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Practice Spotlight

Glean shakes up accessible learning

One of the sector’s most well-known notetaking programs has had an update! Sonocent Audio Notetaker is now Glean, a shiny new product with a number of features designed to make it more intuitive and easier for students and practitioners to use.

So what’s changed?

Glean is built on the same proven principles as Sonocent Audio Notetaker, Glean’s Jim Sprialis said; the design is still focused on making sure students have access to an assistive technology that enables them to take notes independently and organise that information in a way that suits their needs. But although the principles haven’t changed, the look and feel of Glean is different.
Glean is a web app that operates within browsers like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, compared to Sonocent, which is a software program that must be installed on a computer. There is also a Glean app for mobile devices. Both the web app and the mobile app synchronise with each other via the cloud based storage of your notes, so students can log in on any device to access their notes and recordings. Being a web app, Glean automatically updates on each device – no need to download and install new software each time. Many new updates within the app are aimed at helping users to organise and refine the information they collect from the notetaking functionality, assisting them to expand on their notes to create a quality product they can refer back to over the term.

Because Glean is web based, students can also integrate it with other browser apps and extensions like Grammarly. With the emergence of AI chatbots, Jim expects that the positive note taking experience will be further enhanced by the way AI ‘talks’ with the Glean app to make notetaking easier still.

New transcription feature

Importantly, Glean features a new transcription feature.  Users can view and interact with a transcript of the recorded audio rather than just an audio file. This change came directly from consultation with users. To ensure students engage with the content before them, the transcript isn’t created until after the recording has been completed. Glean regularly updates with new features. One of the most recent updates includes a new feature called study card groups. These act like a slide deck for students to add multiple snippets of structured information to a specific point in their notes feed.

This feature was created to “reduce cognitive load”, Jim explained.

Glean brings with it a new visual interface, which he said makes the whole process more intuitive. 

“It doesn’t look like an assistive technology anymore, like Audio Notetaker did. It now looks more like a social media tool,” Jim said.

This design concept carries through into the terminology used to refer to parts of the app; there’s an audio ‘feed’ and a text ‘feed’ for example. And the intuitive interface is making a difference.

“We’ve found first-time users instantly grasp the basics of Glean and very quickly start to use it effectively for their notetaking requirements. The overwhelming feedback we get from institutions is that they have also realised that because it’s so intuitive, they’re not having to devote a lot of their time to train students in an assistive technology like Audio Notetaker… they just have to give some minimal time to guide the students into utilising good study skill strategies,” Jim added.

Thanks to this, Glean came into its own during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when accessibility support services were stretched. The introduction of Glean meant students could get started on notetaking immediately, Jim said, even when learning from home.

“It was very fortuitous timing in the end because it met the challenges of remote learning perfectly,” he added.

Glean’s updates were made in consultation with users all around the world. The aim, according to Jim, was to ensure that the “technology doesn’t get in the way” while assisting students to engage with their captured content.

Glean gives control to users over how they capture information and how to organise it in notes that make sense to them, he explained.

“We looked hard at the evidence around students who are neurodiverse, who have attention difficulties or audio processing challenges. We just want to make sure that the interface we provide for students helps them minimise the cognitive load that comes with processing demands,” Jim said.

“There's been a lot of research done over many years around note taking and how it links to the student attainment and numerous studies all say the same thing, that the better the quality of notes that students produce [the better the] learning retention… [and] that correlates with better quality grades.”

“Because of that, it benefits everyone because notetaking demands are high for anyone who takes notes. It’s a very challenging cognitive process to take good quality notes. Glean does fall into that principle of universal design.”

Annual subscription

All institutions and organisations can buy an annual subscription to use Glean. Many have purchased large bundles but an institution can get started with as few as ten licences. Staff can log into a portal to deploy the licence by sending out an email invite to students, in a streamlined process that has won positive feedback, Jim said.

Sonocent Audio Notetaker will be maintained in legacy mode for around another year and a half so as not to disadvantage current users, but ultimately, Glean supersedes it. The aspiration is for Glean to help a million students around the world. Already in Australia, 25 universities have made the switch, Jim said, along with half a dozen in New Zealand.

Glean at Griffith University

Students at Griffith University have already made the full transition to Glean. Sharon Garside, Senior Disability Advisor at the university, said students are offered the trial version of Glean initially then contact the university to request a license after the trial period, showing that many students love Glean. As time has gone on, more and more students are taking up Glean at Griffith. Garside said the app is a “really good solution” to enable students to be independent in their notetaking.

Staff actively encourage new students to download Glean when they commence their studies or when they contact Student Disability and Accessibility for assistance. Practitioners follow up with students at the end of the trimester to find out what they thought of the new app, and she said feedback so far on Glean has been positive.

One challenge she has noticed has been in getting online students to understand how Glean can help them, and challenging that perception that just listening to a lecture recording is enough.

Sharon said one particular benefit of Glean over Sonocent is that students can log in on different devices. And while there are some functionalities she would like to see added to Glean, like voice shift, she is confident those features are coming down the pipeline and said Glean had been grateful for her feedback.

Griffith staff even encourage students to continue to use Glean in workplace settings for taking notes; this is particularly useful for students on work-integrated learning or placement. “I think the students really like it. It works well for them, and they use it for their entire degree,” she said.

Individual subscriptions for Glean can also be purchased. A discount currently applies to institutions that purchase individual subscriptions as well as individuals making a personal purchase. Enter discount code AUS15 at time of purchase from the Glean website.

Written by: Danielle Kutchel

April 2023