« Dynamic Narrative Difficulty Adjustment | Main | Simulating the 2012 Election: Bitter Choices »

Dec 13, 2011



Back in the late 1980s-early 1990s, this was accepted and institutionalized at UC San Diego even in the pre-Internet days: there was a student-run cooperative business that hired A students in large classes to take notes, which were then photocopied and available for subscribers to pick up the next day.

Is the objection really to the selling of class notes? How is that justifiable?

(Then again, when I taught, I generally scorned the practice of requiring attendance in class. That was for mickey mouse courses in places like the Business & Education schools - if an engineering student could actually pass my tests without showing up, well, good for them.)


I'm with Tom. I don't see how this is any different really then a student going out and getting a secondary text on the material your class is over. Student's using Notehall or something like it are interesting and engaged. If its the money aspect that they object to then they should make a competing system that meets their desires as well as the students.


I see both sides to this issue. There are good reasons to be in favor and good reasons to be against. 



Assuming my class notes are a summary of what the instructor says, aren't those notes a 'new' creation which I am the owner? If I'm the owner, can't I sell or trade them?

This is different than buying gold in a virtual world from a 3rd party. They aren't selling the actual notes, they're selling new notes.

Unless the university or the state's EULA prohibits the selling of class notes, which it seems the state of California already forbids:


66450. (a) Except as authorized by policies developed in accordance with subdivision (a) of Section 66452, no business, agency, or person, including, but not necessarily limited to, an enrolled student, shall prepare, cause to be prepared, give, sell, transfer, or otherwise distribute or publish, for any commercial purpose, any contemporaneous recording of an academic presentation in a classroom or equivalent site of instruction by an instructor of record. This prohibition applies to a recording made in any medium, including, but not necessarily limited to, handwritten or typewritten class notes.


Certainly the digital age has made it far easier to obtain a copy of someone else's notes (and most lecturers I know provide notes online) but it seems to me that many students fail to grasp that the process of taking notes helps learning.

I am astounded at the number of students who attend classes these days and simply sit back passively listening to the lecturer. They would be better off taking some notes and then throwing them in the bin afterwards. At least then some of the knowledge must have passed through the brain on the way from ear to hand and the one or two hours of the lecture wouldn't be completely wasted.


Hm, some professional note takers could even make a compilation of notes for several related lectures, organize it in thematic sections, remove redundancies and have someone check it for quality. Almost like a textbook, scary. I see little difference in using a book or notes from someone else.
Also, should one really care how exactly students learn or only care that they do? Lectures and taking notes, while others might prefer book, tutorials or exercises. Exams will show soon enough whether the learning method of choice was sufficient or not.


Not everyone learns like you. Taking notes helps in remembering, sure, but learning? I'm skeptical.

Personally, I found that during my degree taking notes distracted from what was actually being taught. Especially extensive notes. When I skip note taking and focus on listening, I come away with a lot more from the lecture than I would otherwise. Anything specific (what was that formula again?) can pretty easily found with Google, it's the big picture stuff I sit in a classroom for.

Better to have the prof release lecture notes/slides, and encourage students to be involved in the lecture by discussions, offering opinions, answers, etc. in my opinion.


I think the problem is in the education system currently. I believe Notehall is an excellent way to ensure that professors are doing their job and students are getting taught the most relevant material on different subjects. They are actually getting the value out of the thousands of dollars they are spending on their education. If all classes, students just need to read the notes from another student to pass the class, don't you think something in wrong in the teaching or education? Meaning classes could just be taken on the internet and students would receive the same value. In the long run, this would decrease the cost of educations and would be extremely valuable for our economy since the average student graduates with over 30k in debt. Most students don't go to office hours, and don't talk to professors. I think this youtube video says it all and shows why Notehall is an excellent service to change and hold the education system accountable- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZtX32sKVE


Sort of related:

Re the practice:
I'm not too fond of note-selling, digital or pre-digital. This is not because I'm proprietary about the knowledge -- I'm not -- but because 1) 90% of the time, the notes are not as good as what the student would produce independently (it's the process not the document that makes notes what they are); and 2) possession of notes encourages students to pay less attention in class at a time when they're already increasingly distracted (due to the Internet, etc.)

Re the prognosis:
I think what we learned from Napster, etc., is that you really can't exert the sort of private power on a distributed many-to-many network that you used to be able to exert in a broadcast one-to-many network. There are similarities between this sort of thing, RMT, Wikileaks, eBay, Amazon, and the Arab Spring -- decentralized information architectures really do have important and game-changing consequences. When people can use them, they use them, and power relationships change as a result.


From 1935 to 1976, Fybate, a small publisher in Berkeley, commissioned graduate students to take notes on Berkeley classes and published them in mimeo or offset form. Fybate note-takers did so with the professor's knowledge and permission. The Berkeley physics department encouraged Fybate in the late 40s/early 50s because the field was moving so fast that there were no up to date textbooks. Fybate notes can still be found in some university libraries.

Fybate closed in 1976 because the business was no longer profitable - it may have been a case of death by photocopy.


"How long before we have "note farmers" - people who go to class just to take notes and sell them?"

Someone named Cliff, perhaps?




As others have noted this is not a new practice. When I was at Ball State in the mid-90s there was a place that tried this once year.

What is perhaps more interesting is that this is not just some fly-by-night group but is ran by chegg which has been around for a few years renting textbooks. Does this give the practice of selling notes more "legitimacy" than before?

As for how well this works, I don't have any first hand experience but judging from the quality of some of my student's notes and some of the online essay sites I've seen, I don't think students would really get anything useful from this.


I want to echo what d506 said. Not everybody finds value in class notes.

When I arrived in my first college classroom in the late 1980s, I was coming from a homeschooling background. I'd never attended a lecture. I'd never taken "notes" -- whatever those were supposed to be. I had to work out for myself what worked for me.

I had a notebook. I had a pen. I used those to jot down important stuff, like changes in the class schedule, additional suggested reading, and whatever administrative matters the Professor thought worth writing on the chalkboard.

Beyond that, I listened. If (miracles do happen) the professor said something that struck me as particularly important and/or likely to be on the test, I wrote that down. Typically that happened maybe twice in a class hour. During the time I was writing those things down, my ability to listen with my whole brain was diminished. Two narratives in my head at the same time, less ability to comprehend either one.

Most of the time, while I was listening and not writing, my idle fingers took the pen and ... doodled. Elaborately. So elaborately that professors would sometimes notice from the podium (I tended to sit up front) and make negative comments on the presumed extent to which I was not paying attention. When (in fact) the doodles were a sign that they had my fullest attention.

I got asked for my notes a few times. Usually I'd hand them over, deadpan, and be roundly cursed by the recipient. One or twice, when I'd missed a class, I'd ask another student what I missed, and be handed notes. These were typically long and incomprehensible scribblings that were much less useful than a careful reading of the assigned class material. My fellow students were great at writing down what the professor had to say about the reading; they were crappy at writing down what the professor seemed to think was important about the reading. So, what was the use?

An economy in class notes strikes me as utterly bizarre. The idea that class notes could exist that have substantial economic value? Likewise.

The comments to this entry are closed.