How ‘jotters’ are providing invaluable help for people with disabilities wanting to return to learning at the Learning Support Centre.

For people with disabilities, such as dyslexia, hearing and sight impairment or Autism Spectrum Disorder, dealing with the challenges of becoming a student presents seemingly insurmountable obstacles. One of these is note taking - probably one of the most important skills students in further and higher education need, but for disabled learners it can present too tough a hurdle to jump. That’s where professional note takers can make all the difference.

For more than 15 years the Learning Support Centre and Jotters, based in Leicester, has been helping people with disabilities to access education and employment opportunities. One of the services they offer for disabled students is someone to take notes in lectures and classes, either manually or electronically on a laptop or similar device.

“It’s quite a skill taking notes on behalf of someone else. Our note takers work one-to-one with the student, their client, to see what they need and how they want their notes presented,” explains Donna Welburn, Operations Director of The Learning Support Centre.

The note takers, electronic or manual, allow the student to concentrate on what the lecturer is saying without worrying about recording it. They then refer to the notes taken on their behalf later, as if they’d taken them themselves. The students might take their own notes too. There is also software available for students with disabilities which allows computers to ‘talk’ to each other so students can see on their laptops what their note taker is taking down, explains Donna.

The Learning Support Centre offers two courses at level 2 and 3, accredited by OCN London. These courses allow the note takers - or ‘jotters’ as they’re also called - to comply with the Disabled Students’ Allowances Quality Assurance Framework as a note taker. Both bespoke courses were designed jointly with OCN London to meet their specific needs.

The level 2 course lasts for one day. Focusing on manual note taking it offers the chance for participants to learn new strategies for note taking, discuss how different environments affect their approach and reflect on their own note taking practice. There is also a disability awareness section where participants look at the importance of ‘reasonable adjustments’ and’ inclusivity’ , the power of language and the barriers many disabled students may face when they transition to further or higher education. The course also covers confidentiality, safeguarding and signposting to ensure note takers are working within the boundaries of their role. To get their accreditation certificate they have to complete workbooks and they are also set a timed task.

The level 3 course is for electronic note takers. They need a good typing speed of at least 40 words per minute, preferably 60. Whilst that’s much slower than people speak the idea isn’t to take a verbatim note of the lectures but to capture their essence for the client, or whatever it is the client specifically requires.

All jotters have to be graduates. Donna explains why. “Graduates have experience of taking notes as part of their studies and they concentrate a lot harder when taking notes for someone else. It’s very enjoyable and rewarding work. Not only are you helping someone to access higher education., you’re often learning something yourself if it’s a subject that’s new to you.”

The Learning Support Centre is based in Leicester, although training is delivered across the UK in places that include Newcastle, Brighton and Wales. Everyone who works as a note taker at The Learning Support Centre completes the OCN London accredited course.

“We’ve found OCN London very flexible and easy to work with and we now have direct claim status which means we can offer the courses and verify them ourselves,” says Donna. “We get audited by OCN London at least once a year to make sure we’re on track. But the beauty of direct claim status is that it speeds up the process of completing the course administration, allowing a shorter turnaround time for our clients.”