Lecture notes online? Businesses hook students up

The scramble to get copies of missed lecture notes the night before an exam is a familiar scene on many campuses. But it may soon become pass.

These days, instead of hunting down a classmate and heading over to the nearest Kinko's, students who have cut class can simply switch on their computers and download the notes they need.

In yet another example of the blurring line between business and education, Internet entrepreneurs are attempting to capitalize on students' sleeping in - by offering class notes on the Web.

Since September, at least 10 note-posting sites have been launched. One of the largest, versity.com, boasts that it has notes for more than 3,500 classes on 88 campuses nationwide, with more to come. Most of these sites are free of charge and make their money from advertising. Students who sign up to be note-takers are paid about $300 per course for their efforts.

To some, it seems a logical idea. Students are going to share their notes anyway - why not make it easier for them?

But to many professors, the act of posting lecture information on the Web constitutes an invasion of their classroom.

"They are interfering in the relationship between professors and students," says Mathieu Deflem, an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. He finds the sites so offensive that he has launched a Web site of his own devoted to bringing them down.

Beyond the obvious concern that these sites may encourage more students to cut class, Professor Deflem objects to the "principle" behind them. "I lose control over my teaching," he explains. Since the information disseminated by the sites doesn't come directly from professors, it may end up distorting their message.

Some universities have gone so far as to accuse the sites of copyright infringement. A few weeks ago, Steve Oberhauser, a senior at the University of California at Los Angeles and the campus manager for study247.com, was warned by the college's assistant provost to stop all note-posting or face possible legal action against himself and the company. UCLA has a policy that class notes cannot be distributed for commercial purposes without professor consent. Mr. Oberhauser says he has ignored the warning and will continue to recruit note-takers.

Most sites address the copyright issue by arguing that the notes are not a transcription, but a student's "interpretation" of the lectures. Studentu.com warns readers, "You need to show up for every class, and just use these notes to supplement your own."

Indeed, students relying on the online notes alone may find them pretty hard to follow. Many of the postings simply list terms or facts, with little or no explanation. A sample of notes posted on allstudents.com from a class on "Society and the Individual" at Michigan State University reads: "Why is the nature of the unconscious important? A. It is important for this course"

And notes from a Florida State University class on "Latin American Civilization" offer: "Haiti and the Dominican Republic - they have Spanish and African heritage because of their history."

As Deflem points out, "notes tend to be very personal." If you copy someone else's notes, he says, you'll probably also "have to talk about it with them."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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