Professor at the University of Sydney bans laptops in his lectures

A few weeks into the course, she was able to focus better on the lecture and saw the reasons for removing the distraction of laptops. Another student, Jayden Pandah, said he saw no problem with the strict rule either.

“I don’t use my laptop in lectures anyway because I can see that it interferes with my attention to the lecture,” he said.


Not everyone agreed, as one student anonymously complained on an Internet forum last week about how discriminatory the ban on laptops was for students with a learning disability.

“He rants about how bad technology is [in] practically every lecture and it really annoys me,” the student said in the Post.

The student wrote that he emailed the professor, asking him to stop, explaining that students with special learning needs — such as those with dyspraxia — need laptops to take notes and that his policies are “discriminatory “ be.

A University of Sydney spokeswoman said professors have the power to limit the use of laptops and digital devices – but any ban would not apply to students with a learning disability.


“There will be instances where using a device is not appropriate for health and safety reasons, or academic staff may also decide that there are classroom situations where having devices turned off might be less distracting,” she said .

“[In] Situations where a student needs to make academic adjustments due to a disability or other needs, appropriate assistive technology, including a laptop, is always permissible.”

If that herald Speaking to Professor Gal about the complaint, he said that when a student has a disability, he or she is responsive to his or her needs.

“Of course, if someone comes to me and says, ‘That’s the only way I can do it [is with technology]I have to help,” he said.

He introduced the ban after his daughter told him about a similar ban at Stanford University in 2017, noting that students in Sydney rarely took notes on their laptops.


“Usually there are three things that are open, none of which relate to it [to the lecture]. On the laptop there’s eBay and Facebook, and on the phone they’re messaging all the time,” he said.

Gal cites two research findings as evidence for the ban — a 2014 paper that says students who transcribe verbatim what was said in class had lower conceptual understanding of course content. A 2006 study concluded that laptop use is a significant distraction for both the user and the student, and is detrimental to student understanding of course material and overall course performance.

For a few years before the introduction of the laptop ban, Prof. Gal stopped recording lectures online because he felt students were no longer coming to class.

Lectures this year will be recorded. He estimated that of the 90 students enrolled in the class, only a third showed up for class each week. Another 30 students dialed in remotely. Gal said of the students who attended in person, he wanted them to be engaged.

“I just can’t stand the glassy eyes in front of me. It’s an important moment for this class,” he said.

“It’s an important thing, the meeting of young and old, of seniors and juniors, of trainees and experts, that’s extremely important to me.”

“I’m really good at it, not because I’m brilliant, but it’s what I’ve done my whole life.”

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here. Professor at the University of Sydney bans laptops in his lectures

Justin Scaccy

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