> North East North American Federation

North East North American Federation


David Schweiger
Northampton Community College
3835 Green Pond Road
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania USA 18020

Highlights from Summer ICHRIE Conference at the Gaylord Texan

My peers in the West Federation will tell you that I’m known to take a SIP or two, especially toward the end of the day at our annual conference when we like to learn and share about the latest Beer, Wine, and Spirit trends.  There is another SIP…of sorts on our campus at MSU Denver however, and that is a Strong Instructional Practice or SIP. The office of Academic Affairs distributes these SIP’s throughout the year to faculty to offer a libation to enlighten the mind to reflect upon the craft of teaching and learning. One of these SIPS struck a chord with me this Summer as it related to student accommodations for note taking assistance in class. I thought to share this SIP for you as the idea of assigning note takers in class as part of an assignment encouraged me to rethink how I handle responses for a note taking request.  These SIPS can be seen for the past year at the following link:

In response to documented learning needs for students with disabilities, one type of accommodation is for faculty to request a volunteer to take notes during class. For these students, having a peer take notes allows for a detailed record of class discussions and activities. This process often depends upon the faculty encouraging student volunteers who charitably take notes and share those notes with the student with an accommodation.

My experience with this process is that there is no control of quality for the notes and a lack of privacy for the student with a disability. I’ve often wondered if there was a better way to link up an official note-taker to a student who needs them and how the quality of those notes might be maintained. One SIP suggested that perhaps faculty could make note taking a class assignment. My first reaction was negative, thinking that faculty should not be required to manage such a process. However, after a deep breath and ponder on the possibilities, an idea emerged. There could be a way for me to make note-taking an assignment that is not a heavy burden on my time and may improve all student learning, not just the student with an accommodation.

The idea is to post a list of assigned note-takers as a “discussion thread” in our learning management system, Blackboard. I took the class roster and assigned four note-takers each week on a rotating schedule. Each week, these students were asked to print the MS PowerPoint files in ‘notes’ style and annotate the slides with additional comments for clarity and detail beyond what is posted on the slides. As they ‘post’ their notes in the discussion thread, I receive a notice to grade the posted assignments. I can review the notes and assign points. For this semester I decided to make the assignment extra credit, but I’m learning that the assignment can improve learning of all students and may be worthy of a regular course assignment.

Once the notes are posted, a few minutes at the beginning of class I can review the notes, talk about what are good notes, how they could be better and encourage more detailed and accurate note taking for the next class. What I’ve learned from this process is that I am in a sense, reviewing the material from the previous week and encouraging students to share their ideas with one another. By my emphasis on the notes, students are more engaged during class and tend to ask more questions. I find that those taking notes want to “get it right” and are following along with class discussions and activities in a more engaged manner.

Perhaps in future classes I won’t be making note taking an extra credit assignment. I may be making the process of taking notes a regular and valued activity for all students in every class! My greatest joy came the week after assigning the extra credit assignment. I asked students how it was going. Did they have difficulty posting the notes?  Scanning?  “No,” they responded, “we just take a picture with our phone and post right after class.” How perfectly Millennial I thought to myself.  More joy was realized as one student with an accommodation for note taker said he loved the assignment because “it worked and I don’t have to ask for it.” I assumed he meant that there was no guilt…notes became a natural part of the class and something all students share. Perhaps my sharing of this SIP will encourage others to rethink the most ancient of learning practices….taking notes.

Other than taking notes, is there another instructional practice that you want to share? Others you may learn from?  Each of the federations have announced their plans for regional conferences. By the time of this publication most submissions are under review and programs are being developed. Whether you are presenting or attending to learn, I encourage attending a federation conference and taking frequent SIPS from multiple conference sessions.  There is much to learn from one another and best practices to share.


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