Class notes on the Web? Just an updated version of an old practice.

A number of college students are finding there's an easy way to make some money while pursuing their studies. Internet companies will pay them about $300 to take notes for a course. The notes are then posted online, free to any user. The company earns its revenue from ads.

In recruiting student note-takers, the companies do not necessarily seek out the best and brightest. Rather, they reportedly look for students who are highly tenacious about attendance.

The idea is the logical extension of an idea that goes back decades to when I was in college. Back then, friends would take notes for late sleepers or lazy classmates. The practice then escalated so that friends would alternate to take notes for each other's classes. Then fraternities and sororities joined in, and would have notes taken to be distributed as a service to their members. Those outlines would then leak to other students. This would have the collateral effect of enhancing the Greeks' reputation.

Today, students are being hired to take notes mostly in core courses. This practice has seen its share of critics. Some professors feel it's a form of cheating the educational process. The student, in effect, is not totally involved with the material or course.

These professors who criticize online notes really need to get out more often. Term papers, CliffsNotes, and synopses of the classics have been available for years. They were never meant to act as a substitute for education. Rather, their purpose has always been to supplement class notes, assigned reading, and whatever interaction can be gleaned from the professor. The implication from these attacks is that online notes will be used as a substitute for learning.

So what? If that is the student's choice, then so be it. Isn't part of education the idea that life is full of choices? You then must live with the consequences of those choices. That is known as preparation for life, and likewise a valuable lesson provided by the university in educating its students. After all, the college environment is as much of an educator as is the classroom.

Some universities have threatened to take legal action. They allege that putting the notes online is a form of copyright infringement. Intellectual property rights are even being attributed to the faculty. I can see their point if a verbatim record were being disseminated. But that is not the case. Class notes are nothing more than a student's summary of a lecture. They're an interpretation. Someone else is determining the salient portions of a class that need to be summarized.

Some cyberlaw experts even think that a professor's reputation may be affected if the notes do not accurately reflect his position on an issue.

The real point is that a student is being presented with another choice at the storehouse of knowledge. How he obtains that knowledge is up to him, as long as it is both legal and ethical. The quality of his storehouse may be compromised by using outlines as a primary source - but that, too, is a choice.

To most of us, attending college and obtaining an education is not an end in itself. Its purpose is merely to act as a passage to get on with life. Why can't educators see that? If computers and online methods continue to permeate education, then universities and professors must reconcile themselves to certain realities in using that technology. After all, isn't that a choice they have made?

Allan Appel is a writer and retired CPA in Pompano, Fla. He attributes success in college to the appropriate use of outlines.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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