Interview with Antony Ruck from BATA Regarding the New DSA 2016 Guidance

The other week, updates were released affecting DSA guidance for the 16/17 year. Our director Dave spoke to Antony Ruck, chair of the British Assistive Technology Association, to explore what they mean for students and DSA professionals.

The new guidance indicates a move away from recommending DVRs through the DSA. So we have also scheduled a series of webinars entitled 'Note taking without DVRs: a challenge or an opportunity'

Watch the video:

Questions asked:

[00:39] How would you summarise the update to the guidance?

[01:12] Do you consider [moving away from DVRs] to be an evolution or quite a big step change?

[02:00] Is it a case now where the DSA recommends using a student's own equipment?

[02:55] Does that mean that students engage during class? Does that mean that they can fully access those recordings and take notes on them in the same way that students without disabilities would be able to?

[05:27] What you think are the questions on DSA accessors minds?

[05:39] What is sort of the recording quality of people's own devices? Does that really compare to using a digital voice recorders? Regarding the recording length, are you going to get the same sort of volume of recordings onto a mobile device? And what about the battery life of a lot of people's devices? So how would you respond to those, Dave?

[09:48] Should any of these changes be a concern for accessors or students?

[10:09] Are there any concerns around using an external microphone whilst recording to a laptop?


Full Transcript:

Dave: Hi, I'm Dave Tucker and I run Sonocent, the makers of Audio Notetaker and Sonocent Recorder. I'm here today with Antony Ruck who is the chair of the British Assisted Technology Association (BATA) and we're here to discuss the latest update to SFE's DSA guidance for 2016 / 2017.

So, the guidance that was released last week covered numerous things, one of them included advice on recording devices. So, how would you summarise the update to the guidance?

Antony: I suppose in summary, the change to the guidance really is that although funding will still be available for things like digital voice recorders, specialist microphones and recording pens, primarily assessors should consider other options such as institutional
provisions such as lecture capture and also the student's own equipment so smart phones and laptops as the being that the primary adjustments.

Dave: So, a departure away from DVRs, do you consider that to be an evolution or quite a big step change?

Antony: I genuinely think it's just an evolution of the technology that's been adopted within the DSA for many years now. We originally, when I was involved, started out with little dictaphones and micro cassettes and we then moved onto minidisc recorders for a short time and then onto digital voice recorders and, with each step the recording is improved and the functionalities improved and I think that recording to a laptop or via an app on your smartphone is a natural evolution and an improvement on the current system.

Dave: Yeah, that makes absolute sense. I guess the major difference this time is whereas the likes of tape recorders, minidisc players, DVRs were all provided through the DSA now FSE are saying actually if the student has this equipment already, they should use the student's equipment.

Antony: Absolutely. I think that engagement is key to this as well. It takes note taking from being a very passive activity as, with a tape recorder, there's not a lot you can do to influence that recording whereas with recording direct to an app or into your laptop, it becomes a much more interactive and awareness-raising activity and so you are probably engaged within the note-taking process, rather than drifting away as can happen when we're not fully engaged.

Dave: And, I think that's one of my concerns with saying that lecture capture is always going to be a great accommodation for note taking if that's what FSE are implying is that just because there's a recording made available potentially through the university's lecture capture system, does that mean that students engage during class? Does that mean that they can fully access those recordings and take notes on them in the same way that a student without a disability would be able to?

Antony: Most definitely. I think that there there are a number of cases where the capabilities of usability of lecture capture has been overestimated. I think there is a great danger that students will heavily rely on recording which they will later have to come back to go through from start to finish rather than being engaged in the note taking where they can be involved, take in the information that's being synthesised as they go, where if they are just returning to a recording afterwards you've gotta go from start to finish. It's not as good a solution as a note taking solution.

Dave: Absolutely. And this is the thing that's Sonocent's been pushing for quite a few years now where the key thing at the end of the day is the learning and note taking serves both the capturing information which is what DVRs do, what tape recorders do, it's how we solved that part of the note taking problem for a long time now but note taking is also about the learning process and summarising information as notes is part of how you learn and the science definitely shows that as well. And, one of the worrying things is by saying actually the only important thing is that student's can return and listen to it again, you're missing out on that whole learning side. What do students do when they return? Is it gonna be useful? Is it gonna aid learning?

We can't think of learning as only happening within the lecture theatre, that would be crazy, what about lab work, field trips, discussions as you doing group planning work for projects, tutorials, seminars. Lectures are actually in the grand scheme of things are a relatively small component of the learning experience while at university and note taking or capturing information is going to be important and organising that information as well. So, I think the move towards lecture capture is actually in some ways better than how it was before in terms of the way that we're delivering information for learning but to say that lecture capture could replace the need for any other note-taking solution is short sighted at best.

Obviously DVRs have been recommended for such a long time and maybe in the minds of some assesses there's uncertainty when it comes to mobile devices for recording. What you think are the questions on accessors minds?

Antony: From the accessors, we've had conversations so far, there are only three or four questions that have really sprung up. One is, what is sort of the recording quality of people's own devices? Does that really compare to using a digital voice recorders? Regarding the recording length, are you going to get the same sort of volume of recordings onto a mobile device? And what about the battery life of a lot of people's devices? So how would you respond to those, Dave?

Dave: Yeah sure. Well I can I only speak from Sonocent's perspective on what we've done to combat these issues, because they are legitimate concerns, I think. First, recording quality, so actually there's been an interesting shift over the last couple of years, maybe three or four years, in terms of the hardware that's being put inside these mobile phones and tablets and I think one of the major drivers for improving the quality of the recording has been our use of using video. So you know, you've got SnapChat, you've got Instagram, you've got people sharing a lot of video and creating a lot of video and what this means is that you got to have microphones that can cope with distance recordings. It's not just about recording right up to your face anymore. And, so what you'll find is that these mobile devices actually have pretty good hardware for audio recording to the extent that an external microphone that you plug into them he doesn't actually make a difference at all and we validated this with tests that we've done ourselves in numerous different types of conditions. And it's worth pointing out as well, that even though maybe that recording might seem quiet, it doesn't mean that it's bad quality and as soon as you've uploaded it to Audio Notetaker on your computer, we actually automatically boost the volume and make sure it sounds quite loud and we also addd noise cancellation and things like that to get the best quality recording. So I'd say when it comes to mobile devices, you probably don't need to worry about recording quality unless it's an older device or a really low-end device where they'll have had to make a compromise on the quality of the hardware.

In terms of file sizes against storage, it's become a lot cheaper over the last couple years and now the default size of an iPhone has 16GB which is actually quite a lot. You know in Audio Notetaker, our default recording quality is pretty high but it still keeps a file size at 14.4MB per hour which is actually quite low, and so that's gonna give you well over a 1000 hours of recording on that 16GB iPhone. Now I know, that the students are probably going to end up having lots of photos or apps installed, maybe some games, but that still gives you so many hours of recording. So I actually found file size is not an issueif you're using Sonocent Recorder.

And then finally, battery life. Now I use my phone a lot and if you use your phone a lot, it is going to drain your battery. So, Sonocent have optimised our app to try to take up a little battery life as possible and we've done that in two ways. Firstly, in the way that we built it and the way our code is designed. It's very efficient and the first version that we released over a year and a half ago lasted for over six hours of continuous recording and annotating and we've improved that since with more code redesigns. The second thing we've done is added glance mode which is a new input mode that just has a black screen so we don't have any animations on it and what this means is it's going to have even better battery life. The great thing about the battery life problem, which i think is probably the biggest one, is that so many external battery packs out there and if students can just remember to bring a charger in, there's going to be charging stations on campus.

About all the big issues there's probably great solutions out there for students.

Antony: That's good to hear. So, Dave, if I can summarise Sonocent's position on the most recent update from SFE. The move to digital voice recorders and to live recording on laptops is really just a natural evolution of the move from tape recorders to DVRs and from there. So definitely not a concern for accessors or students.

Dave: And, I think it's actually gonna be really good thing for students because one of the downsides of using a DVR is that you just pop it down whereas with the smart phones, students are having to do something active during the class whether it's colour annotation or taking photos or creating sections. So that's certainly a good thing for students.

Antony: That's brilliant but if there are any concerns it would be around using an external microphone whilst recording to a laptop which isn't really always designed for the purpose of note taking

Dave: Well sure. SFE did group DVRs and Samson Go Mikes into the same category. That is a concern because I do feel that on certain laptops you're going to need that external microphone.

Antony: That's great.

Dave: Well thank you for your time and joining this discussion.

Antony: My pleasure.

Dave: It's been really interesting. If you want any more information on anything we discussed, Sonocent have produced a fact sheet which you can download from

Dec 07

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