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ATU534 – Glean with Dave Tucker

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest:
Dave Tucker – Founder and CEO of Glean
Website: www.glean.co
More info and FAQs: https://help.glean.co/
Accessible Tower Story: https://bit.ly/3jIHuuR
Captions and Transcripts brought to you by:
INTRAC – www.relayindiana.com

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—— Transcript Starts Here —–

 

Dave Tucker:
Hi, this is Dave Tucker, and I’m the founder and CEO of Glean, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 534 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on August 20th, 2021. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Dave Tucker, founder and CEO of Glean, on. He’s going to talk about the change from Sonocent to Glean and the great new things you can expect with this change. We also have an interesting story about an accessible tower being built in Wisconsin that allows for folks of all abilities to be able to enjoy the natural landscape.

Josh Anderson:
We always love to hear from you, so feel free to reach out to us. You can send us an email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, or shoot us a line on Twitter @INDATAProject. We’re always looking for your feedback, your comments, your questions, and your ideas for folks we can have on the shows. Some of our best interviews come from listener submissions, so please, if you have someone that you’d like to hear on our show, or if there’s a certain product that maybe you use every day, a piece of AT that really you just couldn’t live without that you’ve never heard about on the show, please let us know. Want to take a little time to personally thank each and every one of you for listening to us today. Without you, we don’t have a show, so thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to listen to our little podcast. Now, without any further ado, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
We talk a lot on this show about things that people just couldn’t quite live without the just help them get through the day and help them really be able to do their jobs and live their lives even better. So I had to take just a moment to wish a happy birthday to the one thing that I could not do everything that I do without, and that is my beautiful wife, Amanda, who the most amazing wife, mother, and really person I’ve ever had the joy of knowing in my life. Happy birthday, babe, and I hope you have a wonderful day and know just how much you mean to me and all those around you. I love you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you find yourself with a little bit more time on your hands? Maybe you’re really busy and only have a little bit of time to listen to podcasts? Or maybe listening to this has you thinking, “What about this? What about that?” Well, if you’re short on time, or if you have questions about assistive technology, we have other podcasts that might just fit your needs. The first one is Accessibility Minute. This one minute long podcast gives you a little taste of assistive technology and really wets your whistle to get you to go out and find out more about a piece of technology and how it might help those you work with, yourself, or maybe a friend or family member.

Josh Anderson:
If you happen to have questions about assistive technology, we have assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or AT FAQ. The show is hosted by Brian Norton and features yours truly along with Belva Smith and Tracy Castillo, as we all talk about assistive technology with questions that come in from email, phone calls, and other means. We also don’t always know the answer, so it’s very important that we have listeners that can help us out with some of those questions, because while we like to think every once in a while that we may know everything, we’re proven wrong almost daily on that one. So if you’re looking for more podcasts to listen to, if you’re short on time and need a really quick podcast, or if you have questions about assistive technology, make sure to check out Accessibility Minute and Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
Our story today comes to us from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s written by Carol Barrowman, and it’s titled “A walk through the treetops: Eagle Tower’s accessible ramp benefits all visitors to Peninsula State Park.” The story’s about a new 63 foot tall tower that was built in Peninsula State Park in Wisconsin. It overlooks Green Bay and it’s beautiful and in the woods, but the real reason that I have the story on here is that when they rebuilt this tower, they decided to make sure that it was fully accessible. And in doing that, they had two choices. They could build a ramp or they could put in an elevator. Well, it’s in a bit of a remote spot, so the elevator just wasn’t really feasible, not just because of cost, but also getting electricity to it, the upkeep, and everything else. So what they do is they built an access ramp.

Josh Anderson:
Now, again, this thing is 63 foot tall, so it took an 850 foot access ramp in order to have it accessible for everyone, so this could be accessible for folks who use canes, walkers, wheelchairs, power chairs. Really any kind of mobility device is able to access this just as easy as any one else. I’ll put a link to this story over in the show notes so that you can go check it out for yourself and see some of the pictures, but it’s very cool. And it even talks about how many folks are actually really enjoying the ramp because you’re walking amongst the trees up through the tree tops and everything else, so you can really get a great view as you’re going up to the tower itself.

Josh Anderson:
A few other things that they did was even put a couple of viewing spots in. So if you think if you’re up on a tower and you’ve got the big wood railing around it, if you’re sitting in a wheelchair, it can really impede your view. So they put in some different metal and other structures, so that if you are sitting in a wheelchair and not quite high enough to see over the regular fencing, you can still get a view of everything that you might want to see. So they really thought about some different stuff in here to really make sure that this was accessible for everyone. So there was a pretty fitting story, especially as we wind down summer here in the US of A. Talk about a place that really put accessibility first and ensured that all folks who want to visit this park and want to actually get up on the tower and see those amazing views can get up there no matter how they choose to ambulate.

Josh Anderson:
So listeners, many of the students that we serve here have benefited greatly from using Sonocent to assist them with note taking and learning. We found out that Sonocent is becoming Glean, and we’re very excited to welcome Dave Tucker, founder and CEO, on the show. And he’s going to tell us all about the technology and the coming changes. Dave, welcome to the show.

Dave Tucker:
Thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
I am really excited to get into talking about Glean and all the great things it can do. But before we do that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Dave Tucker:
Sure. So I guess what’s unusual about me is I’ve only ever had one job, and that’s at Sonocent and now Glean. I started off doing a degree in Japanese and always thought that I’d probably end up in Japan, but life often has a way of diverting course and taking you in new directions. So just as I was graduating, my father started a business and he had a very specific idea for how to support students with disabilities who were being given digital recorders better. In the UK here, we have a government funded system for providing such technology and assistive technology to students in higher education. So I was involved in that during my time at university, and when I graduated thought, “You know what? This has so much potential. I want to be involved.” And that has started over a decade’s worth of time and energy in the assisted technology industry, in the education technology industry, and being part of some of the most amazing communities, but also learning how to grow and drive a tech company, which has its challenges, but also its rewards.

Josh Anderson:
And I’m sure that it does. And I must admit, I am a little bit envious to just have that one job the whole time. I wish I could have found that during my time in college and stuff. That might’ve made made life a little bit easier. Well, go ahead and tell us about Sonocent. I know it’s changing to Glean, but let’s start with the past and just where did that idea come from and what started it all?

Dave Tucker:
Sure. I kind of alluded to it in my introduction, but it all stems from a single presentation at my high school where my father found out about this British government funded system for supporting students with disabilities, and the student would go for an assessment of their needs and often get given a laptop, some assistive technology software, and a digital voice recorder. And my father had spent his career working in speech research, originally speech recognition, and then in the 90s, when it turned out that that was actually a pretty challenging problem, started exploring other ways of helping people get more value from speech. And because of his work there, as soon as he found out that 30,000 students a year in the UK were being given a digital recorder to help them with note-taking, he thought, “I could create some software to make that recording more accessible.”

Dave Tucker:
Because digital recordings are just not that easy to study from or work with. Often the play back and the way we play back has been designed for music and not speech. So he came up with an idea for visualizing that speech and that made it easier to navigate through the recording because you could move from phrase to phrase by jumping between the pauses, and because it was visual, you could also annotate it with color, which was like a highlighting pen for speech, but also with notes alongside, or maybe your slides from your class. And that’s how audio note taking was born. And over the years that product evolved, the digital recorders were replaced by mobile apps or being able to record directly into your computer. And also along the way, we learned a lot more about learning and how note taking can actually really improve learning outcomes when done effectively.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely. I know the first time I ever saw an audio note taker, the visual component was what I really liked because, as you said, with just a handheld digital recorder, you always end up with… If it’s an hour and a half class, we have an hour and a half recording, so you got to listen back to it, try to pull out the important stuff. But being able to mark that recording as you’re going, and as you go back and study, it just makes it so much more user-friendly and so much more usable, especially for folks with certain disabilities who can become overwhelmed pretty easily. It’s nice to be able to actually know that you’re getting the important information. And that was always my favorite thing. The first time I saw it, I was like, “That’s a new idea and a really great tool for folks.” Dave, you started to allude to this, but let’s talk about Glean. So I know that Sonocent Audio Notetaker is moving to Glean. Dave, what is Glean?

Dave Tucker:
In a nutshell, Glean is the next evolution of Audio Notetaker. It seeks to address many of the same challenges, but with a real emphasis on how do we improve learning through better note taking.

Josh Anderson:
Very Nice. So what is new in Glean?

Dave Tucker:
So on the surface, I think the most obvious changes is that it’s not a piece of software you install on your computer. It’s a web app. It’s a SaaS product, so you can just log into any browser and access the application, so you can record through it, or you can access your previous notes. We do have a mobile app as well, but because it’s cloud-based, everything’s synced simultaneously as you would expect. So I think that’s probably the most obvious change. But when you start the software, you’ll see that we’ve completely redesigned the interface, and this has been very intentional. I spent well six or seven years chatting to customers and chatting to our users and helping to develop Audio Notetaker, Sonocent Audio Notetaker. And during that time, I realized that both what was so strong about the product, but also where the limitations were as well.

Dave Tucker:
And the strengths really was around its structure. And you mentioned before that often students can feel really overwhelmed, not just in class, but also when listening back to lots of recordings, and with Audio Notetaker, you can very easily break down that recording into what we called sections, but which were essentially paragraphs. But you’re chunking that information and taking it into smaller bite sized pieces. And that was something that our users found really valuable. But the trouble was that structure was not flexible. And that created a huge challenges in terms of what you could ultimately do with the software. So this was the fundamental challenge I wanted to solve. How do you have structure, which is actually really important for learning as well, because one of the things we wanted to do better was structured the learning process as well. So you needed that structure, but how do you have the flexibility?

Dave Tucker:
And I took inspiration from social media. In social media, you make a post or a tweet, but it’s essentially a digital version of an index card. I know many, many years ago, decades ago, people did take notes on small pieces of paper which we called index cards and they were filed away. And that’s how we categorize captured information. And they got lost along the way as we moved to the computer. But actually there’s something about that format, a small card that captures a small piece of information that’s really valuable, because that’s a unit of content. That’s chunking. That’s breaking it down into that bite sized piece. But with a digital index card, it didn’t just have to be text. It could be an image. It could be a scribble. It could be a piece of audio. And suddenly I realized that this was format that actually had that flexibility, but that structure at the same time.

Dave Tucker:
So with Glean, instead of taking notes on a page, you capture the notes in the same way you would in social media. You post it to your own notes feed, and that’s referenced against the audio recording still, and you can still post things even without writing notes. So you can use reactions. So we borrowed that from social media as well. You can have a smiley face, or you can mark something as important, or a confused face if you don’t understand something. And again, this felt like a much more intuitive way of marking the meaning in class without being distracted, as opposed to Audio Notetaker, which uses a color key, which I think just has that extra layer of thinking required for the user.

Josh Anderson:
I really liked the way that… Especially for kids, you’re using something they’re used. That’s a process of posting these little bits of information that they’re probably doing every day without even thinking about. So making the user interface that way is great because… It’s always great, I guess, if you can trick someone into learning. Not that’s the right kinda phrase, but not let them know that they’re actually doing it. I’m sure it does help quite a bit.

Dave Tucker:
Well, we joke about this, but it’s actually true. One of the other lessons learned along the way is around human behavior and actually adopting new technology is really hard. Changing your habits and changing your behavior just is not that easy. And I don’t know how many times I’ve downloaded an app on my phone with the best intention of using it, knowing that it’s going to add value to my life, and within a few weeks I’ve just gone back to my old way of doing things. And this is quite representative of all technology, but also assisted technology as well, and an education technology.

Dave Tucker:
And after realizing how, even with the best will in the world, the time it takes to learn something, the effort required, even the stigma of using that product. These are all points of friction with adoption. And also on the other end, you have… How much desire is that to use it? What’s the motivation to use it. So I think actually using design interfaces and UX principles that are familiar in, let’s say the cooler technology, or at least the more mainstream technology, is a really important component of assisted technology design.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, you brought up the point of stigma there and folks not wanting to use it because they don’t want to be singled out. So the more you make it look like everything else, the more other folks are just going to accept it and be much easier to actually use it to meet their needs. And I’m glad someone else downloads apps to improve their life and then ignores them too, because I definitely… I do that all the time too. Dave, you said everything goes up to the cloud and stuff, but let’s say I’m in class and I don’t have access to the internet. Can I still use Glean?

Dave Tucker:
You can. This was one of design principles from the start, and I kind of see this as accessibility as well, because not every environment has a high-speed internet connection. And you don’t want that to impact a student’s ability to learn. So what we do with Glean, which is kind of clever, is we do all of our fancy audio processing work in the browser instead of trying to do that on our servers, in the cloud. I know I’m guessing a bit technical here, but in essence, what it means for you as a user is you just have to load up Glean once when you sign up and log in, and after that it will work without an internet connection.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Because I know, especially on some… I think of universities probably more than anywhere, one class is in the basement of some very old building that… There’s wifi in about four seats and it doesn’t get anywhere else. So I know sometimes I’ve seen software go to the more online thing and suddenly it’s useless in that class. It’s still a great tool, but that’s great that you did think about that and make it accessible to folks. Well Dave, for folks who are already maybe using Sonocent Audio Notetaker, what can they do to make the move to Glean?

Dave Tucker:
So Glean is a completely different product to Audio Notetaker, but we are trying to ease the transition for people who actually want to try Glean. So it’s first worthwhile saying that anyone can go to Glean.co and try Glean themselves for free for 30 days. So I’d recommend all existing Sonocent users do that to just at least experience it. For people who have licenses of Sonocent, then we do have upgrade paths with discounts and there is information, I think, on our website and perhaps this is something we can include in the show notes. But probably the best thing to do is just get in touch with our support team and we can help you through that process.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent, excellent. And I always have to ask folks this. What does the future look like? I know you just are coming out with this, but what do you see the future of Glean looking like?

Dave Tucker:
So are you talking about Glean the organization or Glean the product now, seeing as we’ve changed our name?

Josh Anderson:
A little bit of both.

Dave Tucker:
A little of both. Well, the decision to become Glean was very intentional. I know we’ve got some pretty new branding and it’s the same name as our latest product, but the core reason for doing this is that it actually marks a new direction for the organization. And that direction is all around inclusive learning. And with Glean, we’re now positioning ourselves less as assisted technology, and more as note taking for learning. And that doesn’t in any way negate the value of Glean for users with disabilities or our commitment to accessibility. In actual fact, it’s a way of helping to create a more inclusive classroom. And we really want to create a UDL tool, and we realized the way to do this is actually by creating mainstream technology that is inclusive.

Dave Tucker:
So what’s going to happen moving forward? Well, we have really strong commitment to helping to create better learners through both our products, but also through our organization. And we’ve over the last year or so, have been experimenting with a community for people who support others with note taking. It’s called The Note Taking Support Network. And we do hope to extend that out to the student users themselves and start talking about how can we improve your learning, especially through better note taking skills? And I think what you can expect from the organization moving forward is just a lot more support and content around learning.

Dave Tucker:
In terms of Glean itself, there’s probably not loads I can say right now, but we do have some exciting things in the pipeline around improving that learning process. Especially the part of the process, which is actually where the learning happens, which is when you come back and review your information and what do you do then? How do you study from that content and how do you turn that information into valuable knowledge? So we’re going to be launching a series of features that really help address that. And then the final thing is we’re launching a classroom integration. And again, there’s probably not too much I can say right now, but early next year, definitely keep your eyes peeled for some major updates to the platform.

Josh Anderson:
And we definitely will. Always try to see if I can get you to say anything we’re not supposed to know, but that’s okay. You did a good job there. And then could you tell me a story about someone that’s been assisted by using Glean?

Dave Tucker:
I can. I can tell you a brief story about a guy called Justin. So Justin studied at Lord Fairfax Community College, and his challenge was really around engaging in class and capturing all the information he needed to learn. And Justin has some additional challenges in that he had a processing disorder as well. So he tried lots of different technology to take notes, including our competitors, OneNote. Maybe I shouldn’t mention them by name. But ultimately, for him, he found them too complex and he struggled to engage in class as he was worried about missing information for later. And due to his processing disorder, he often took some time to understand what was happening in class at the time.

Dave Tucker:
So I think Justin was one of our earlier users of Glean, actually. And what we found was by using Glean, it meant that Justin could entirely focus on class, but also had that confidence, the reassurance that he could go back to what he had missed later. We do have a quote from Justin as well, and he said, “The thing I love most about Glean is that there are no distractions on the screen. I can just take part in class and focus on the teacher rather than worrying about how I’m taking notes for later.” And this was actually quite meaningful for us as designers of the software, because throughout the process, we had this philosophy of distraction-free.

Dave Tucker:
And we tried to compare it to driving a car where your focus really should be on the road. It shouldn’t be on the panel your dashboard in front of you and the steering wheel and the gear stick. So we wanted to make sure that students could focus in class and not on the technology they were using to support them. So that quote meant a lot to us because it proved that we got something right, at least.

Josh Anderson:
I see that so many times and in different kinds of assistive technology where, yeah, it’s a great tool, but it’s one more thing. It’s one more thing to think about. One more thing. So anything that can take that weight off and I think with your product, and none of us are really great note takers, no matter how much we think we are, it seems like. But yeah, for some folks with different disabilities, trying to focus on getting every bit of information down, you don’t realize that you miss almost everything in class. So that’s great. And it sounds like Justin really did use it for what it’s for and was able to hopefully accomplish some great things by using it. Dave, if our listeners would want to find out more or get on that 30 day trial, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Dave Tucker:
If they type Glean, spelled G-L-E-A-N into Google, I believe we’re the first result, but otherwise glean.co will take you directly to our website. And from there, there’s lots of information. There’s also videos, including one featuring Justin, and there should be a big button on the top right hand side about our free trial. So you can just click on that and sign up, put your email address in, and then gift Glean a go.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We will put that in the show notes so the folks can easily get to it. Well Dave, thank you so much for coming on today and just telling us all the great things that Glean is able to do to help folks really with all different abilities be more effective note takers and really just more effective learners.

Dave Tucker:
It’s no problem whatsoever. It’s been great talking with you.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject. Our captions and transcripts for the show or sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nicole Prietto for scheduling our amazing guest and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

 

 

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