The Digital Marketplace for Student Notes

In September 2014, the Boston Globe interviewed Howard Gardner for an article concerning the emerging online industry of selling student notes to other students. Cengage Learning is launching a new digital marketplace, in partnership with Flashnotes, in which users can buy and sell course notes and materials, billed at the “Airbnb of education.” However, the market and other similar services have caused some in academia to worry about the blurring line between allowable collaboration with peers and prohibited cheating.

Gardner concludes that those students who value their education and truly want to learn on their own would do best not to rely on purchasing the work of others.

Read the article on the Boston Globe’s website. Additionally, Gardner’s full thoughts on the matter, of which only an excerpt was printed in the article, are reproduced below:

There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong about using Flashnotes or other such aids. It all depends on what the policies are in a class and in a school, and on what one’s own educational goals are. A teacher (or a school) can have policies ranging from welcoming the use of any published or indeed any circulable materials in your studies; to a ‘do it yourself’ attitude where students may even be asked to sign an affirmation that any assignments are completely their own work.

That’s from the institutional point of view.

From the individual point of view, the question is, “What are you in school for?” or “What  are your educational goals, and what are your broader life goals?” If you are enrolled just to get a degree no matter what, the easiest way of doing it is to use the notes of others, never go to class, and study last years exams, which becomes appealing. But if you want to learn from interactions with the teacher, and with other students, and from reading original texts and doing original research, then you would not rely much on such aids, even if they are readily available.

My own philosophy: as a learner, you should try to take full advantage of educational opportunities, and, as such, ‘short cuts’ are typically self defeating, especially over the long haul. It’s bad to try to ‘fake your way’ through life.

As a teacher, it’s fine for me if students make use of published or circulable materials. But I try to construct my classes so that there are real benefits from attending, interacting, and doing your own work, as well as benefiting from feedback which I, as the instructor, give.


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