Expanding means of taking notes


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If one University of Iowa researcher has his way, students will have options when it comes to taking notes.

Whether reading, writing, or listening to classes, students should choose what's best for them, said James Stachowiak, the coordinator for the University of Iowa's Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research.

With a three-year, $340,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Higher Education, Stachowiak plans to grant all students access to their preferred learning style through an effort called the universal design for learning.

"Universal design is student-focused, student-centered. It is focused on mastery, not just performance," Stachowiak said. "It augments anybody's capabilities to be more effective."

Though the national grant was designed to help students with learning disabilities, all students, regardless of diagnosed conditions, learn through different media, Stachowiak said. One way he works to increase awareness of these learning options is through a lunch and learn program.

The program brings in teachers to learn about the universal design for learning, and it has grabbed some teachers' attention.

"I definitely support it," said Elizabeth Delsandro, a clinical assistant professor in the communication-sciences and disorders department. "We want to accommodate all learners and engage and motivate all learners."

She said she plans to use some of the ideas for an upcoming lesson plan.

The ideas range from the simple, such as informing students of free software that can translate any text document into an MP3 file, to more complex, such as the Pulse Smart Pen, which Stachowiak demonstrated at the last workshop.

The pen combines a digital voice recording with a special notepad on which users can take physical notes linked to specific portions of the recording. Stachowiak suggested having teachers pass the pen around to their students and allow them to each be in charge of the class notes for the day. Then, by uploading the information to a website, the professors would provide both a visual and audible way of reviewing class material.

Stachowiak said actually implementing the concepts should be easy and inexpensive — making it easier when the federal grant runs out.

"It is easier to integrate into anybody's lifestyle because you are already using it," he said.

"Everyone walking around here has the core technology. Let's just provide a different stream of data so they can modify how they use it."

While many teachers at the most recent luncheon expressed interest in implementing the pens, one said some older professors may be resistant to the change.

"I think that anytime you try to change anything, it is kind of an uphill battle," said Jacinda Bunch, a lecturer in the College of Nursing. "I haven't been teaching that long at the university, so it may be easier for me to change something than someone that had a particular course for five or six years."

Though changes may be slow for some professors, Stachowiak said, the new offerings can make a real difference.

"This really is a great tool not just for your students with disabilities but for everyone," he said. "If you are providing your class notes with audio as well, you are really freeing up your students to participate."

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