Rolling Out Sonocent: Montana’s Playbook

Rolling Out Sonocent: Montana’s Playbook

Sonocent Account Manager Hannah Woodruff recently conducted a webinar with the University of Montana’s AT Specialist, Tim McHenry to discuss his approach to securing budget and getting the most from the software. Here, she shares the key lessons learned and how they could help you achieve success with Sonocent.

Ever thought about how your institution would respond to a lawsuit over inaccessibility? That’s what the University of Montana faced in 2012. Their online learning platforms were due a serious overhaul, and the need for reliable and effective assistive technology to back this up came with it.

The State of Play

Sonocent has had an integral role in Montana’s fresh approach to online accessibility over the past few years.

Along with the implementation of screen readers & magnifiers, literacy software, smart pens and iPads, Sonocent’s function as the primary accommodation for note taking rounds out a balanced AT toolkit that saw them ranked 4th best online school in the US for students with disabilities by the Guide for Online Schools in 2018.

Montana now has 55 Sonocent licenses, with the software being rolled out to the whole University in the Fall.

But Montana’s Assistive Technology specialist Tim McHenry knew that in order to secure that all-important budget, he needed a rich set of data to support his case.

The strategy McHenry adopted put collecting student insight at the center, and resulted in Montana purchasing an initial 37 licenses, with this number increasing shortly thereafter.

As the University is about to go all-in with a full roll-out of the software, we’ll show you how he went about it.

McHenry’s Playbook

How to ensure a successful implementation of Sonocent, the UoM way

Step 1: Recruitment

Recruiting the right students was crucial to McHenry’s efforts. He initially went through Disability Services to get students signed up that he knew would make good use of the software. As an added incentive, he promised participants they would have priority of use going forward.

– Engaged students likely to participate fully

Step 2: Covering the Basics/Smooth Implementation

AT’s no good if students lack the rudimentary computer skills to use it. So, once he had his initial cohort, McHenry covered off some fundamentals. He assessed the computer skills of each participant, giving basic advice on how to operate the technology, checked the devices to make sure they’d run the software, and taught the software in more detail while directing its use to the student’s specific disability. This ensured each student was fully ready to get the most value from the software.

– Preparing students thoroughly

Step 3: Gaining Insight

Getting student insight can be tricky. So McHenry tackled this head-on. He made use of the software conditional on completing surveys. This included restricting the use of Sonocent the week before finals until students completed a final survey. McHenry made participation in data collection part of the experience of using the software, knowing that gaining student feedback is traditionally a challenging task.

✅ – A structure encouraging feedback

“The first survey is really important because it asks questions like, ‘what is your note taking strategy?’, ‘What do I use when taking notes?’ and ‘What is my GPA?’. The final survey is equally important because it asks how you use the software and how your GPA has changed. These questions are critical when it comes to presenting for budget.”


Step 4: Presenting the Data

McHenry had a group of engaged students using the software and feeding back through his surveys at a rate of 80% (given that mail response rates for the 2010 US Census were 74%, this is pretty good going!). He also had plenty of good anecdotal evidence that the software was benefiting students, with many students claiming it was instrumental to their success. But it was the data showing GPA increases of up to 1.5 points that really stood out.

And it’s not just the University of Montana that’s seen dramatic improvements in GPA. Check out Tennessee Tech’s Sonocent story to see how the software delivered for their students.

– Data that shows results

The Pay-Off

McHenry set up an effective data-gathering structure which highlighted the real benefits of Sonocent software through its engaged users. As McHenry said in our recent webinar, many students now ‘live and die by the program’, and he still has students that were on the original pilot regularly using Sonocent.

But by creating a feedback-loop that was tied to the use of the software, McHenry had the numbers, stats and facts to help build a solid business case.

Clearly, this was a huge success for McHenry and the University of Montana. His experience demonstrates that, by taking simple steps, you too could make collecting student insight a cinch.  

“When all is said and done, we are bringing Sonocent to the entire University of Montana in the Fall. This is great not only for the roughly 1,200 students who are registered with Disability Services, but having Sonocent site-wide could also be a great way for students who aren’t identifying as disabled to take advantage of the software.”


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