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The technology section in the Cornell Store advertises new Apple products.

November 21, 2021

Variations in Technology Access Create Academic Uncertainty Among Students

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Although Cornell has left most Zoom classes behind, technology remains at the center of academic life. On laptops and tablets, students type notes, design graphics and communicate with peers. Despite their universal reliance upon it, students experience vastly different levels of access to technology.

Hannah Mitchell ‘24 said that she received her current laptop — a Macbook Pro — as a high school graduation gift from her extended family. However, her high school was not one that used personal devices in the classroom. She said before college she was unfamiliar with the technology that she is entirely dependent on to store all of her notes, files and PDFs without fear of misplacement or destruction. 

“If I forget my laptop when I go to the library I’m useless,” she said. “I keep everything on it, all my files and PDFs. Seriously, I’m lost without it.” 

Mitchell prefers taking notes manually, but she said that her laptop is more convenient for keeping files together and staying organized. 

Georgia Lawrence ’25 used a MacBook throughout high school and knew it would be important in college. She claimed that if she had known how common iPads were for taking notes, especially in STEM classes, she would have tried to purchase one.

However, Mitchell said that tablets seem more inconvenient for the students who use them.

“Even in my communications classes, where we are not writing equations, I see many students using both,” she said. “I don’t see what an iPad offers that a laptop does not. I feel like it would just be another item to distract me.”

Jasmine Chang ’23, who studies human biology, health and society, says that her new iPad pro is her most useful piece of technology because she can use it for calculation and formulas.

“I can carry it into med school or while shadowing other doctors, instead of needing to have a pen and paper while walking around,” she said.

Although Mitchell received her laptop two years ago, it dies quickly and frequently. She stated significant concern that it would stop working entirely, because she would then have to find the money to buy herself a new one or brave schoolwork without. 

Julia Vanputte ’24, who studies operations research, spends much of her day working on her computer for many hours. She expressed  her concern that the context bluelight exposure has worsened her eyesight to the point where may need glasses. 

Vanputte expressed how the dependence on technology affects her studying. She raised complaints with the double verification system that Cornell has adopted for many University page logins.

“DuoPush especially has made it impossible to disconnect from online distractions,” she said. “Even when I want to disconnect and focus I do not have that option because in order to get into Canvas I need to go on my phone where I see all my texts and social media messages.” 

Vanputte said she appreciates the ways that technology has increased access to professors. She enjoys their ability to upload assignments virtually, though she wishes Cornell offered the option to turn assignments physically in class as well to minimize the technological burden for students. 

Vanputte has experienced issues with online submissions because she has a Microsoft laptop. When buying a new computer at the Cornell store after her previous one had broken, she had to do her own research.

The dependence on technology for academic life presents issues for students around access. Chang noted that living off campus can provide a barrier, because WiFi is often unstable while completing homework. Mitchell noted that campus may not have kept up with the reliance on technology, with a lack of outlets around campus — noting that her 200 person lecture hall for Plagues and People only has four outlets. 

Vanputte suggested that Cornell should provide more tech resources to students in order to help them get projects done and participate fully in academic life.

“Having resources that Cornell provides like computers with special programming for my project team is really helpful, and I frequently use the monitors in Olin, but they are usually packed,” said Vanputte. “It would be nice if Cornell made more of an effort to supply these resources for us so the technological burden does not rest entirely on students.”