Students with hearing impairments can find the classroom a
difficult environment. Classroom learning is predicated on the aural
acquisition of information, generally from lectures, questions, answers,
and discussion. However, this avenue is blocked for the student with a
moderate-to-severe hearing impairment. Universities place a premium on
aural learning. Without appropriate resources and support, many people
with hearing impairments who want to study within the mainstream
university system, find it difficult to pursue their educations.
This article describes C-Note, a recently developed system for
overcoming some of these problems. C-Note is a communications package
that is designed to allow a student with a hearing impairment to benefit
from lectures and participate more fully in the educational process.
PROBLEMS FACING STUDENTS WITH HEARING IMPAIRMENT
Accurate notetaking is exceedingly difficult for a student with a
hearing impairment. Reception and transcription of lecture material
poses a major challenge because one cannot take notes while
simultaniously relying on a visual system of information acquisition.
For instance, if the student is an excellent lip-reader, under the best
circumstances only about 65% of what is said is received. Additional
information is lost when the teacher turns to write on the board, looks
down, or walks beyond the point of optimal viewing for the student who
is lip-reading. Material presented in an audio-visual format, such as
overhead projections, can sometimes be followed, but accompanying verbal
explanations are lost.
At present there are a number of strategies being used by
hearing-impaired students to acquire classroom, lecture material. For
example, manual notetakers may be used, but their interpretation of the
material may be selective or incomplete. Some universities use
close-captioned systems where a court stenographer types at a keyboard
and the text appears on a television monitor, but court stenographers
require special training, and their services are expensive and difficult
to obtain. Hearing-impaired students may not be able to respond or ask
questions unless they and the stenographer are trained in the same
Some institutions hire oral interpreters or persons trained in sign
language to accompany the student. These systems allow the student to
follow the lecture as it is happening and ask questions through the
interpreter. However, trained interpreters are expensive and scarce.
These systems do not permit the student to derive a set of notes without
the addition of a manual notetaker.
C-NOTE SYSTEM DESIGN
C-Note uses two linked laptop computers, one for the notetaker and
one for the student. The computers are chosen for portability. On each
computer the display is divided horizontally into two windows. The upper
window displays incoming messages. Text and messages are entered in the
lower window and are sent to the other computer.
During the lecture, the notetaker types in lecture material which
then appears on both screens. Although previous systems have used this
approach, the C-Note system goes beyond this by allowing the student and
notetaker to communicate with each other via the computer. With the
C-Note software, the student and notetaker can exchange messages over
the serial line. The messages are appended into the workspace of each
laptop and may be saved to disk on each computer as a permanent record
of the session.
Other systems do not generally allow the student to review the
lecture material during the lecture. With C-Note, the student can scroll
back through the workspace while the notetaker continues to type,
facilitating better consolidation of the lecture material.
Special Design Features
C-Note has specific features that assist in the notetaking process.
For example, a typist listening to a lecture and typing has little time
to make corrections or to observe margins. Simple editing functions are
built into the program so that the typist can insert, delete or
overwrite text. Automatic word wrap frees the typist to concentrate on
the lecture. The word being typed when automatic word wrap forces a new
line becomes the first word of that line. When the end of line is
reached, the current line is automatically appended to the end of the
body of text, i.e., the session log, on both machines.
Each laptop keeps a record of the entire session in its local
workspace. Sometimes sections of a lecture must be changed or discarded,
for instance, if a lecturer digresses or makes corrections to material
presented previously. C-Note has a built-in, full-screen editor that
lets the typist or student make large scale changes to the material very
Modes of Operation
In a typical lecture situation, the program is operated in
'chat' mode, which is the default mode of operation. In chat
mode, as text is typed it appears in the lower window of the
typist's display and the upper window of the student's
display. Simultaneously, the student can enter messages. These appear in
the lower window of the student's display and the upper window of
the typist's display.
The 'edit' mode lets the student scroll back through the
material in the local workspace while the typist continues to type. If
the student selects edit mode, the typist continues to operate in chat
mode, documenting the lecture. Incoming text continues to be appended to
both workspaces. If the edit window is displaying text near the end of
the student's workspace, new lines of text will be displayed as
they are received from the typist.
C-Note is based on a peer-to-peer model. Each machine runs
identical software, and participates equally in the communications
process. The null modem serial cable is wired so data sent by one laptop
is received by the other, and vice versa.
The components labelled 'Popup', 'Editor' and
'PwrEd' are objects operating within the program. Two
instances of the PwrEd object have been used. The first is labelled
'PwrEd(1)', to distinguish it from the other, which is
labelled 'PwrEd(2)'. When a key is pressed on the keyboard, a
scan code is generated. The scan code is selectively passed to the
'Popup', 'Editor' or 'PwrEd(1)' objects
depending on the current mode of the program. The default mode is
PwrEd(1) is the power input editor. It handles the task of editing
the current line of outgoing text, buffering the data and updating the
screen. Scan codes received by PwrEd(1) are echoed to the remote system
by passing them to the component 'Tx,' which represents the
interrupt driven send routine.
At the other end of the cable, the interrupt driven receive
routine, represented by 'Rx' receives the scan code. The
incoming scan code is passed to PwrEd(2). PwrEd(2) responds to the
incoming scan code in the same manner as PwrEd(1), so the lower window
of the PwrEd(1) object looks identical to the upper window of the remote
laptop, which is handled by PwrEd(2). This is how the windows are
When PwrEd detects the end of a line, either when the user presses
RETURN, or if auto word wrap is triggered, then the contents of its
buffer are transferred to the local workspace. This is how a log of the
session is maintained. When 'Edit' mode is invoked the users
can make changes to the local workspace. They can scroll back through
the log, and add, change or delete lines of text. If the edit window is
displaying text at or near the bottom of the log, incoming messages will
cause the edit window to refresh, so the user gets a true representation
of the contents of the log.
ADVANTAGES OF THE C-NOTE SYSTEM
There are many advantages to this system. C-Note lets the student
with a hearing impairment receive virtually all of the information
presented in the classroom. This is increasingly important in a
multimedia lecture environment where more emphasis is placed on
interactive learning. The notetaker can not only enter lecture material,
but also questions from other students, explanations that follow, and
contextual commentary (such as sighs and groans). C-Note also
facilitates interactive communication and encourages the student with a
hearing impairment to be an active member of the class. The student can
type a question or comment and the notetaker can direct it to the
appropriate person and then relay the response.
A very important component of the program is the editor window. The
scrollback feature (in edit mode) lets the student review portions of
the lecture that were missed while copying diagrams or attending to
visually presented material. The scroll back function allows the user to
catch up and to relate the visual material to the spoken explanation or
to a comment or a question. Switching between edit mode and chat mode is
accomplished with a single keystroke.
The system is compact, easily portable, and can be stored anywhere.
It uses IBM PC compatible hardware, which is easy to acquire and in no
danger of becoming extinct. With C-Note, little specialized training is
required. The notetaker must have excellent typing skills and be
familiar with the course material. Often upper year, undergraduate
students or graduate students can be employed.
The implementation of C-Note pilot project which ran from June 1992
to May 1993 afforded an opportunity to explore the implications of the
From the student's viewpoint, difficulties with previous
systems included not having complete information to study from:
"... There is a certain amount of bias and subjectivity on the part
of a manual notetaker. It was difficult for me to determine just how
complete my notes where. Often it was not until I was faced with an exam
that I realized that certain information was not in the text and was
also not in my notes. The computerized notetaking is a real boon for me.
It never fails to amaze me how much I have missed out on while using a
The student, notetaker and lecturer must work as a team. The
student and notetaker quickly develop an appropriate short-hand which
expedites both note-taking and communication. The student is not a
passive member of the team. For instance, one of the student's
functions is to follow and transcribe visual material such as overhead
projections. The notetaker must be familiar with the course material,
because words and symbols and formulas can be confused. The material
comes too fast for the uninitiated to obtain a good verbatim account.
Also, notetakers must record all information even if comments or
questions by students don't appear to make sense. This gives the
student with a hearing impairment a sense of where others in the class
are having difficulty.
Clearly, with C-Note, the student's participation in classroom
activities can be increased. The student can formulate questions and
observations. This can serve to remind the lecturer and class of the
student's participation in, and valuable contribution to the
learning process. This system thus affords the student some control over
the lecture process, and motivates the student to stay
'tuned-in' throughout the lecture. This gives the student a
sense of competence, replacing feelings of disconnection and
helplessness. Not only is the level of participation in the lecture
increased, but after the lecture, the process of reviewing and revising
notes from the almost verbatim transcript closely approximates the
hearing student's learning experience.
The C-Note Experience in the Classroom
Careful introduction to faculty, staff and students was essential
to the success of the C-Note program at Queen's. Objections to the
system included concerns about the noise of the keyboard and the
continuing distraction for the class because of the new and foreign
activity. The student commented that "... The noise of the keys was
distracting to professors and students early on, but people quickly grew
accustomed to the scene and ignored it." Some professors tended to
use the noise from the keyboard as a cue for pacing their presentation.
The notetakers informed them that this wasn't necessary, and
assumed responsibility for alerting the professor, as would any student,
when a pause or clarification was necessary. As the school term
progressed, some classmates took advantage of the system by sitting
behind the notetaker so they could follow along. Consultation and
cooperation among student, notetaker, professor, and class ultimately
led to increased acceptance of the system. At the completion of the
pilot project, the student with a hearing impairment was extremely
enthusiastic about C-Note, and commented "... I strongly encourage
anyone considering trying computerized note-taking to give it a shot
It is important to note that technology by its self doesn't
solve all problems. The additional lecture information afforded to the
student with a hearing impairment requires careful educational support
to be properly utilized. If this is not done, the sheer amount of
lecture material can overwhelm the student who is accustomed to a more
passive role in the lecture process, where decisions regarding quantity
and relevance of information have been made by the notetakers. Thus a
program such as C-Note dramatically increases both the student's
involvement in, and responsibility for, the lecture process. Future
modifications to C-Note might involve generating symbol dictionaries,
accessible by a single key-stroke, to facilitate notetaking during
mathamatics and science lectures. Post- lecture editing functions are
now typically accomplished using a word processing program. Word
processing functions could be incorporated into the program and tailored
to individual needs. The day may yet arrive when professors request a
computer of their own linked to the C-Note system to review what has
been said during the lecture and perhaps to comment directly to the
hearing-impaired student. The time has clearly arrived when
technological innovations can reduce or eliminate the educational and
social isolation of the hearing-impaired student who wishes to pursue
education in a mainstream classroom, and at the same time, prove a
benefit to all students.
TO OBTAIN A COPY OF C-NOTE:
1) CNote has been uploaded to CompuServ, IBMSPECIAL forum, to the
'Software' library. The file is called 'CNOTE.ZIP'.
The distribution contains the CNOTE.EXE program and documentation.
2) CNOTE.ZIP can be downloaded from the Internet, using anonymous
ftp from Kirk.CCS.QueensU.CA, 188.8.131.52, in the /pub/special
3) CNOTE is available on the Queen's Campus at the Micro
Information Center in Dupuis Hall. The program may be copied from a
For Further Information About C-Note, contact:
Learning Support Counsellor
Queen's Counselling Service
St. Lawrence Bldg. Ground Floor
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6