How Western Oregon University found the perfect recipe for students and budgets with Assistive Technology
Admin support staff in Disability Services departments have a tough job.
The responsibility to ensure that students are provided with reasonable accommodations will always be balanced against ever-tightening budgets and limited time.
It can feel like prioritising one need over another will negatively affect the other two. And that’s not to mention inevitable pressure from faculty and director-level staff. So, finding a solution that delivers across these three needs is the Holy Grail of any accommodations coordinator.
This is where Assistive Technology could step in.
Let’s take a quick look at recent example.
AT at Western Oregon University
Program Specialist and Accommodation Coordinator for the Office of Disability Services at W. Oregon University.
We spoke to Louann Casares at W. Oregon University as part of our regular series of webinars. As Program Specialist and Accommodation Coordinator for the Office of Disability Services, she is very familiar with the pressure Disability Support staff are under.
She shared with us her experience of implementing assistive technology at Western Oregon and the effect this has had on student experience and accommodations expenditure, as well as giving us some insight into how this has affected staff workload.
First, the context:
Western Oregon University
- Student Population: 6,000
- Students approved for note taking services: 239
- Number of courses: 300
- Accommodation cost per student (pre-2018): $200
Western Oregon is a medium-sized University. Paying for the services of peer notetakers alone would cost Casares’s department around $35,000 per year. With budgets being continually squeezed, this was an expense that had to be reduced.
Assistive technology was looked at as a solution to the problem of note taking accommodation. That’s when Casares first turned to Sonocent.
What is Sonocent?
Sonocent is a note taking software that puts the student firmly in control. It records audio, breaking it down into chunks for easy highlighting, so that students can flag important information or things to be reviewed.
A side panel allows for quick annotation of material as it’s being presented, and there are a wealth of features that make the audio recording more accessible to students with a disability.
It’s a technological solution to a longstanding problem: how to make the classroom experience truly valuable to all learners, regardless of their note-taking ability.
And it’s saved W. Oregon disability services a significant amount of money.
Louann Casares reported that:
- Cost per student was reduced by 75% after implementation of Sonocent
- Use of the software reduced administration time significantly (vs use of peer note takers)
- Number of invoices paid by admin reduced from 653 to 1
- Students found greater independence in note taking, and confidence in accommodation.
“[Peer notetakers are] an expensive accommodation to provide, and while that wasn’t the main factor in having us go towards a more automated system, it definitely is a benefit.”Louann Casares
Western Oregon now assigns peer note takers on a case-by-case basis, making assistive technology the default accommodation provided to students.
Students and staff alike have been enthusiastic about the difference Assistive Technology has made to learning. And the savings made from reducing dependency on peer note takers has eased time and cost pressure on Disability Services.
“The motivating factor was students’ needs were not being met so either we start hiring minimum wage student workers to take notes in class or we look for other options with technology.
This is really about providing students the opportunity to take their own notes and be in charge of their own learning and be independent.”Louann Casares