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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Navigating accommodations and pedagogy

Like many on Prawfs and elsewhere, I've dabbled with laptop bans in the classroom. (For me, I'm deeply uncertain about what the "right" answer is and won't rehash those discussions here.) But I'm aware of situations where a professor has banned laptops only to receive a word from the accessibility services office that a student (or more than one) requires an accommodation--the ability to use a laptop.

And like many on Prawfs and elsewhere, I've wondered about whether I ought to record classes (e.g., to provide opportunities for students with legitimate reasons for absences to hear the material, and to allow students with long commutes to re-listen to class discussion) or not (e.g., to protect the privacy of students and maximize classroom candor, or to prevent incentivizing classroom absences). But I'm aware of situations where a professor has refused to record lectures only to receive a word from the accessibility services office that a student (or more than one) requires an accommodation--the ability to record lectures.

Gone are the days where accommodations were limited to things like time-and-a-half on the exam. A much deeper understanding of students' needs, coupled with much more sensitive university accessibility offices, has given rise to many more accommodations over those available even a decade ago. Some greater contemporary accommodations, like service animals, don't really have pedagogical impact.

But, at the same time, I can't help but start to wonder how to handle these accommodations in relation to pedagogy. If I allow laptops or record all lectures, then it's a moot point. But what if I want to ban laptops or if I don't want to record classes?

I think some of my concerns have been about how students might react. That is, they don't know which students have extended time or other exam-related accommodations because there's a level of privacy inherent in that process. But a student with a laptop in a class where everyone else can't use them stands out--in part, it may call attention to the student with an accommodation (an undesirable result, to be sure), or, in part, it might be a lack of student sensitivity to accommodations (which, perhaps, I or others could communicate more effectively). And a student who gets access to recordings is in the same boat--I have to tell the class that I'm recording the lectures (even though the students generally don't get access to them), but at least they can't single out the students with the accommodation, but the same lack of sensitivity is an issue. (Or, more crudely, a complaint that the system is "unfair" to them if they want to type or listen to recordings.)

So, my temptation might be to forego any kind of pedagogical decisionmaking and go with the path of least resistance--record, type, whatever you'd like. But that strikes me as suboptimal, especially if I'm convinced (and, I should note, I'm not totally convinced in any of these arenas) that I ought not do it.

Maybe there's a third way--working with the accessibility services offices to develop more nuanced accommodations that avoid these concerns: win-win or something like that. But I'm not sure those kinds of options would be available, and it would involve me second-guessing the decisions of professionals who've weighed student requests carefully.

So... I don't know. It's something I've been grappling with. Have any of you struggled with these issues? If so, have you reached any better resolutions than I have?

Posted by Derek Muller on April 25, 2018 at 12:53 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


“it might be a lack of student sensitivity to accommodations (which, perhaps, I or others could communicate more effectively“

By the time students get to law school in their early twenties at the latest, they are fellow adults that entitled to make their own moral judgments which will sometimes disagree with yours, that of the institution, and even the law’s.

Many students through their life experiences will have come to the conclusion that some people manipulate the disability accommodation systems in ways that are unfair and unwarranted — that the law school equivalent of emotional support animals exist.

Heck, they may not even be wrong.

Posted by: Brad | Apr 26, 2018 7:14:58 AM

I record as a matter of course. Not as a matter of accommodation, but as the overall quid pro quo for banning laptops. I had several students this semester who received laptop accommodations, but only used them on the days they needed them (when relevant needs were flaring up).

I agree with you about the need to come up with more nuanced accommodations.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 25, 2018 10:09:53 PM

Ruth Colker at Ohio State, among other folks, has done work on how laptop bans are detrimental: http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/sites/colker2/2018/01/10/stop-banning-laptops/

Posted by: Rabia Belt | Apr 25, 2018 9:43:01 PM

Here's an old post on my modified laptop rule: http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2010/03/laptop-policies.html. I've changed my approach a little bit. In particular, I've expanded the number of people I allow to use the laptop for note-taking purposes. For a class of, say, 50+ people, I allow up to 12 people to sign up every day to take notes via laptop, still with the requirement that they share those notes with the class via the TWEN page. Students requiring accommodation are required to discuss it with the dean of students, but I have no problem with their using their laptops and don't require them to share their notes. My assumption has been that with enough people using them (and the cast features both some frequent flyers and some changing individuals), people will be otherwise occupied and not paying close attention to who is or isn't using laptops for accommodation purposes. That assumption might be incorrect--it's not the kind of thing I would have paid attention to as a student, but others well might--but I have heard no indications suggesting that students are counting noses.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 25, 2018 3:07:51 PM

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