When I did my peer observation as part of my AFHEA accreditation course, one of the topics of discussion that came up with my colleague in our debrief was the question of laptops in the classroom. It was her policy to ban laptops in the tutorial classroom, and she was interested in my choice to allow them.
This issue has raised its head again in this article from Inside Higher Ed, covering the case of an Ohio State economics professor who claims to have seen an increase in student performance following his technology ban.
I will admit - I have occasionally seen downsides to my policy of allowing laptops in the classroom. In my experience, it was telling a student that I'd prefer she look up restaurant reviews on Yelp in her own time and to focus on the group work I'd set. And Trevon Logan writes that he observed an improvement in midterm performance in this course where he banned technology. However, I'm on the side of Catherine Prendergast on this one:
According to the Equality Act 2010, universities in the UK are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled students can fully participate in the education and services provided for students. This means that universities are required to make 'reasonable adjustments' - and technology is a huge part of this remit.
Students declaring a disability at the University of Edinburgh are now more than 10% of the student population, and this figure is only on the rise.
In my role as an IT Support Tech for Information Services at the University of Edinburgh, I've worked to provide technological adjustments for students with disabilities during exams since December 2015. What this means is that I set up exam-ready laptops loaded with software such as Read and Write Gold and Dragon Dictate for students to complete their exam assessments on. In 2017, I went on Disability Awareness Training, and I've since been delivering the training for new student colleagues who help set up the technology for these students. The expertise I've gained with the technology used by students with disabilities has had a huge impact on my attitude towards technology in the classroom.
Trevon Logan does have an exemption clause in his syllabus: students who write to him to ask to be allowed their technology in the classroom are given permission. However, according to the article, no students have so far written to ask for this exemption. This is what Catherine Prendergast criticises in her tweet thread above: it stigmatises the use of learning technology for students with disabilities to ask these students to write for a specific exemption, and makes them conspicuous in the classroom when everyone else is writing by hand.
I allow laptops in my classroom and will continue to do so because this fosters inclusivity, and doesn't draw attention to students who need technology to fully participate in their education. Students with disabilities have to jump through enough hoops to get their needs met at University, such as registering with their local Disability Services and dealing with inaccessible buildings, before we even get to the day-to-day reality of living with a disability; I won't be adding hoops to get their needs met in my classroom.