Question: At the moment I am able to write for very short periods without too much discomfort, although typing/mouse work is very painful. I wondered if anyone had tried using a palm-held organiser (Palm V or Packard Bell or similar) with the handwriting recognition. I understand you teach this to recognise your handwriting and then can write directly onto the screen and this can be converted into PC software. I expect it’s painfully slow to teach and use. I am hoping to start college part-time in January (every other weekend) and want to find a way to be able to take notes during the course rather than rely on handouts and my memory and then using voice-type (which I hate!) to redo the notes later. Any suggestions?
Answer 1: I use a Palm V and have not yet had any RSI trouble from it, although I don’t do large amounts of text entry with it. The Palm doesn’t have to be taught your handwriting. Instead, you use a stylized alphabet (e.g. the ‘A’ doesn’t have the cross stroke. This is very easy to learn, although the punctuation is a bit more obscure. I find it to be quite good for entering text but I get a lot of wrong letters if I try and write quickly. This may just be a matter of practice but I have trouble imagining writing large amounts of notes with it. You can enter text offline and sync with your PC later, or there is software which will let the Palm act as a PC keyboard or touch pad using the serial port, so you can handwrite text to your PC (I haven’t tried this). However, it’s a great machine and I wouldn’t be without it (after being sceptical at first).
Answer 2: I started university this past September. It was a huge decision as I cannot write for very long. It took me several years to even think studying would be possible. I am part time. If there is one thing not to worry about, it is the note taking. It also was my concern, though. I have a notetaker, this is a person taking the same course who has volunteered to take notes for me. I am sure most universities will do this for you, but you must get all the documentation in place to say that you have this limitation (I choose to use the word “limitation”, but of course, technically you would have to have doctor say you have a “disability”). Now, this applies to universities, but colleges are coming up to speed with accommodation now … so I am hoping that is the case where you are, and if it isn’t, how about starting them thinking about it? (BTW, educ institutions seems to be more on the ball with this than business employers, etc.). The university provides me with carbonised paper, free, which I give to my notetaker. She merely gives me a copy. Three separate students volunteered to take notes for me, I do not pay my notetaker, but will give her a super Christmas prezzie! In addition, I got myself a little tape recorder, I use this to check out notes. I also take notes myself, but don’t worry if they are incomplete because then I check them against the notetaker’s set. I do shorthand, and use this from time to time for when I want extra notes that I don’t think my notetaker will have. It is all working out OK. There are other problems though, but I won’t address them now. Just wanted to let you know that, for me at any rate, notetaking is not a problem. There is extra time allowed for me on exams, too). Oh yes, another discovery I made, was that Science courses require less notetaking (more diagrams, figures, less unending notes, etc.) than the Arts courses I have done in the past.
Answer 3: I taught at a University till the end of this June. Students have been taping my lectures, seminars and tutorials for ages. So far as students are concerned, yes, they treat their employees well, I know all about that from my own bad experience. End of rant. There should be a Disability Adviser and a budget for equipment for you. The University/College should be ready to run tests on you (sorry, but they are a help; the testers are independent of the University, the results confidential to you: I have supervised disabled students as well as taught “them”, I know how this works) so tutors know what you need/require. Examinations accommodations should be made (etc. etc.). The Welfare Officer at the Student Union, and the Medical Centre people, are also there to help. If your supervisor isn’t right, change supervisor. You do need to watch for shorthand, yes. Really it’s best if lecturers will let you tape everything. (Being taped didn’t inhibit me) A lecturer should really check to see if the recordings are OK, too. My former University could provide voice software for students. I forget whether they actually did. It was certainly possible for the Disability Adviser to order computers powerful enough to run voice software, for individual student use: one of my supervisees got one.
Answer 4: Just remembered a few more things re notetaking. FINANCIAL HELP – always ask first: Where I live, there is a grant to buy the mini cassette recorder, (or any other applicable equipment) but as it involved getting quotes on price of two different recorders, and I was in a hurry – I did not avail of it. You could check out your options at your college on this. NOTES BY INSTRUCTOR – how given exactly?: One prof that I know of does all his lecture notes in PowerPoint. I am told he posts them on his website for his students to see/print off in advance of the lecture. He doesn’t want them spending all their time on notetaking, instead to concentrate on what he has to say in class. What a good idea from many perspectives. You could ask just how your lecture is delivered and if there are any angles around this for you. This is where attitude of college, prof, disabilities centre comes in. (Largely luck, but your own attitude and efforts might have some influence, but don’t blame yourself if they don’t – one might be up against things beyond our control like societal influences, personalities, budgets, politics, past students, etc.). OVERHEADS – please, pretty please, may I have?: I once tried asking for copies of these (at a college, not university) and was refused. It caused quite a fuss. You see, the o’heads were solid 14 pt typing and even the regular students had difficulty copying them down. Ridiculous. Enough to cause RSI. I was told that they were afraid I’d give copies to other students who would then not show up to class … the irony was that the course was on Workers’ Comp by somebody from Workers’ Comp. (Person was otherwise wonderful, said he/she was obeying college rules). SPACING OF CLASSES: Oh yes, I nearly forgot, if you have any choice in the matter, try not to schedule your classes back to back. A lecture is 50 mins with us, that is about all I can take sitting with pen in hand. It may not be quite such an efficient arrangement of your time (it definitely isn’t) but do space classes over a good part of the day, this may make the difference between it being doable or not. As yours is a weekend course, I fear you might not have such flexibility. PENS: That’s a matter of personal choice, but I am told the space pen is best if you use a slant board. I only use slant board for exams. In class, I use clipboard resting on my handbag which is on the writing flaps we have at the side of the seat, and I use a heavy text book as footrest, two if I am in the library where there are plenty:). Cover your footrest with plastic bag. SHORTHAND – if you can’t do: I am lucky in having this one up my sleeve from years of being a secretary, but perhaps if I hadn’t been a secretary I would not be in this position now. I digress. I am about to order a book on notetaking called PitmanScript. Apparently, you can go 80 to 100 words per minute with this one (though speed is definitely not my criteria). Shorthand can go to 350 wpm (who would want to?). It does indicate the script should be compact though. I figure I will add the PitmanScript to my arsenal. Disadvantage of shorthand, as you rightly said with your organizer, is transcribing it back. A decent set of notes done in some frm of coherent n’taking wd hlp. May be able to learn directly from it too. DISTANCE ED: Lastly, one course I am doing is a WEB course, this offers ultimate in pacing and zero notetaking. Highly recommend it. You would think it would involve oodles of time at computer, but it doesn’t. A lot of work can be printed off and read at leisure. Discussion groups are when you want too, more or less. Bulk of work still has to be done by reading. And that is another story about which I cannot be so positive, but then the studying always was the hard part of the game, not going to class. Class is the fun part, and even funner when you are trying to prove to yourself that RSI or not, notes can be taken. I mean it. I find it fun and a huge sense of accomplishment just to be able to participate in formal learning again. I often pinch myself, and say, yes, I really am doing it!