Laptops in examinations? Say What?

It has happened twice. Twice in the last week! As examinations too-quickly approach, I have had two classes where an individual has asked if they could write their exam on a computer. I am not exaggerating. I whole-heartedly assure you that this strange request has been raised in two different classes.

I’m an English student. Perhaps it is because English exams require a lot of writing that this question has arisen on more than one occasion. This may be a faculty-specific phenomenon. But I want to examine the idea. I want to explore whether or not this should be strange to us, or whether or not this is the next logical step in the university evaluative method.

At first I was stunned. And honestly, I was irritated. You want to bring a laptop to an examination?! Come on. That is ridiculous. What legitimate reason could you have for needing this kind of special assistance?

Well, it appears that our generation has forgotten how to handwrite. We do not write quickly. And having to write our exam by hand restricts the amount that we can say in the three hours of time that we are allotted. Also, the legibility of language written with our hands has deteriorated so dramatically that the characters have been rendered illegible. Simply, “I can’t write very fast, and even if I do, you won’t be able to read it.”

These two explanations — while an interesting example of the slow and perhaps imminent death of the physically written word — are not good enough for me. When confronted with this logic, I am tempted to insist that students learn to write, both quickly and well. This is something that every university student has to do. Learn to cope with this reality. Barring medical condition, I will always tell the keen student to “suck it up.”

However, one final explanation is more problematic to my tough-it-out approach. I have to accept as fact that we do almost everything on our computers. Papers must be typed, double-spaced, 12-point legible font. We do not write letters anymore; we write emails, we text, we post on a Facebook friend’s wall. BlackBerries are replacing planners. Computers are replacing notebooks. To suggest that the written word is dying does not seem farfetched. And so why is taking an examination on a computer not a logical next step?

In lieu of the evidence, I am a supporter of preserving the real written word.

Perhaps because of a romantic nostalgia, perhaps because the scrawl that I call my handwriting marks me as an individual in ways that Times New Roman never will, or perhaps because I am secretly terrified that when the zombie apocalypse does arrive, and the technologic world collapses, we will be left with nothing.