There is an important service on the Gonzaga University campus that often flies under the radar: the peer notetaker.
This volunteer role, a crucial one for people who need special accommodations, is not getting the required turnout this semester. There are benefits meant to entice those that volunteer into staying in the program.
“[They are] volunteer notetakers in the classroom that are providing supplemental notes for accommodated students,” said Alissa Adams, program assistant for the Disability Access Office.
While taking notes is an important part of college, some students struggle with this. There can be a variety of reasons for this struggle and the Disability Access Office helps these students continue to find success in their academic experience.
In recent years, the Disability Access Office has struggled to accommodate these students.
Jason Varnado, associate director of the Student Center for Student Academic Success (Disability Access), said the office is missing 75% of its notetakers.
That means, among students who need assistance from peer notetakers, 25% of them are getting the help they need, which is key to their academic success.
Two issues the Disability Access Office faces are motivation and awareness.
Varnado addressed the “somebody else will do it” mentality that comes with volunteer programs such as a peer notetaker. It’s difficult for students when they are already busy with their own course work to write legible, easily understood notes. What many GU students don’t realize is there are benefits to the peer notetaker program that help to negate the extra work, Varnado said.
“[The Disability Access Office] is willing to write letters of recommendation,” he said.
In the world of advanced degrees and careers, letters of recommendation can be a valuable resource for students.
A survey administered by the Disability Access Office to its peer notetakers also revealed, according to Varnado, another important benefit of this volunteer work: more effective notes.
“[Peer note taking] helps with accountability,” Adams said.
When a student knows their notes will help to determine another student’s success in the class, they tend to take more organized and detailed notes, he said.
Another issue the Disability Access Office faces with the peer notetaker position is a lack of awareness and turnout. Adams and Varnado both said that a deficit in the volunteer program is an issue, and steps are being taken to address it. For one, you may notice signs around the John J. Hemmingson Center that advertise the volunteer program. These are meant to raise awareness.
Another method increases awareness: email. According to Adams and Varnado, emails are sent to students who are enrolled in courses along with someone who needs special accommodations. These emails are sent to the entire class, and the person who needs supplemental notes is never named, in an effort to maintain anonymity.
Once students receive an email, they can sign up through the Disability Access Office’s online system. Peer notetakers submit a copy of their notes into an online portal that allows easy access for people that need them. However, Varnado said students can give the notes directly to the accommodated student if both parties consent.
Though it may still be some time before peer note taking is an established on-campus job, notetakers may be financially compensated for their help in the future, according to Varnado.