Banning Laptops Is an Accessibility Issue
Despite being a common classroom practice, most professors who forbid laptop use don’t understand the problem this creates for many students.
September 27, 2019
“The Chronicle of Higher Education” claims that students who write out their notes learn and absorb information better than using a laptop. As a senior, I have heard professors quote this statistic endlessly throughout many of my classes. Several of my professors have insisted that electronics are not productive to our learning in class and that they are distractions that will weaken my performance academically. Yet writing notes longhand and not using electronics does not guarantee retaining information. How different and how much more productive is listening to a lecture and typing versus listening to a lecture and writing vigorously to keep up? If a student needs diagrams, is a slow writer or likes taking lecture notes verbatim, is banning laptops going to help that student learn better? The study fails to acknowledge the possibility that people learn differently from one another.
Professors should take into account language barriers, speech barriers and the different ways people absorb and interact with information. There is a lack of consideration for the possibility of students using electronics to look up certain words, references and readings to participate in class. Banning electronics means allowing a singular type of participation that not everyone is able to do.
The ban on electronics is a restriction on student choice. The Moses Center exists to help students with accommodations — including laptop usage — for any issues they might have. But for some students, the use of laptops and phones can be a way for them to make connections and understand abstract concepts. It can be a way for students to collaborate on note-taking and build understanding. Instead of taking an all-or-nothing approach, professors should allow electronics and specify when to turn them off, recognizing that it’s useful to use different tools at different times to learn different things. If professors are worried about electronics being a distraction, it’s also important for them to consider making lectures engaging enough so that students don’t feel the need to surf the web. Perhaps keeping the students busy with relevant work that may include laptops can allow for better participation and less harmful distractions because the students will be using laptops in a way that’s relevant to classwork.
If professors want a more productive learning environment, they cannot simply ban the use of electronics and hope that will fix everything. The problem isn’t just the electronics, but it has to do with how the professor chooses to teach and whether they are willing to accommodate for differences in learning style. Professors should establish an understanding between themselves and students before taking the easy way out and banning electronics entirely.
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Email Clare Shiraishi at [email protected]