Looking for a way to take notes without writing.
August 5, 2009 1:58 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is starting college next month, and she has been diagnosed with dysgraphia (from what I understand, it hinders her ability to write and organize ideas quickly).

She'll have a laptop with her in all of her classes, and I'm looking for some kind of solution that will allow her to take some form of notes without it being a huge problem. Ideally, I'd like to find a program that could record lectures and then transcribe them from speech to text. But, I'm assuming that the quality wouldn't be very consistent. If that's not a possibility, is there a program or solution that you've seen that will let you take voice recordings, and then have them be organized by date, subject, class, etc? In my mind, I was hoping for something that organizes all the clips and then lets her search later by tags. Does something like this even exist? Free is good, but if there's a much better solution for a cost, then that's fine too. Any help or anecdotes about your personal experience with that kind of software would be appreciated.
posted by ComeUndone to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Get your friend to contact the college and find out what support they offer to improve access and support students with disabilities. They may be able to offer practical solutions such as those you mention above or even others, potentially including having somebody make notes for her. It's worth doing as it may lead to other things you haven't thought of - at my (UK) institution anyone diagnosed with dyslexia gets a free laptop and £200 a year to spend on text books. Most UK insititutions would have similar departments, someone else will have to confirm whether this is the case in the US, I would guess it is.
posted by biffa at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ditto biffa. There was a program at my university that would recruit note takers for people who had some form of note-taking hardship, so it seems that it could be a fairly common set-up (at least the support system, if not the money for a laptop and such).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:19 PM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: I appreciate the ideas, and I'll definitely see if she's looked into that or not. But if anyone has any solutions they use for anything like this, I'd love to hear that too.
posted by ComeUndone at 3:31 PM on August 5, 2009

Have her talk to professors and ask if she could place an audio recorder near them during their lectures. You can get cheap ones now-a-days that use flash and USB access to easily get files off them
posted by phrakture at 3:55 PM on August 5, 2009

Response by poster: To clarify, recording the audio isn't really an issue. I'm just looking for some sort of way to organize the audio after it's recorded. A semester worth of recorded lectures would be very cumbersome to sift through.
posted by ComeUndone at 4:04 PM on August 5, 2009

I have dysgraphia (a bit of a milder form, but it's part of a larger disability). From my personal experience I would suggest the following:

Do what biffa said and have her contact her college. Every college I know of has a assisted learning center/academic supports services. They will help out any way they can, but she must reach out to them.

Chances are, she'll meet with someone (a councilor, dean, teacher, etc.) who will assess her situation. If she doesn't have a written diagnosis from a doctor, they'll probably suggest that she gets one. In the United States, if she has a documented disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects her rights, and ensures that the college will comply with any rules set up.

My academic supports advisor writes letters to each of my teachers (every semester) to inform them of my disability. The letter tells the teachers that I was entitled to extra time on exams, and a laptop in class to take notes. Despite that, I find handwriting notes and then typing them up that day was my best course of action.

She may find, as I did, that handwriting is faster than typing in class, and by typing the notes up later, the facts cement in her mind best. Everyone is different, of course, so she should experiment and work with support services to find what is best. I never enjoyed recording lectures as it kept me from paying as close attention as I should have, and I didn't like re-listening to the recordings later.

If the teacher for some reason (it never happened to me, but you never know) refuses to give extra time, or something else she's entitled to, she should talk with her contact at academic support services. They'll take care of the problem, that's their job.

I set up weekly appointments with my support services advisor. For the last 3 years she has kept me organized and unlike my academic advisor, understood what I was dealing with. If it hadn't been for her regular support, I know I would have done much poorer academically.

She'll need to develop a learning system that works best for her. I color code all of my subjects, and type up notes as soon as I can (that week if not that day). The sooner, the better, as it's fresh in my head. I just type everything up in Microsoft Word, saved by date. When it comes to exam time I can turn them into an easy study guide.

I'm sure I could come up with more tips and tricks if you want. Let me know if there's anything specific you're looking to know.
posted by Political Funny Man at 4:06 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check out the DAISY Consortium (Digital Accessible Information System). DAISY is a standard for alternatives to print. Various manufacturers make devices that do what you are looking for. I've seen some of them in action, and they look really useful. For example, Plextalk makes recorders, players, and editing software.

Also you can get software that helps people with learning disabilities organize their thoughts for writing assignments. Kurzweil 3000 is one such program.

All these things can be expensive. If your friend's college has a unit that supports students with disabilities, they may be able to either provide her access to them, or help her get funding to buy them for herself.
posted by expialidocious at 4:42 PM on August 5, 2009

It may or may not be in use at her school, but some colleges and profs are using systems like Tegrity or Echo to capture class sessions. The software records audio of the entire class session and video of anything that goes through the classroom computer desktop/workstation/projector (PowerPoint slides, visuals, demos). Students can play any session online via Tegrity -- in a date-organized folder for the individual course -- or though a link in a campus course delivery system (like Blackboard/WebCT or whatever). The prof can also make the recordings available as podcasts or on CD/DVD. The files are searchable; I'm not sure if they're taggable by students.

So she may want to check into whether her school is doing that and, if so, which class sections are taught by professors who use the technology.

Taking some courses online might also be useful -- depending on what instruction methods are used. She'd want to avoid courses that include required TYPED-ONLY synchronous chat sessions, for instance, since it would be very hard for her to keep up and participate. Classes that include audio discussion sections could be good because those almost always capture the audio + any desktop info and provide a file archive. Even though there's more written communication in an online course, it's also far less impromptu, and there's a permanent written record of the conversation on the discussion board.

In online sections, many profs provide the "lecture" material in full-on written form rather than and outline or oral form, so "taking notes" becomes either unnecessary or something you can do at a leisurely pace (students can print out lecture pages, highlight, underline, and jot notes at their own speed rather than as someone talks).
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:32 PM on August 5, 2009

Check out OneNote: you can record audio, and make notes/tags that are attached to that spot in the recording. Here's a random discussion I found by some students who use it. (I use it for notetaking but have never used the audio features).
posted by jacalata at 10:37 PM on August 5, 2009

Seconding jacalata - I've used Microsoft OneNote to record interviews and take notes at the same time. It works great for me because I can:
- Easily record and embed the sound files into "pages" along with text, pictures, writing (if I used a tablet) or any other media.
- Group, organize, tag and search the pages however I want.
- Listen back to the file and it will highlight the text I typed in sync with the playback.
posted by platinum at 11:56 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Software that I have used for note taking (as a dyslexic & dyspraxic), and which is standardly provided to people with these difficulties in the UK were:

mind-mapping software

ClaroRead - which reads your essays back to you

Texthelp smilar to ClaroRead, but different interface and some slightly different functionality (I believe - I haven't used this for a few years)

I'd like to find a program that could record lectures and then transcribe them from speech to text.

Yes this would be nice! Unfortunately with speech-recognition improving constantly, but still I believe rather unreliable, it does not exist. You are best off recording the lectures with an good recorder, and then transcribing them. Claro Read and Texthelp will help your friend produce good text from the recordings, (alternatively she may find using the recordings alone as good if not better than written notes). Inspiration will help her order her ideas.

The key to using these programs effectively, however, is your proficiency with their functions and hot keys. So some training on how to use them is seriously recommended, if available.
posted by munchbunch at 4:04 AM on August 7, 2009

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