Sunday, November 2, 2014

Taking notes, and making money from them – as old as the lecture and as new as the laptop

The New York Times, always a trendsetter, dontcha' know, has an interesting article on commercial none-taking; taking notes in a college course and selling them. In a way, this is in a long tradition. From the opening of the Wikipedia article on lectures:
The practice in the medieval university was for the instructor to read from an original source to a class of students who took notes on the lecture. The reading from original sources evolved into the reading of glosses on an original and then more generally to lecture notes. Throughout much of history, the diffusion of knowledge via handwritten lecture notes was an essential element of academic life.

Even in the twentieth century the lecture notes taken by students, or prepared by a scholar for a lecture, have sometimes achieved wide circulation (see, for example, the genesis of Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique générale).
The opening of the NYTimes piece starts with Laura Gayle, a sophomore at Florida State:
Since last fall, when she uploaded her macroeconomics notes onto to pay for a birthday gift for her mother, Ms. Gayle has sold more than 500 copies of the study guides that she’s put together for her courses, made over $3,285 and tapped into a growing, if controversial, online marketplace.

In describing her approach, Ms. Gayle, a human resources major with a 3.8 grade-point average, sounds aggressive in the best way. “I sit in the front row center for every single class, whether I am selling notes or not,” she says. “For me it is a matter of paying attention, being detail-oriented and,” if something is unclear, “taking the initiative to go out and find the answer.” Her study guides are rated five stars by users.
It seems this is a growing marketplace, though some professors "bar their students from buying or selling notes." For one thing, there are pesky IP issues:
Some argue that lectures are professors’ intellectual property, including notes recording their ideas; others warn that notes are a student’s interpretation of a class. Some say that selling them promotes laziness by enticing students to skip lectures.

Still others encourage it. “I want them to use any resource they can to do well on my tests,” says Lora Holcombe, an economics professor at Florida State. “It’s not like with the notes you sleep on them and they’ll go into your head. You have to do some heavy studying.”
Note-taking has been researched:
Research shows that having detailed, comprehensive notes raises test performance. In his oft-cited 1985 study, published in Human Learning, Dr. Kiewra randomly assigned 100 students to one of seven groups. Forty-eight hours after a lecture, the groups had 25 minutes to review before a test. Each group was assigned a learning method: Take your own notes and review (1) your notes, (2) your notes as well as instructor notes, (3) without any notes. Don’t take notes but review (1) instructor notes, (2) without any notes. Skip the lecture but review (1) instructor notes, (2) without any notes.

Groups that reviewed instructor notes performed best. “It didn’t matter so much what you did during the lecture,” Dr. Kiewra explains. “It mattered what notes you had.” Even those who didn’t attend the lecture but reviewed instructor notes did better than those who attended and “reviewed their own crummy notes.”
Hmmm... In my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins I had one philosopher professor who gave such coherent lectures that you didn't even need to read the texts to do well in the course. He'd arrive in the classroom a few minutes early and put his lecture outline up on the blackboard (this was a couple of decades before Powerpoint). His lecture would follow the outline quite closely. So, you copy the outline, add notes to it, and you're all set.

Kiewra has also discovered that if the professor pauses during the lecture so that students can catch-up on their note-taking, they take better notes. It also helps to paraphrase the material rather than writing it down more or less word-for-word (no surprise there).

And the medium makes a difference:
Alexandra E. Hadley, a Boston College junior who has posted 29 different offerings on Flashnotes in the last year, uses paper for small discussion classes and a laptop for lectures. An English and communications major, she says she thinks hard about points the professor stresses. “I try to be very present in all of my classes,” she says. “That is key — focusing on what I am doing.” That means considering points as you take notes and connecting new ideas with information from earlier lectures. “I was taking notes in my research methods class and we were talking about pop culture,” she says. “We touched on two theories, but it reminded me of another one, so I threw that in my notes.”

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