This post has been a while in the making but it is finally here. Find out about some Assistive Technology for Note Taking.

Some Notetaking Tools


Most people think about digital recorders (or even cassette tape – for those of us still stuck in the eighties – anyone still have a good mixed tape?) when I mention recording lectures. This post will cover a couple different kinds of recorders and Notetaking tools that may be useful.

Some of the Pros and Cons of each device or app will be listed but this is not a comprehensive list so feel free to share what you use, how you use it and why.

Digital Audio Recorders


Records all the sound

This sounds (sounds weird saying sound so many times so close to together?) good in theory but consider having to check a 3 hour lecture more than once. The ability to check everything that is recorded is good when you have a way to mark and jump to key points; that’s why an index or bookmark feature is so important. I would not buy a Digital Recorder that does not have a bookmark feature.

Organize your recording

A good recorder lets you organize your audio into ffolders, some recorders will let you make as many folders as you need and let you name them so it is easier to find what you are looking for

No Cables, No Software

I like simple things, hmm let me rephrase that… I like simple things that let me have lots of choice and that I can overcomplicate my life if I choose to? I like digital recorders that do not need a cable to connect or any special software to synch to a computer.


Records everything you hear in class.

Remember without an easy way to jump around your recording you will use a lot of time finding what you want to check.

Get close to what you want to record and you should get a better recording with less of what you don’t want to record (do you really want to know what happened on Survivor last night when you are reviewing your lectures).

Only record Audio

Digital Audio Recorders are just that – Audio recorders; They don’t record anything else so if you have a diagram you need to get down or some other important piece of information that you can’t get from the audio you are going to need to find another way to get your notes.

Stage Fright

Ask yourself ‘Do I like being recorded?’ A lot of people do not like the idea of being recorded. Some people even change what they were going to say when they know they are being recorded. See the section on Recording Etiquette for some info related to this.

Some things to look for

  • Index/bookmark
  • Folders
  • No cables, no software to synch to a computer

WS-700M series from Olympus

            Things I like

  • Connect directly to your computer
  • Lots of options like settings for clearer playback, different record and playback quality and more – see Things I don’t like

            Things I don’t like

  • Only has 5 voice recording folders
  •  Complicated menu that has more choices than the average person will use

DM Series from Olympus

            Things I like

  • Voice – This series has what Olympus calls Voice Guidance and may be helpful for someone who is visually impaired

            Things I don’t like

  • Uses USB cable to connect to PC

Video Recorders (mini)

Kodak Playsport Zx5


Record what you see and hear

Sometimes you just need to see what is going on. This kind of a tool may be really good when you want to record something that really doesn’t make sense any other way then by seeing it again. Some students and Profs at Algonquin use video recorders to record lab demos, shop work, drawings and just about anything else that they want to look at again. If you are a visual learner this may be something that appeals to you.


Mini recorders are just that, mini. They are small lightweight and don’t take a lot of room while recording. People around you may not even notice that you are recording them.

Easy to use

Most of these recorders have a big ‘Easy / Record’ button and fairly straight forward basic controls The devices that I have worked with have the software on them and are easy to setup.


People really don’t like being videoed

People have some strong emotions about being videoed. Maybe they don’t like how they look (damn it I did not fix my hair and this shirt makes me look 20 lbs. bigger). It is important to talk to your Prof ahead of time just to make sure they are aware of what you are doing.

May need extra accessories

Depending on the type of video recorder you are using and the place you want to use it in you may need to get a tripod, a light, or even an external microphone. Sometimes it feels like you are setting up for a major production.

Short record time

This is more or a relative statement. Most classes are around 2 hours, most of the mini recorders can record for 2 hours but you need to make sure you move your video from your recorder to something else if you have more than one class in a day. Most people using these are not recording entire lectures.

Digital Pens

This is my favourite note taking category. The Livescribe seems to be the perfect blend of old meets really cool. You will find out more about the Livescribe from Christine but I wanted to add my 2 cents.

The Livescribe is by far the coolest note taking tool I have worked with in my career! It’s a pen, it’s a recorder, it’s a calculator, a movie maker and even a piano. This tool is one of the reasons I get excited about Assistive Technology.


MS OneNote

Recording Tips

Closer is usually better. Whether you are recording audio and/or video remember that you may be recording everything between you and your Prof or what you are trying to record. Sure you can go out and get a high quality parabolic microphone or a zoom lens but it may be easier (and cheaper!) to get closer. Studies say that the closer you sit in class the better your marks will be?

Recording Etiquette

It is a good idea to let someone know that you want to record them, it is probably best to do this in the form of a question ‘Do you mind if I record you’. In some cases if you meet with resistance or the person you want to record seems uncomfortable it may help to explain that you are using your recording device as an academic accommodation.

In some cases you may be able to record some parts of a class but may have to turn off your recorder for parts of your class (A personal discussion, a guest who is not comfortable being recorded etc.).


Note Taking Assistive Technology  and Learning Strategies

Above is a link to a video that introduces the idea of combining Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies for Note Taking.

If you want to learn more about any of the Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies you see or hear about leave a comment, send us an email or if you are student stop in and see your Assistive Technologists or Learning Strategists at your school.

BTW, the person featured in the video graduated from Algonquin College, wtg Stacey!


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2 Responses to Note Taking Assistive Technology

  1. Chris says:

    Hey Jay,Rob Chappel mentioned this post on his podcast!

  2. Jay says:

    Thanks Rob, any mention is always appreciated!

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