Friday, September 28, 2012

Ipads to accommodate disabilities

I instituted a new policy in my classes this semester--no laptops, cell phones, or etc. (accompanied by a policy that says please don't get up and leave unless you are in dire physical need--because apparently when they do that, it's often to send a text!).  I have mixed feelings about the technology ban.

On the one hand, I'm supposed to be bringing technology INTO the class--iPads in Education!--so why would I say that I get to do that and they don't?  They also have access to electronic readings for class and many are sensitive to the environmental impact of printing and bringing hard copies--so how to balance the desire for us all to have a copy of a text to which we can refer with the impact of killing so many trees?

I am trying this out anyway because their laptops and cell phones threaten our shared focus.  Now that I have the iPad and can take it to meetings or lectures, I know first hand how difficult it can be to resist the temptation to just check one thing, maybe even one thing that is directly related to the meeting or lecture.  Then, the next thing I know, I'm on to another thing and another thing and I'm no longer psychologically present at the meeting or lecture.  I have also had complaints from some students that they found it distracting to be sitting next to someone who was not taking notes as claimed but, instead, checking Facebook or playing video poker. So there's a principle behind the policy, and it's also consistent with one of the themes in one of my classes this semester (interpersonal media), about making intentional choices about the appropriate use of different media in different contexts.

One serious reservation I have about the policy, however, concerns what to do if students need a laptop or iPad or some other device to accommodate a learning difference.  Of course, this issue isn't unique to technological support accommodations--the student who takes exams in Student Support Services instead of in the class might also be noticeably absent, for example.  I can't think of a good work around for that accommodation, however, whereas I could relatively easily decide to tolerate technology so as not to draw a clear line between those who might simply prefer to use it and those who really have a compelling need to use it.

I did tell students when we discussed this policy that I was open to having a conversation about this with anyone who felt there was a good reason for them to have technology in class--either on a particular day or in general.  Two students came in right away and made the case that they take better notes and process information better if they aren't bogged down in the mechanics of their own bad handwriting.  They did not have a Notice of Disability, but they each made a good case from their experience and we had a conversation about their self-discipline in staying off the internet during class.  They've agreed not to do anything but take notes and that if I catch them or hear otherwise, we'll talk about installing and using a program to shut off their internet connection during the class.

This is an imperfect solution, however, in that it could still force a student with a disability to choose between using a technology that would help them learn and being "outed" as someone with a learning difference because they are allowed to use technology in a class that otherwise does not allow it.  I asked these two students this semester, "Will it make you feel conspicuous if you have it and no one else does?" They seemed genuinely not to be concerned.  So I got lucky.  But I can imagine others who might not feel comfortable and I'm still thinking about how to deal with that.

Today, I learned of a student with a visual disability that makes it difficult to view video display from a distance. The requested accommodation is to notify in advance if we will be watching a video and provide a link.  However, sometimes I find a good illustration on the fly and want to incorporate it at the last minute.  What then?  It occurred to me that I could have the student view it on my iPad AND if I have the apps to project to the class screen directly from the iPad, she could watch it simultaneously with the rest of the class.  Because the iPad is so much less obtrusive than a laptop, maybe that diminishes, if not fully resolves, the public identification of a student as someone needing technological support.

I'd be curious to know if others have found student technology in the classroom distracting (particularly on the heels of Kelly's announcement that there may be a program to provide students with iPads!) and how others have dealt with this.  I've heard that some institutions have simply shut off wifi in classroom buildings but that prevents us from using it, either.  Ideas?

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