Case study: Austin Community College

Improving independence and cutting costs: Why AT is helping Austin Community College move beyond peer notes

Spending $50k a year on peer notes was the norm at Austin Community College. That is, until they piloted Sonocent. From that point on, Lauren Sebel and the Student Accessibility Services department have been tapering peer notes off in favor of AT.

‘My staff and I spent a ridiculous amount of time organizing and facilitating peer notes, and that included making copies and emailing students, and following up if they weren’t turned in. Plus, we were paying approximately $50k per year, which is a pretty big chunk of change!’

Lauren Sebel, Austin Community College

But it’s not all about money, either.

Austin Community College is committed to creating a culture of independence and self-advocacy. It was hard to see how to achieve this for students with disabilities while the primary support offered produced a dependency. If students are reliant on others for notes, how can they be independent learners?

‘We thought it was time to move into the 21st Century. We want all of our students to be independent and be able to self advocate.’

So why Sonocent?

Sonocent is designed to help students build independent note taking skills by scaffolding the process itself. The software records audio, visualizing phrases in bars to be color highlighted, annotated and more.

A student that struggles with traditional methods is no longer a passive observer of a lecture. They’re engaged, with the added reassurance that everything is being captured. This helps encourage active listening and the development of fundamental study skills.

Here’s a video of the software to give you a feel for it:


Sonocent had been on Lauren’s radar for a while. But in December 2017, she decided that the time was right to give it a try. Piloting the software was a success, and so her department decided to purchase an initial 100 licenses.

Student Uptake

This is all well and good, you might say, but it only has value if students are actually on board with it.

True. That’s why Austin’s introduction of Sonocent is so impressive.

In the Fall Semester of 2018, Lauren’s department issued 90 of the 100 licenses they purchased. But in Spring 2019, they managed to issue all 100 within two weeks.

How come?

Anyone approved for note taking support that came through Lauren’s office was presented with both Sonocent and traditional note taking support.

By showing students the software, instructional videos and tips, she found that enthusiasm for Sonocent helped it take off. And it helped that the shallow learning curve had users feeling confident with the software very quickly.

What happens next?

Now that Sonocent is flying at Austin, there are plans afoot to increase the number of licenses purchased. As much as this is about increasing access to the software, it’s also about moving towards a future without peer notes.

‘My dream is that we get rid of peer notetakers altogether, other than for students that cannot use the technology.’

Note taking accommodation without peer notes? It could happen at Austin.

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