessibility Services should still be prepared to pick up any slack by providing options for students in classes without note-takers, by ensuring professors post resources like recorded lectures or speech-to-text software.

There are substantial flaws in the current system: Queen’s fails students with disabilities when it leaves student volunteers responsible for providing their peers equitable access to course content instead of finding creative and dependable solutions. 

Accessibility to academic resources needs to be a guarantee for students who rely on peer-provided notes, not a maybe.

—Journal Editorial Board

 

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