For a generation of students raised in the digital age, it’s often a surprise when professors institute technology-free policies on the first day of school. Professors support these policies, arguing that banning technology reduces distractions and encourages handwritten notes, which generally leads to better information retention. These bans include laptops, which some students with disabilities depend on for their success in class. Although no-technology policies have good intentions behind them, they have a negative impact on students with disabilities, isolating them and adding to the stigma of people with disabilities.
Although some educators may argue that no-technology policies are not necessarily harmful to students with disabilities, since they can obtain permission to use technology by applying to Access Center for Students with Disabilities, we should avoid isolating students with special needs whenever possible. SDAC can provide accommodations for note taking and lecture recording, they cannot change stigmata the surrounding disability that can make a student feel alienated in the classroom. For example, if a student uses a laptop to take notes in a room of students who are not allowed to touch their laptops, that student may feel isolated. The student may then feel the need to justify using their laptop to others, which they shouldn’t have to do unless they want to. Disabilities are a sensitive topic and students should not feel forced to justify their needs to their peers in the name of banning technology.
Students with SDAC accommodations may not only feel isolated among their peers in technology-free classes, but may also have uncomfortable interactions with faculty. By supporting their technology-free policies with claims that laptops lead to more distractions and less effective notes, professors are implying that students who need laptops don’t meet their standards. When a professor expresses a clear distaste for laptops, it can be awkward for a student to request their accommodation. Students should not feel that their needs are a burden, and implementing no-technology policies does just that – it creates a negative learning environment.
It is also important to keep in mind that there are students with disabilities who do not have accommodations. A student’s lack of accommodation may be due to their finding SDAC process challenge, they have a currently undiagnosed disability or thought they would have more freedom to use technology in college. It is wrong for a student who has never needed a technology-related accommodation to sign up for a class they are interested in, only to find out that they really do need accommodations to perform well. Now they must fill out paperwork, get forms signed by a treating provider and meet with an SDAC counselor to succeed in the class. By the time they secure their accommodation, they may already be behind schedule.
Professors with no-technology policies also ignore the benefits of written notes for students with and without disabilities. Having access to a laptop in class can help students copy information faster and take more legible notes. Although poor handwriting likely does not qualify for SDAC placement, these note-taking needs further demonstrate that technology in the classroom has benefits. Instructors may argue that the benefits of written notes do not outweigh the cost of potential online difficulties, but that should be the student’s choice. In general, college should be a time for growing up and developing independence. Students should be allowed to exercise this independence by choosing whether handwritten or typed notes work better for them.
While there are many ways that no-technology policies harm students, it’s also important to examine the benefits that professors claim exist. Ann initial research showed that handwriting is the best method of note-taking, but a replication of the survey cannot generate the same results. The repeated study shows that the conclusion that handwritten notes are better than typed ones is “premature”. This study reflects that technology-free policies are not as helpful as professors claim they are. For a generation of students raised on laptops, it is essential that more research be done on handwritten notes before educators jump to technological bans.
Policies without technology do more harm than good. Professors paternalistically banning technology cause a lot of unnecessary problems. I cannot claim that professors are intentionally engaging in discriminatory practices. Instead, I implore professors to reconsider the effect on students of banning technology from their classrooms.
Mikayla Hawison is a Viewpoint contributor who writes about college life for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors only.