Opinion

In defense of in-class laptop usage

I hold an unpopular belief amongst professors at this school because I believe all classrooms on the Macalester campus should allow access to laptops.

Now there is something a lot of you might not know about me that will be important to know in the context of this article: 1) I used to work with Disability Services at the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities before I transferred here and 2) I proudly identify as someone with a disability who uses accommodations on this campus. After reading these two facts about me, you are probably even more confused than before you read them, but let me explain.

Most of you have heard the diatribes every year against the use of laptops in the classroom from your professors. Many professors believe that they serve as a distraction to students and that students are less likely to pay attention to lectures if they have their laptops out, and honestly I cannot argue with this logic. However, what professors don’t realize is that they are also making their classrooms inaccessible to students with disabilities who may need their laptops to carry out typical class functions such as note-taking.

As someone who worked at the University of Minnesota as an Access Assistant, I can only barely scratch the surface in telling you how important laptops can be to students with disabilities. Every day in my former job, I was attending classes with students and helping them take notes, and while the disabilities of many of these students were visual impairments, there were also students with cognitive disabilities who needed their computers.

While I truly do not think it is professors’ intentions to make classrooms inaccessible by not allowing access to laptops, they are still doing so. And while some professors will say that a student can approach them about using a laptop if a disability warrants, I do not think these professors realize that they are singling out the student with the disability because the next day when only one person shows up with a laptop, the rest of the class knows why. As Kate Gallagher, co-facilitator of the Disability, Chronic Pain, and Chronic Illness Identity Collective, describes, “It can be alienating having adaptive technology that makes one hypervisible when everyone else is barred from using their laptops.”

Although I wish students did not feel singled out by this act, unfortunately because of the stigma around having a disability, many do feel this way. Professors might also not realize that for certain students in need of the laptops, such as individuals with social anxiety, it might be even harder to approach a professor on the topic.

This is why disability departments on college campuses are so critical in assuring the well-being of their students because it should be these departments that deal with these kinds of interactions. I do believe that Robin Hart Ruthenbeck and Lisa Landreman do a good job in formally communicating to professors students’ needs. However, I feel that many Macalester professors undermine this process by insisting that students talk to them first to work out any potential issues, putting unnecessary pressure on the student who might need the aid of a disability department in negotiating such accommodations.

All this being said, I truly believe that making laptop access universal in classes would aid a lot of students with disabilities who are silently suffering from being too afraid to approach a professor about the topic and the stigma attached to their identity. Just because professors are worried that a few students will not pay attention in class does not mean it should ruin it for students who do need their laptops. I would actually like to think more of students that they have the self-control to stay off of Facebook during class.

September 11, 2015

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