Sharing notes is a hallowed student tradition, as old and revered as all-nighters and pre-final freak-outs. But not everyone looks kindly upon note sharing, especially not the California State University Office of General Counsel. As the Daily 49er reported on Jan. 4, the council asked Chegg to ban CSU system students from its note-sharing site, notehall.com. A similar note-sharing website, noteutopia.com, was barred from the CSU system in 2010.
Notehall and NoteUtopia allow students to buy and sell class notes online. In accordance with state laws prohibiting the sharing of notes for commercial purposes, the CSU was forced to send a cease-and-desist letter.
This ban on online note sharing reeks of bureaucratic ignorance and an unwillingness to adapt to the times. Students have always shared notes. Many professors encourage it to keep students who missed a class from falling behind. Many college-preparedness classes recommend comparing notes as a way to ensure comprehension. Sharing notes is vital for countless students who are unable to attend all of the class meetings, or who simply aren’t good at taking notes. Yet the California Education Code considers this cheating because it is done for “financial or economic gain.”
The California legislature needs to acknowledge that just because students are able to profit from this doesn’t mean it is cheating.
Let’s compare note sharing to another time-honored activity: study groups. Everyone has attended at least one study group at some point in his or her college career. They aren’t normally considered to violate academic honesty rules. In fact, they are often encouraged by professors, and Love Library even provides rooms specifically for this purpose. Study groups help students prepare for exams in an appropriate way.
Now, let’s imagine there are two very different students in the same class. One is having trouble understanding the course material and is failing. The other is excelling in the class and seems to have a mastery of the subject. Suppose the failing student asks the passing student to study with him for the final, and in exchange he will pay her for her time. In effect, one student is paying the other to be in his study group.
Do study groups constitute academic dishonesty when money is involved? No. Paid tutors are common and widely accepted. Offering someone money to study with you is no different than luring classmates to your study group with promises of free food and drinks.
Sharing notes is the same. No one would consider it cheating if classmates compared notes after class. That shouldn’t change simply because money is exchanged or the transaction occurs online. Instead of banning these exchanges, the CSU system should encourage this way of improving grades and promoting cooperation among students.
Instead of worrying about the possible negative effects of exchanging money for study help, the CSU system should create a site where students can trade notes with each other for free. Then again, the monetary aspects of these sites are some of their most valuable assets.
Aside from raising grades, note-sharing sites can teach students valuable business lessons and provide much needed financial help. Most of these sites allow users to rate the quality of notes, so students are encouraged to take better notes. Students struggling from the financial pressure of raising tuition costs can sell their notes online for cash.
Banning CSU students from note-sharing sites is harmful to our education. But it is also harmful to schools, because they benefit when all students are able to reach their full potential. They shouldn’t be kept from it because they aren’t good at taking notes or weren’t able to attend all the lectures. This law demonstrates the system is unable, or unwilling, to accept the changing academic landscape and adapt to it.
As more of our education and our studying moves online, the CSU system needs to modernize its definitions of what is and isn’t cheating. It needs to encourage sites that allow students to exchange class notes legitimately, while taking a stronger stand against those that illegally sell term papers and copies of exams.
Its ability to navigate this fine line will determine whether the CSU system will continue to be one of the most innovative systems of higher education in the world, or if it will fall prey to out-of-date thinking and backward fears.