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Administrative Note-Taking Hack

Paper PilesAdministrators and educators are often recording notes describing incidences that occur on or around the school. The process of constantly writing notes can be a tedious but necessary process.

This little administrative hack facilitates a more efficient use of time for any professional. The administrator makes use of Ontario Ministry licensed software (OSAPAC) and a digital audio recorder in order to speed up the note taking process.

What You Will Need:

• Dragon Naturally Speaking 8 (speech to text software) installed on your computer (this software is licensed in Ontario for all schools)
• Digital Audio Recorder – (The recorder must record in 16 bit .wav format and download to your computer via USB, for example Olympus VN-960PC or a PDA)

Step 1 – Training Dragon Naturally Speaking

In order to use speech to text software you will need to train Dragon Naturally Speaking to recognize your voice.

1. When you start Dragon Naturally Speaking for the first time in will set you up as a new user. Enter a username and select your dictation source from the dropdown menu.

2. You will be prompted to ensure your microphone and sound quality is correct.

3. You will read aloud several passages that will train the software to your voice. The longer you spend training the software the more accurate your speech to text transcription will be. The program will also scan your documents and email to get a sense of your writing style.

Tip: Start with about 20 minutes of training and then test for accuracy. If there are too many errors train the software again.

Step 2: – Record Your Audio Notes

Use the digital audio recorder to record your notes on a sample incident. Be sure to include time, date and who was involved in the incident, before you begin dictating into the recorder.

You will need to use the Quick Reference Card when referring to punctuation in the format of your audio notes.

Step 3 – Download Your Audio Notes

Your digital audio recorder will create a .wav file based on your audio notes. You want to download the .wav files from your recorder on to your computer. The process usually takes less than a minute.

Each digital audio recorder is different. You must look at the manufacturer’s instructions in order to complete this step.

Step 4 – Transcribing Your Audio Notes

1. Click on the Transcribe button when you are ready to convert your audio notes to text.

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2. You will see a pop-up window that will ask you to locate your audio file. Select “Audio File” and the “Browse” button and locate the .wav file on your computer, and the “Transcribe” button.

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3. Dragon Naturally Speaking will open the file and start transcribing your audio notes.

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4. Once the transcription process is complete you can edit the notes. If you would like to hear what was actually said, you can highlight the words, right click, and choose “Play That Back”.

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5. You can then do what you need to your typed notes – print and/or save them on your computer.

Tip: If you are doing this for the first time start with a short audio clip. After you understand the process you can transcribe hours of audio notes with much more efficiency then writing them out.

Please share any tips or methods that you use to speed up note-taking of school or class incidents.

Staff Meeting Tips for Educators

As educators, we host, facilitate and attend a number of different meetings with other staff members, parents and students. We all get frustrated at meetings that don’t seem to go anywhere or are unnecessary. Inspired by an old post on 43 Folders, I was hoping to offer a few tips that might help make your next staff meeting go smoother, with a little added commentary, and a few anecdotes.

Pre-Meeting Preparation

1. Make sure that the meeting is necessary – does the staff need or want to know the information? Can the information be conveyed with a letter, a phone call to a parent, a chat on the side with a few staff members, or does it require a larger assembly of people.
2. Don’t make people sit through a staff meeting if they only need to be there for 10 minutes. Make sure that the appropriate staff appears at the beginning of meetings, and then can leave.
This just makes sense, but sometimes we forget.
3. Set out a specific purpose for the staff meeting and focus on that purpose.
4. With the purpose in mind, invite agenda items to be added collaboratively (maybe through Google Docs) in order to give more ownership for staff attending the meeting.
5. Make sure the final agenda is sent out a few days before the meeting to ensure that everyone is prepared for the meeting. This helps staff members to bring the appropriate materials to the meetings.

During The Meeting

1. Stick to the agenda and avoid discussions that have little value and lead away from the purpose of the meeting.
We have all been there and maybe we were leading the rant, bu this is the biggest of time waster in staff meetings and the most annoying.
2. Ensure that all staff are aware of the purpose for the meeting and stick to it.
3. Start promptly and keep track of time. Avoid going beyond the time set out in the agenda.
4. Having a person(s) take note of action items, responsibility, and key points raised during the meeting will be helpful.
We use the shared session of MS OneNote for this in order to spread the load and effectiveness of our notes but there are many web based collaborative documents that would be equally effective, provided you have web access. MS OneNote also allows you to do an audio recording of the meeting, doesn’t take a lot of space, and it is saved within the shared document.
5. A meeting needs a leader and a moderator in order to keep focus and limit repetitive comments and small group discussions.
I have heard of one principal that resorted to the use of a “talking stick” in order to keep order in a staff meeting. When you held the talking stick in your hand was the only time you could talk. Another principal limited staff members to two minutes of talking per issue.

Post Meeting
1. In a review at the end of the staff meeting, make sure to include action items that need to be attended to and by whom. This becomes really helpful in the next staff meeting.

Some of these tips may be more relevant to you than others. Are there any strategies that you use at your school?

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