When Tri-C Community College set forth to integrate a digital reporting track into its court reporting program, they knew their deep experience with steno and voice would be helpful. But Jen Krueger, a professor within the program for nearly 30 years, wasn’t prepared for was the degree to which its new digital track will complement its voice and steno tracks.

“Students from all three tracks are enrolled together in their non-technology courses, including legal terminology, court procedures, and editing legal documents courses,” said Krueger. “The only time students are separated is when they are learning the steno, voice, or digital “theory,” as in that technology.”

We recently caught up with Krueger to talk about Tri-C’s transition to the three-track program and the reaction they are seeing in the marketplace.

There’s a perception in some circles that the training and curricula for digital reporting, in particular, doesn’t meet a necessary standard for graduates to have the requisite background or skills to work in court reporting. What is your reaction to that?

It’s my position that digital court reporters must be trained to do high-quality work in all aspects of capturing a record and preparing a transcript, just as steno-writing and voice-writing court reporters do. It’s essential that everyone who works as a court reporter has a strong background in the technology used to capture the proceedings, know the proper procedures for capturing the event and the speakers’ words fully, swearing in witnesses, marking exhibits, tracking, and maintaining exhibits, capturing and integrating parenthetical comments into transcripts, handling interruptions, people speaking over one another, gathering spellings and details so that the completed transcript is a verbatim record of the event with absolute accuracy. Attorneys and parties are entitled to an expectation that the court reporter is a professional of high caliber, trained and qualified to do all aspects of the job without flaw.

How are the three tracks of Tri-C’s court reporting program – steno, voice, digital – alike?

All of the courses are created with thoughtful instructional design ensuring that students are enrolled in robust courses with content aligned to specific learning objectives, that students have plenty of student-to-instructor, student-to-faculty, and student-to-student interaction. All students enrolled in Tri-C’s program take an introductory course focused on the technology of their plan of study (steno, voice, or digital). All students take classes in court procedures, legal vocabulary, and the editing of legal documents. Students receive learning materials in the form of lesson guides, have homework that ensures students demonstrate their acquisition of knowledge and skills, receive instructor feedback on all assignments, and earn grades. Students in Tri-C’s program are taught that a court reporter is a knowledgeable, ethical, and skilled individual responsible for important work, regardless of the technology used.

How are the tracks different?

The digital reporting track is two semesters in length while the steno and voice are six semesters. The digital reporting track is currently only tied to a certificate option while the steno and voice tracks allow students to earn certificates and/or a degree. We are currently developing the curriculum that would result in an associate’s degree in court reporting with a concentration in digital reporting just as the other two tracks have.

Will you have voice, digital, and steno students in the same courses together in any cases?

Yes. Students from all three tracks are enrolled together in their non-technology courses, including legal terminology, court procedures, and editing legal documents courses. The only time students are separated is when they are learning the steno, voice, or digital “theory,” as in that technology.

Where do you see synergy of teaching all three technologies within your program?

Synergy across the entire program is our goal, to blend these three distinct technologies into a single program because it’s advantageous to the (speech-to-text) industry to have as many reliably and highly qualified individuals as possible in the workplace. Our efforts in the Tri-C program are to elevate the field of court reporting to recognize the abilities of people who use steno, voice, and digital methods of capturing legal proceedings and produce pristine, verbatim transcripts in a timely fashion. Meeting those objectives ensures that those who are working in this profession are recognized as exceptional and earn a very lucrative income.

Has the addition of digital to your program, or voice before that, generated any changes to your steno program? In other words, have you learned anything from voice or digital that has benefited—or will benefit—your steno program?

Our steno program benefits from the diversity in our student body as different people appreciate various aspects of this industry.  Just as some like captioning and others like CART and others like the judicial field, steno students and voice writing students realize those interests have value, just as the technology does. Voice writers share their voice codes with steno writers who adapt them into keystrokes that work and voice writers turn steno keystrokes into voice codes. We have students from all across the country and expanding our program to include digital reporting will likewise expand our student population and that is a very positive aspect. Students make friends and develop relationships while in school that carry forward into their professions. We like to say: “classmates today, colleagues tomorrow.”  There will be more people to know, more diversity represented, and that serves to boost knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of one another in school and beyond.

What has been the reaction of your steno and voice students to the incorporation of digital into your program?

Our students see this as simply another method of capturing a record that leads to a potentially life-changing career. Our students appear entirely respectful of each technology and I have heard nothing negative about the digital track just as I have never heard a negative word about steno or voice from any student. It truly comes down to them mirroring the positive attitude and mission of the college administration, dean, program director, and faculty.

What type of feedback or interest have you had from firm owners about the integration of digital into your program?

We have had largely positive comments. There are some firm owners who are reticent to embrace digital technology, but when shown a demonstration of our track and our plans to teach this technology and how it is used as a tool to capture the record with a person who manages the environment, just as the steno or voice writer does, concerns are diminished. We have firm owners who hire digital reporters and are eager for us to share the names of some completers so they can hire them!

What has been most surprising to you in your experience of adding voice and now digital into your program?

I continue to be surprised that there are court reporters who work in steno or voice and are disappointed or angry that we have incorporated these methods into our program. We have continued to grow. Our steno program grows every semester right along with voice and I anticipate that will continue. I have been surprised that I have lost friends within the industry over the years because I teach more than just steno. On the other hand, I am pleased and appreciative of those steno writers and voice writers who have come to realize that having a personal preference for one technology over the other does not require a dismissal of the other technologies. More and more, I hear from steno and voice writers that they do realize each of these technologies are viable alternatives, that these are methods that are being used right now in the judicial system and that it behooves everyone involved in the court reporting industry to promote a well-rounded education for court reporters regardless of the method used to capture the record and produce the transcripts. It is my sincere hope that more and more people are drawn to the court reporting profession and respect each reporter’s choice for capturing the record.

For those firm owners, clients, or practitioners who might be reluctant to embrace voice or digital as capable of working in the “transcription industry,” is there anything that you’ve learned along the way that you think they should know?

There are lots of ways to work and be an extraordinary court reporter. Nothing should prevent a voice writer or a digital reporter from being as spectacular as any steno writer.  I often hear that lawyers “do not want a voice writer or a digital reporter,” but I think the lawyers and their clients want qualified men and women to do their jobs and how they do that work is secondary to the quality of the management of the proceeding and the transcript. Being in a position to send anyone from a firm out to cover a job, not having to farm a job out to another firm, pay bonus money to get a steno writer to cover it, tell an attorney you can’t handle that date and can it be scheduled for another time, would not occur if firm owners would welcome qualified court reporters with the technology best personally suited to that individual. That’s really the bottom line. Not everyone who is interested in being a court reporter is interested in using a steno machine…or his/her voice…or working with a digital mixer and a half dozen microphones. But each of those interested individuals wants to be a part of the judicial system, capturing the words of others and playing an integral role in that system and the lives of people who need them. Exceptionalism in this field isn’t limited to just one method.