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Disability Practice in the Spotlight

Sonocent Audio Notetaker @ the University of Adelaide and Griffith University

 Photo sonocent, Uni Adelaide and Griffith uni logos

Much of higher education relies on transcribing and transforming audio information – actions that can be difficult for some students with disability. Sonocent Audio Notetaker is a software tool and app that can capture audio, text and slides and transform them into a format that suits the user, allowing students with disability to take information from their lecture theatres and tutorials and use it in the way that best allows them to learn. In this article we will hear from two disability practitioners about how Sonocent has transformed learning for their students, as well as assistive technology consultant Jim Sprialis about how the program works.

Empowering: that’s how Ngaire Robertson, Disability Advisor at the University of Adelaide, describes Sonocent Audio Notetaker.

She says the technology has transformed the way students approach their learning by allowing them to take control of the process, as opposed to more passive means of notetaking.

“I think the problem with [peer notetaking] is that the student is completely disengaged from the whole notetaking process, and just getting someone else's notes doesn't actually help you with learning the information. So, I think it’s about putting that power and that control back in the hands of the student where they can actively participate in the notetaking and make it meaningful for them.” she explains.

It’s an experience echoed across the sector.

Sharon Garside, a Disabilities Service Officer at Griffith University, says her university has also seen positive results by using Sonocent Audio Notetaker. She says of a small trial of students in 2017, 57 percent of the group said they were more independent, with some commenting that they could now use their own notes rather than relying on someone else’s.

“Notetaking was one of those areas where people with significant physical disabilities have been reliant on other people to take their notes, and this is shifting things for them.

“What we've found is that some of the students that had peer notetaking said, ‘I don't need that anymore. I don't want someone taking notes for me, I want to do it independently and this will allow me to do it’,” she says.

The success of the trial and the confidence of the students persuaded the Griffith team to confirm their investment in the program.

“We bought 50 Sonocent licences last year and we've just bought another 25, so we're up to about 75 licences at the moment and I expect we're going to need even more!” Sharon says.

Sonocent Audio Notetaker is becoming more widely known – and widely used – throughout the higher education sector. The program and app can capture audio, slides and text in a single workspace and provide a variety of ways to organise and transform the notes to suit the student – making it useful for people with disability in lecture theatres around the country.

Jim Sprialis, an assistive technology consultant and Sonocent’s Audio Notetaker Australian contact, believes the program has several key features that give it an edge over competitors.

“It's the only program that I'm aware of where you can be really selective about what part of the recording you extract to make into a mini summary,” he says.

“You can repurpose all the captured content into multiple formats. Let's say you've captured a one hour lecture, and with the audio notetaker recording you've annotated in colour the key part for revision, and it adds up to say 20 minutes. Now, from the original recording click a button and it will pull out a copy of just those red bits that are highlighted and make a new file for you with any PowerPoint slides that go with each of those bits. That makes a new file so it looks like a summary, and … you can make that into a little video and play it back!” he explains.

Jim says the program offers solutions for students with many different disabilities or learning processes.

“It was originally a software program that was designed with students with dyslexia and auditory processing in mind from the beginning. The fact that they can manage that audio information much more efficiently - because processing audio is the hardest type of modality to work with in terms of working memory because it's not visual, it's transient - this program really helps you connect with audio and make those lessons more powerful.”

Sharon agrees, adding that many of her students have taken to the program with relative ease.

“It's also a good program for students on the autism spectrum, students with ADHD and students with Asperger’s because it's giving them a physical task to complete during the lecture which assists them to focus - so they're doing something constructive while they're taking notes. And some of my low vision students really like it.”

Like Ngaire and Sharon, Jim describes Audio Notetaker as offering empowerment and helping them to overcome the stress associated with studying with a disability.

“It helps students take control of their learning. Anxiety can play a big part with any student ... with a specific disability. But when that anxiety comes in and the stress goes up then we do shut off from learning.”

Sharon admits that some of her students have experienced teething issues as they adjust to the new technology. 

“Some students found that the effectiveness of Sonocent depended on where you sat in the lecture theatre. Some students who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have low vision, are unable to use the tool,” Sharon says.

“Sometimes someone's phone might record better than their laptop … and some students are choosing to … buy a directional microphone to attach to their laptop … which will improve the sound quality on their computer.”

Over at the University of Adelaide, Ngaire says students have explored the audio replace tool to alleviate any sound issues.

“I had a student [who] wasn't sure about the recording on his laptop. I just showed him the audio replace and that worked brilliantly and he was really happy with that. And you can now use that if it's in a room where the acoustics aren't great.”

But the biggest obstacle, according to Ngaire, is in staff getting their heads around the myriad of features Audio Notetaker offers.

“Because the software does so much, if you try and get your head around all the fantastic features you know that it can do for all sorts of different students for different needs …  you'll just get lost in it all.

“We as disability advisors just need to be really confident in how to use it and how to introduce it to students. I haven't had any students come back and say it's too hard to use. We need to give them more credit, especially with their technology skills.

“…the more we use it and the more we practice with it, the easier it will get for us and therefore we will describe it better to other people.”

Sharon adds that Sonocent makes a good addition to a student’s options.

“As disability advisors, we need to look at options and choices, and this is a good option for many students.”

Ngaire agrees.

“Of course, it's never going to work for 100 percent of students; it can't possibly. But I think if students haven't even been given the opportunity to try something like this, it's worth a go,” she says.

Written by: Danielle Kutchel

June 2019

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