Working with Note-Takers in Higher Education

Working with Note-Takers in Higher Education

Working with Academic Support Workers (ASW’s) in Higher Education

Issued by the Student Enabling Centre (SEC)

Under the Equality Act 2010, there are legal obligations for universities to meet in relation to equality of opportunity and eliminating unlawful discrimination. We have an anticipatory duty to provide reasonable adjustments to ensure that students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties are not treated less favourably than their peers (QAA Code of Practice Chapter B3 and B4).

The Role of the Academic Support Worker (ASW)

The role of the Academic Support Worker is to enable students with different learning requirements to access all academic services provided by the university. This mainly includes library facilitation and taking handwritten notes in lectures, seminars and tutorials.

The ASW is a member of University staff and should be treated as such. He or she is not responsible for supported students and is not able to account for their whereabouts.


The standard of notes produced is strongly determined by whether the ASW has access to preparation materials through WOLF or academic staff via email prior to the session. It is essential that the ASW receives session materials beforehand in order to provide a high standard of notes for supported students. It would be beneficial if lecturing staff could ensure that any handouts that are not posted on WOLF before the lecture are made available to the ASW at least 48 hours prior to the lecture.

ASWs work in a wide range of subject areas and may not specialise in a particular field. Acquiring session information beforehand enables ASWs to familiarise themselves with the topic and unfamiliar subject specific terminologyin preparation for the session. The student will be informed if the lecturer is unable to provide lecture material.

During the Teaching Session

ASWs should always approach lecturers in a polite and professional manner. Academic staff are colleagues; We all have a responsibility to communicate effectively and respectfully with all university staff. At an appropriate juncture for both yourself and your students, the ASW will introduce themselves before the session begins. They may ask lecturers for clarification of:

  • The format of the session
  • Breaks
  • Facts or spellings (this might be necessary throughout the session)

Throughout a complex, information dense lecture, the ASW is continually listening, taking information in, parsing it and writing at speed. This is physically demanding and mentally exhausting. Ideally, in these lectures, ASWs should work for no more than 60 minutes without a 10 minute break. This is a recommended Health and Safety stipulation and should be observed by lecturers.

Student absence

The ASW will wait 20 minutes at the beginning of a teaching session and then text the SEC coordination office if the supported student does not arrive. They may be instructed to remain in the session and take notes if the supported student’s absence is related to their disability. Alternatively, the ASW will be re-directed to another student.

Student confidentiality

Supported students will not always sit next to, or acknowledge the ASW during the session. In these circumstances, it may be the case that the student wishes to remain anonymous during learning sessions; therefore, the support worker will not be allowed to divulge the name of the supported student. This information, along with any required accessible teaching materials can be accessed via your Faculty Enabling Tutor (FET).

More than one ASW

ASWs will only be asked to co-work if:

  • There are multiple students attending with differing learning requirements.
  • The teaching session is over three hours long and is information dense.
  • A student has not attended and the ASW has been sent, by the SEC office to co-work with a colleague.

Room Management

The ASW needs to be able to see clearly at all times. They will generally sit near the front of the class in order to hear the lecturer and see any visual presentations/diagrams clearly. The ASW will require a chair and table when sessions are taking place in non-standard classrooms. This will be arranged by the SEC.

The ASW needs to hear all student comments; therefore, it is important that students are directed to speak one at a time in question and answer sessions or group discussions.

For student presentations, it would be extremely helpful to supported students if the class could be requested to email their Power Point presentations to each other. This will allow the supported students to cross reference written notes from the ASW, with the slides shown without bringing attention to specific supported individuals.

The Note taking Process

Academic Support Workers aim to summarise the information given during a learning session capturing all the important details including informal information and comments made by students. It is physically impossible to write down everything said. Spoken language can be delivered at 180 words per minute and an ASW can write at an average of 30 words per minute. At the same time, they organise incoming speech and decide what is the most logical organisation, or intended organisation of the speaker. They have to construct grammatically correct sentences, check spelling and write legibly at speed. All of this has to happen at the same time that new speech is being processed for meaning.

The ASW may only capture between 16-21% of the information given, therefore, they are trained to prioritise the information based on identified aims and objectives for each session.

Deaf Students and the showing of Videosand Multi-Media recordings

The SEC, would like to remind programme and module leaders to ensure that all teaching staff including visiting lecturers are aware of the need for subtitled videos to be used, or at least transcripts provided, in teaching sessions where deaf students are present. This is because videos cannot be interpreted / transcribed effectively via simultaneous methods. Deaf students will miss the visual information in the video because they will have to watch the interpreter or view the notes being taken instead of watching the video. This will obviously create a substantial disadvantage for the deaf student(s) present.

Whenpurchasing new materials, staff may wish to consider purchasing DVDs because they generally include subtitles.Where it is not possible to purchase subtitled videos, a transcript of the video or the part of the video to be used can be provided instead. The SEC will transcribe videos on behalf of your school. Transcription work is a lengthy process and the SEC require at least 2 weeks’ notice to transcribe videos.

Please note all of the above also applies to any Multi-Media material.

For more information, please contact:

Telephone: 01902322325