Attending university can be a challenge, especially for students with medical conditions or disabilities. The University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) volunteer note-taker program, however, aims to remove some of the barriers.
This program, run by the university’s Accessibility Services department, connects students with classmates willing to provide them with their course notes.
Colleen Kwade, Accessibility Services assistant at the U of W, sheds light on the initiative.
“The program promotes inclusion and awareness of students with accommodation needs,” she says, adding that the volunteers are making an “essential contribution” to accessible learning.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the U of W’s shift to mostly online learning, some unique challenges have arisen.
“There’s now a variety of ways that instructors are providing content, so it can be a bit unpredictable,” Kwade says.
“The challenge now for student service providers is not knowing in advance how the instructors are going to be providing content,” she says.
Regardless, the Accessibility Services department is still looking for students to be note-takers this semester. If any class requires a volunteer, the instructors will mention it in their online lecture and post it on Nexus, the university’s online learning platform.
Adam Shyka, a U of W psychology student, was a volunteer note-taker for all of his classes last year.
“It’s absolutely been a great experience for me,” he says.
For Shyka, volunteer note-taking creates a sense of accountability, ensuring he diligently attends class and takes good notes.
“If ever I was on the fence about whether to go to class or not, it’s an added incentive to follow through,” he says.
“There’ve been lots of times in my life that I’ve needed help, so the fact that they’re wanting someone to take notes, it’s an easy way for me to give back,” Shyka says. “I think empathy is a big part of it.”
Kwade agrees there are numerous benefits for volunteers.
“They are learning to be more conscientious note-takers, because they are aware that they’re taking notes for someone,” she says.
“Because it’s a volunteer program, there is no compensation. We wish we could, but we will provide a letter of reference,” Kwade says.
Shyka says he’s gained a lot from this program.
“My grades have benefited,” he says. “It’s enriched my experience of being a member of the university community.”
For more information on this program, visit uwinnipeg.ca/accessibility-services/students.
Published in Volume 75, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 24, 2020)