Striving Focus: No rest for the hindered reader

Book stacks in an aisle of Browsers Bookstore in downtown Corvallis, Ore. Browsers is closing its Corvallis location in February.
Book stacks in an aisle of Browser’s Bookstore in downtown Corvallis, Ore. Browser’s is closing its Corvallis location in February.
Jess Hume-Pantuso

Editor’s Note: This is a column and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Daily Barometer

Heavy reading should have more options to better navigate workload.

Demanding course loads, balancing social life and figuring out what you will do in life are all commonplace for most people entering college. The optimism for a chance to discover new things about yourself sometimes feels limitless.

A university that has adequate accommodations can make or break a student’s decision to attend, especially if the student has a disability that can hinder how they learn in a classroom environment.

Oregon State University having resources readily available is a sigh of relief to some students.

The university offers facilities that are packed with study accommodations for students.

However, for students who don’t have a diagnosed disability, but still suffer all the same symptoms, the process of getting aid is difficult.

For OSU students who have disabilities that can impede their learning, there are Disability Access Services on campus. The office website said, “It is committed to forging collaborative partnerships with the Oregon State University community to achieve accessible learning and living environments for disabled students.”

Services offered to students through the DAS office are alternative testing, classroom access, deaf and hard of hearing access services and notetaking services. These are a few of the services among many and information about the documentation required to access these services can be found on the website as well.

What options are there for students, like myself, who don’t have a diagnosis and don’t have access to medical resources?

“Disability Access Services would not be the office to provide resources for those students,” said Martha Smith, the director of DAS.

I have managed to get by in my undergraduate career by sheer will of determination. It has come at great cost, however, to my mental health. I have spent many nights reviewing the 20-plus page readings my professors have assigned struggling to keep information.

A lot of courses across majors assign heavy readings and texts with short turnarounds. Some courses even have mixed media options for students, like podcasts or videos, but it’s not always enough.

When professors have to offer videos or podcasts to break down a reading that’s still going to require that students sit and read through it fully, they’re just adding more work. If the alternative was the video or podcast were meant to be watched/listened to addendum with the reading that would be helpful.

I’ve scoured internet forums that are tailored to students that offer all the tips and tricks about how to focus, what notes you should be taking and the ambiance of the room should be all to get you in the right headspace to read a heavy course load with a two to three day turn around.

Advice, tips and tricks and life hacks don’t work for me because my brain doesn’t work like that. Also, like many others, I am not taking one class. I’m a full-time student and working two part-time jobs.

Smith advises students like me to contact the Academic Success Center or speak with their academic advisors about reducing their credit load while working through courses that may be more challenging.

Furthermore, according to Smith, there are also the options to download and use text-to-speech readers for browsers to download PDFs and screen readers to make heavy readings easier to get through.

These suggestions can be helpful to some but the onus remains on students. The issue is that these suggestions are band-aids to the problem students are facing: falling behind due to heavy reading assignments.

“I’m taking four classes and I have to read four articles for each class that are 10 to 20 pages,” said Victoria Escobedo, a first-year master of public health student.

Escobedo said she only manages to get through her reading assignments because some of her classes offer mixed media to go with the readings. However, she recognizes this isn’t the norm for most students.

There has been some new AI-integrated software that has been developed specifically for academic purposes.

The app Listening claims to be the “world’s first app for listening to academic papers.” The app uses AI instead of human voices. However, it claims that the software still supports the authenticity of having a human-like voice, comparing the listening experience to that of an audiobook.

It allows users to upload PDFs and academic papers directly on the website and then the app will read the document for the user while removing any excess text like ads, citations and references that can interrupt the user experience.

However, after the user gets done with the two-week free trial period they are billed annually at $139. Once again putting a barrier of cost and accessibility in the way, most students don’t have the means to pay for something that expensive.

“Having something to watch, like the video lectures to supplement readings helps me understand what I’m supposed to take in,” Escobedo said. “Podcast formats are convenient too.”

Alternatives to heavy readings aren’t hard to access nowadays: professors have access to multimedia to supplement readings that they assign. They can also assign readings from sources that already have those elements integrated, such as articles that have a recording of the information readily available or assigned books that provide an auditory version option.

However, if those options aren’t available and professors are dead set on assigning something that doesn’t have an alternative format, then this is a good time for collaboration with on-campus resources.

For example, some local libraries have recording booths that they rent for people to use recording and editing equipment for things like podcasts. That technology could be brought to campus and faculty could outsource having their required readings recorded or do it themselves.

The options for alternative formats open up the collaborative learning process between professors and students and could be an opportunity for students to understand the material better.

Ultimately, the methods to ease the burden of heavy readings and make it more engaging for students is a conversation that should be had more. One reason people are paying so much for university is to learn and pursue a passion for the things they want to do in life.

Students who don’t have access to disability services because they don’t have a diagnosis get etched out from the conversation and it is an injustice – they pay to be here too – and OSU should make more of an effort to address their needs. As well as addressing the needs of students using mental health services.

I’ve tried to use Counseling and Psychological Services on campus before and they are so backed up that I’ve given up after my third attempt. It isn’t a failure on the services, it speaks to the demand that isn’t being met and how OSU needs to make more of an effort to help students get in the right headspace to be able to handle school, homework, heavy readings and balance.

CAPS clinicians can’t write prescriptions, they have to outsource to Student Health Services. Once SHS is involved they work with the student’s primary health provider to get them further assistance. However, if the student doesn’t have a primary health provider, the options have narrowed.

College is challenging and is an environment meant to set students up for a successful future. Navigating academia brings on high stress and can cause detrimental mental health outcomes but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Heavy readings that require proper analysis and full understanding from students aren’t going to be done away with and I’m not asking for that. I’m a student who is determined to continue my education. I’m asking for my institution to listen and provide more resources for students who don’t have access to all resources, such as DAS.

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    Maribel MartínezApr 9, 2024 at 12:50 pm

    Well said college is hard especially if you have no point of reference or someone to guide you in your struggle. You have verbalize the struggle well. I wish I would have know how to seek help when I went to college. Mind you I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Thank you for your well written article.