StenoKey, Stenographic Education Innovation?

On June 19, I had the privilege of getting to talk with Katiana Walton from StenoKey. I’ve mentioned her program from time to time right alongside things like NCRA’s A to Z, Project Steno, and Open Steno as major positives for this field, but I never had a good grasp of what StenoKey was about. The discussion we had changed all that, and now I get to give readers a synopsis of all the good StenoKey is looking to do for our field and our students.

StenoKey is looking to have a science-based approach to learning. There are many reasons students struggle in stenographic programs, and the way they learn might just be one of them. As it was explained to me, Ms. Walton could’ve opened a traditional school in Florida right now, but because she’s looking to innovate, she must prove to the State of Florida that her method works in order to have a school. That’s where this pilot program comes in.

Centered on Magnum theory, StenoKey utilizes Realtime Coach to grade students instantly. Instead of a traditional model where students learn theory and then move into speed, StenoKey seeks to introduce speed right from the beginning. Students are expected to reach introductory levels of speed in each chapter, as high as 60 to 120 words per minute, before moving on to the next chapter. Briefs relevant to each chapter are also incorporated so that students have an early understanding of the concept of briefing.

Through practice logs, Ms. Walton is able to gauge each student’s level of engagement. This way, students that practice often but have difficulty progressing can receive relevant advice on what to practice to. Students that are not practicing can see in writing that they’re not practicing enough to make meaningful progress. In addition, students have designated times to call in, ask questions about things they’ve encountered during a lesson or take, and receive guidance or support. In the words of Ms. Walton, it “helps build community.”

Similar to our brick-and-mortar institutions, StenoKey seeks to get students to stop looking at the stenotype keys. As early as week two, students are encouraged to stop looking down. The program, by design, acknowledges that five-minute takes may be harder for people who are just starting out. Each chapter has a syllabic 120 WPM test. At chapters 11 to 20, that test is a 2 minute, 140 WPM test. By chapter 41, students are expected to be taking five-minute takes at up to 180 WPM.

The overall goal is not just to reach a working speed of 225, but to have students working towards RMR-like speeds of up to 240 to 260 WPM. Numbers, long the bane of learning reporters, are baked into the program from chapter 12 onward. As it is not yet a school, the program does not offer “academics,” but it does offer one grammar rule every chapter to keep students’ transcription sharp. In addition, it gets into the finer points of realtime writing by explaining conflicts. Magnum theory is conflict free, but the lessons go further by teaching learners about “inconsequential conflicts,” or conflicts that can be spotted and corrected easily during editing on a regular deposition or job.

Asked about superstars in the program, one learner was said to have made it through chapter 12 in six hours. Ms. Walton’s nieces, 12 and 14, also attend the program, and have completed 9 chapters. Part of the success of the program seems attributable to in-depth error analysis. Students are encouraged to identify and analyze their mistakes, either in how they practice or how they write, and fix it. Students are also encouraged to read each other’s notes because sometimes students have an easier time pointing out and learning from others’ mistakes than their own. Asked about the biggest challenge of running such a program, Ms. Walton admitted that not every individual commits to the program. Some just don’t put forward as much effort as they expressed they would during their introduction interview.

StenoKey is looking at helping people with all different learning styles. For visual learners, each chapter has two videos,¬† a professional video and a “Katiana Teaches” video. The videos work together to give students an in-depth understanding of each chapter. Student feedback from each chapter also goes into tweaking the program to be more successful. Not just for students, StenoKey also has had two working reporters join the program in order to improve their realtime writing. In that sense, StenoKey can also be viewed as a Realtime Development Program. “Magnum Steno is not hard to understand. It’s very systematic” says Walton. She explained that writers do not have to change their whole theory to adopt some Magnum and shorten their writing. “Look for what is holding you back in your writing. There are realtime reporters in every theory out there, and with the right mindset, you can be better.”

One might look at such an idea and wonder if there’s a way to get involved. To that end, Ms. Walton says she’s looking into the possibility of bringing on assistants for administering StenoKey and getting more people engaged with it. She may also be seeking a programmer to develop readback tools or materials.

At that point, Katiana had to go and counsel her program’s attendees. Before we hung up, I was able to get that the pilot program is currently $200 a month and always online. Currently, she’s looking at the possibility of having a longer, more valuable subscription model, and weighing options out. Overall, I think that the idea of fully integrating speed and theory is a valuable one. If students are able to hit working speeds faster than in the past, our shortage becomes a bad memory for the next three decades and beyond. I would urge associations and schools to keep an eye on developments here. If the results start coming in that this is a better method, it may be worth putting some money down on the expansion or adoption of this type of educational innovation. From a distance, I’ve read a little about Walton’s Lady Steno Speed Clinic. I’ve seen the testimonials. I know her heart’s in the right place when it comes to this field. I hope we’ll see similar success and glowing reviews for StenoKey!

Practice, Finger Drill, WKT, Dictation Marker Update

I don’t have a lot of volunteers helping me test the things I put out, and I had inadvertently put out the wrong link to my three programs. I have updated the links at the top of all of these pages to go to a .zip download. You unzip the folder, double click the .exe inside, and it will run the program without installation. Note that most computers will pop up with something saying this program may harm your computer. The code to these programs is public, you can read it for yourself and ask your computer people, it will not harm your computer.

Transcript Marker  РThis will take a .txt transcript and mark it for speed. Note that it has been updated so that it will not count Q., A., COURT:, or WITNESS: as a word.

Finger Drill Generator – This program can create finger drills for you. You can also save and load custom lists of words. Note that if you share your saved lists with me, I can include them with future versions. Also note that you should not ask the generator to make files larger than 500 WPM for 300 minutes. That’s 150,000 words. It’s more than enough. I am cautioning you because if you tell it to do 1 million words for 1 million minutes, it’ll happily sit there and generate a text file that large, take a long time to do that, and possibly eat all the space on your computer.

WKT Randomizer – Creates a random written knowledge test. Note that there are small errors in this program and additions that will be made when I finish the Stenonymous Suite.

Also know that I am continuing to try to provide quality dictation on my Youtube. The QA Mario dictation is a little slower than the marked speed because of a previous error where the program counted the Q and A as a word. All future dictations should not have this problem. If you’d like to contribute dictation, I am budgeting about $5 to $10 a month to pay for guest dictators right now, and we should talk. Think along the lines of $5 for a five-minute take.

Creating a Degree-Granting Institution in New York

Over two years ago I had written New York State to learn about how to legally establish a degree-granting college in New York. At that time there was not a process to do so in New York State. Now an application process has opened up and the application may be found here.

Succinctly, we will benefit from New York Stenographers being aware that they can apply to create degree-granting institutions. While I am a staunch supporter of all forms of stenographic learning, I made my way through a brick and mortar, degree-granting college, and received my Associate’s Degree in Occupational Studies, Court Reporting.

We will benefit from entrepreneurs getting together and reinventing how we teach this thing. We will benefit from schools offering financial aid to students that need it. Though this information is only a small piece of a complicated puzzle of how to open a successful school, I do hope it reaches people who have interest in perhaps designing programs of their own and building a better environment for students. At the very least, we’ll have more colleges reaching out to high school students and informing them this is a career option.

For-profit colleges are a tough market, often dependent on the employees they hire to remain in compliance with federal aid requirements and subject to scrutiny from the public. Perhaps now that New York State has opened up this application process we can see more dedicated professionals work on this issue and secure funding for schools that make programs as great as Plaza or New York School of Court Reporting. Perhaps institutions that are currently operating will take steps to grant degrees if they do not already.

For better or worse, in my experience, parents and students consider degree-granting institutions more legitimate and are more likely to put time and money into career-building if an institution or school provides a degree. Though New York currently has no educational or professional bar to becoming a stenographer, there is definitely a social stigma attached to having no degree that we cannot ignore if we hope to attract more students to this wonderful profession.

The Truths of Employability

For this purpose we define employability generally as ability to work and be “employed” as employees and independent contractors. There is no secret that I often write about how court reporters need to ask for more money, be confident, and negotiate for better benefits or conditions. It’s true. We constantly have market forces exerted on us to lower our expectations in terms of earnings, or make our deadlines tighter, or make our work harder. We are the polite opposition to those market forces. No, we will not work for free. No, we will not give away expedites. No, we will not reprint the entire transcript because your client disagrees subjectively with the potential interpretations arising from the placement of a comma.

But today there’s an important addition to all of that. Today it’s time to say out loud: In addition to demanding you be paid what you are worth, you must make yourself employable. It struck me as I read this Quora answer to the question, “What is the saddest truth about smart people?” The answer itself has a simple theme: Smart people can be the smartest people in the room, but can be unsuccessful and unhappy if they do not take on risks or new opportunities. Now I adapt to this to court reporting. Imagine you are now the fastest, most knowledgeable court reporter in all the world. Imagine you have nothing more to do or learn. Imagine that you are undoubtedly the best. Now imagine that you cannot write a resume or cover letter. You make great transcripts but your cover letters are just awful with misplaced words or rambling ideas. Who will an employer hire; the best court reporter in the world, or the one who knows how to write a resume? In all likelihood, the one who knows how to write, because they have the skill of being able to write, and that makes them employable.

So now it is my time to urge every student, every current reporter, and every non-reporter to do what a theory teacher once taught me: Never stop learning. You don’t have to learn to be the best x, or y, or z. You don’t have to discover new technologies or be a genius. You need only apply yourself to things that interest you. Take a step back and look at a job you really want. What kinds of things make a person employable for that position? You may find that there are a bunch of tangential qualities that can actually make you much more likely to land a position or career. Indeed, basic life skills, like writing a cover letter, go a long way to landing work. Be sure to spell check, double check, and/or have an honest friend review submissions you will make to an agency. I fondly recall a time when I applied to work at or with Reporter’s Ink (as of writing proper spelling) as a freelancer, and before that, I worked with Jaguar. They wanted a sample of my work, and so I provided it to them. They immediately insisted I use their layout, so I applied their layout, and sent the whole thing without checking. Turns out the swap from Jaguar to Reporter’s Ink’s layout stacked the lettering into one another. Succinctly, I lost myself a job opportunity because I didn’t check myself. Don’t be me, get the job, be employable, check yourself, and succeed!