Patch Five: Banned Together

Erynn Brook, Ryerson University


this “patch” was originally posted in a Twitter thread you can find here.
Laptop bans are a big topic at the moment, so I’d like to talk about my laptop use in class as a mature student with ADHD without academic accommodation. So, what am I doing on my laptop when it’s open in class? Honestly, I’m rarely taking notes. That’s not to say that others aren’t taking notes or benefiting from laptop usage in a purely academic way, but I’m rarely taking notes because I rarely take notes anyway. Before you go and say that my lack of note taking is affecting my performance, I’m a 4.0 student, so whatever I’m doing is working for me.
If I’m on my laptop in class I have the following things going on:
  1. The day’s lecture/slides open.
  2. The day’s assigned readings open.
  3. My usual tabs.
  4. 2048. Yes, the game.
I also have a notebook open and a pen available, but that’s also rarely used. I do like handwriting for things that I should refer to later, but it’s honestly pretty rare that something is brought up that’s so complex I need to write it down.
You’re probably wondering about the 2048. I’m an aural learner. And 2048 is a fidget. Once upon a time I used to be the world’s most annoying pen clicker, but 2048 hasn’t gotten me the same number of stares and sighs. That said, I’m not perfect. I totally go on social media during class. But I wonder how many of these researchers have researched how people use social media in education settings?
Almost every class I’ve been in has had some group element to it, whether prescribed by the prof or not. You’d be amazed by the study notes we can generate as a class. Perhaps the question of laptops in lectures needs to also examine the purpose of the lectures themselves? What is the intention? What is the goal? Well, that’s all provided in a syllabus. At the beginning of term I’m given the expected learning outcomes and all the tools.
In a flipped classroom model, where the readings are done beforehand and then the professor lectures on them, the lecture itself is rarely new information. Most professors have units, where overarching themes are connected together. By the time I’m in a lecture I have the goal, the framework the professor is working in, the reference material and my own synthesis of those three things in the context of the lecture. Often these lectures are a review of the reading assignments and some questions. So what do I need to take notes on? Things I might be quizzed on that cannot be found in the readings, or the existing slides.
For someone like me, whose brain works like a database, the laptop and access to the internet helps me make connections in order to remember the material. Especially if I can connect it to current events or ding ding ding shit happening on social media. Most professors write multiple choice exam questions based on readings and lecture slides. Multiple choice questions usually take the format of who said what or according to which researcher blah blah blah, easy enough to figure out or remember if you’ve paid attention.
Essay questions usually involve proving understanding of the overarching units, which again, if you’ve got a database brain like me, isn’t that difficult provided you’ve absorbed the main themes, criticisms, and locked them into your brain somehow. Very few professors use memorization style questions anymore, and if they do it’s in the multiple choice section. Dates and names type stuff. That information you can collect from the syllabus/readings in about an hour. Throw it on some flashcards and you’re good to go.

Now, as far as distracting other students. Let me repeat that I have ADHD. If anyone’s getting distracted, it’s me. And this is where it gets interesting because the most distracting thing for me, as an aural learner, is sound. 3 things that can distract me: people whispering/muttering behind me. Repetitive people sounds like sniffling, eating, wrapping papers. Tech buzz (like how flickering fluorescent lights have a buzzing sound? Drives me wild.)
Now let’s get to the laptop bans and what happens for me as a student with ADHD when I don’t have access to tech in the classroom.
  1. I can’t contextualize assignments. I can’t see my calendar, plan out the amount of time/brain energy required, or see how the assignment connects to the overarching units.
  2. I don’t have 2048, so I need a new fidget, cause remember, I was the world’s most annoying pen-clicker.
  3. I’m working from my memory of the readings, or in one or two cases, the printouts of the readings, so I’m missing those clues and connections that I’ve made unless I’ve written them on the readings.
  4. Assuming I have the readings printed out and I’ve made notes on those clues, I’m now adding the prof’s clues and notes to my notes which are separate from the readings and which one is right? My notes are in one place, the notes from the lecture are in another place.
  5. I’m doing all this without the overview of the lecture slides in front of me, only the current slide that the prof is showing, disconnected from the database, so to speak.
I got distracted in my own thread, let me circle back to distracting other students with my tech use in class. A few things about that.
  1. I don’t care. I probably should, but I don’t. I’m learning my way and it works for me.
  2. If they’re that distracted by me playing 2048 then the lecture is INCREDIBLY BORING. And that’s not on me.
  3. Students also treat each other as a database. Remember the Google doc/group notes I mentioned earlier? I’ve had people contact me weeks after a lecture saying “Hey remember that lecture on…” we take note of who gets it and get the info from then when we need it.
The thing is, how we measure success in education has changed. It used to be memorization, the more you could store in your brain, the better. It’s now about access, the faster you can find information and learn new systems, the better. I don’t need to be able to recite dates and names because I have technology that does that for me, and if the technology goes away, I’m probably in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and you shouldn’t trust me to remember all of human history anyway.
If, as a professor, your main concern is that you’re not getting enough engagement or it’s depressing to not have eyes on you, or see nothing but laptop decals, well… You may want to look at your lecturing style.
Because honestly, you’re not the only source of info, and if you’re boring, I’ll just find something else that explains what you’re explaining in a more entertaining way.

And if you don’t think that’s possible, here’s an article that used Beyonce to contextualize Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto”

So hopefully that helps this discussion around laptop bans and takes us out of the bad/good binary.
If your reason for banning laptops and hurting disabled students and those who use tech to enhance their learning is because (neurotypical & able) students are distracted… Well, frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn.
Hey this got some attention. If you’re an educator and you’re fascinated by how neurodivergent brains work, I have good news for you! There are a lot of sensory parallels between ADHD and autism and the #ActuallyAutistic community has got you covered! Listen, please, and be nice!
Same rules apply as all communities: listen before you speak. People are experts in their own experience. Your outsider information about that community is probably mostly false. Scientific studies are not weapons to be used against people sharing their stories.
featured image: “Lecture Hall” flickr photo by JohnRH4 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
Static images from: “static on a mexican television station 3” flickr photo by jetheriot shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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