I started using a laptop in my high school classroom during my second semester of freshman year, and it revolutionized how I accessed classroom materials as a student with low vision and dysgraphia. My high school laptop helped to give me more independence in the classroom and gave me the ability to access information in an unobtrusive way, and my grades went up as a direct result of having access to a laptop in the classroom. Here are some of the tips and strategies that helped me use my laptop effectively in the high school classroom as a student with low vision who felt comfortable around technology.
My first high school did not allow students to access the internet from their own devices, and my second high school’s internet connection often became difficult to use during lunch periods where students were streaming content. For this reason, I prioritized applications and software that could be accessed without an internet connection, such as offline notetaking apps, calculators, and text-to-speech tools that could recognize text without an internet connection. My most-used apps in the classroom were probably Microsoft Office productivity applications since they provide several accessibility features and organizational tools, and my teachers frequently used these apps in the classroom as well.
One of the primary reasons I started using a laptop in the classroom was because I have dysgraphia, which is characterized by very poor handwriting. Having a laptop gave me the ability to type notes instead of writing them by hand, and practicing good typing skills has helped me in a multitude of ways. Of course, students aren’t just limited to typing notes- there are many strategies for notetaking including audio recording, the use of dictation, and scanning images of whiteboards/pages.
Using multiple applications can drain the battery life of a laptop quickly, so it’s important to consider how often the device will need to be charged and if it can be placed in a location where it can be charged easily- portable battery packs often do not provide sufficient charging power for laptops. In many of my classes, I would choose a seat that had easy access to an outlet, and would make sure that the cord was in a location where other students or the teacher would not trip over it. Avoid charging laptops inside backpacks or cases, as this can pose an overheating or fire risk.
At my second high school, I had a shared Dropbox folder with all of my teachers where they could share digital copies of assignments, and I could save the finished assignment to the folder for grading. Of course, internet connections aren’t always reliable, so I would also use a USB flash drive to transfer files, or I would ask teachers to save copies of classroom materials to the flash drive so I could save them to my computer. I also received copies of exams on flash drives, though I was not permitted to save these to my personal device.
I often struggled with organizing paper copies of assignments in my backpack, as the larger page sizes did not fit into folders and I would often have trouble identifying which assignments were for each class- one time I accidentally turned in a copy of sheet music that I had mistaken for math homework because I thought I had grabbed a different assignment. This problem went away when I started using digital files for my classes, as organizing items by class allows me to see all of my classroom notes and assignments in one place. I have an entire post about how I organize digital files linked below.
Having access to digital textbooks has been a game changer for me as a student with low vision, because I can easily adjust the font size, search the text of the book, and enlarge high resolution graphs and images. Digital textbooks also are much lighter than printed books that can be more difficult for students to transport on their own, especially if they have larger page sizes. I download copies of my digital textbooks for offline reading on both my laptop and tablet, and sometimes prefer the tablet so that I can read more comfortably through the bifocal lens in my glasses.
I frequently use keyboard shortcuts to copy, paste, and select text as well as zoom in on a page or apply formatting in a document. Learning keyboard shortcuts can help students save time and make it easier to access information. Each operating system has slightly different keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys, though they often provide very similar functionalities.
It’s really easy to develop eye strain for students that rely heavily on technology and screens to access information, so taking breaks from the screen to look at the wall every few minutes or closing eyes for a few seconds can help tremendously with reducing these effects. I have an entire post on managing eye strain with technology linked below.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published august 2017.
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