A student takes notes in class. Afterwards, she hands her notes over to a friend. No big deal. Another student hands his notes over and his friend buys him lunch as a thank you. A third student drops his notes off at Einstein’s How I Got an A and a storm erupts between the USF administration and student note takers.
Many companies make student’s notes available online for a fee. A quick search on Google yields hits for companies such as sharenotes.com or cnotesnow.com. The system used by these companies is straightforward. Someone – not always a student – takes notes in class. They submit the notes to a setup like sharenotes.com or Einstein’s How I Got an A and get paid per submission. The company then makes the notes available to the public for a price.
Most instructors react angrily to this type of service. They make very strong arguments against using notes from these services. For example, Greg McColm, an associate professor of mathematics at USF, wrote a letter to the editor to the Oracle to object Einstein’s. He worries that the note-taking service “defrauds” students by implying that its notes alone will facilitate success. He also said that students revert to buying notes “if they aren’t attending regularly, have fallen behind, or gotten scared or something.”
Students shouldn’t expect any notes to be a substitute for class attendance or professor interaction. Insightful students realize that notes function as a supplement to the lecture. If they don’t realize this at first, they will learn as their grades drop. People learn many things in college and this valuable lesson may teach more than the lectures in question. If a student can skip class, buy the notes and succeed, the student may possess a solid grasp of the material already.
“There’s something sleazy about students’ taking notes and selling them on the Web,” said Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia. “I’m not happy about students selling their notes to an outfit like Einstein’s How I Got An A.”
While the instructors find the use of note-taking services distasteful, the information such services provide tends to be unavoidably and universally available, either online, from a local service or from a fellow student.
Peter Wood, an anthropology professor at Boston University, objects to this manner of hijacking his instructional efforts,
“(I) spent a great deal of time developing my courses within a specific intellectual context, a context that I control.”
As Zachary Fagenson reported in the Oracle, the Federal District Court ruled that public university course content receives no protection under copyright law. Instructor’s copyrights aren’t violated because students’ notes are interpretations of a professor’s speech. Here lies the risk. A note taker with an ear for what is important will produce good notes while a poor note taker will drag his note-buying customers down with him.
It’s true that professors make no money off services like these. Only the note taker and the service provider get paid. However, sold notes don’t interrupt the professor’s revenue stream.
Why don’t the concerned instructors change the game and offer notes to these businesses? By making their notes available, they combat the inaccuracies, embrace the inevitability, and increase the quality and reliability of the product delivered from services such as Einstein’s. On top of everything else, it adds a revenue stream for the lecturer.
Perhaps, if a student can pass a class without showing up, the instructors should re-evaluate how they interact with their students. The basic service being provided comes from the lecturer. They may need to ask what they can add to make the experience of class attendance vital and add value to their students’ academic careers.
Jason Olivero is majoring in electrical engineering.