TakeNote, a start-up launched by student group Campus Enterprises, is a new venture that allows students to purchase notes for select classes. It is good to see students embracing entrepreneurship, and we respect the founders of TakeNote for working to offer a service for which there will likely be significant demand. We are wary about this venture for two reasons, however.
First, we are not convinced that purchasing and studying from someone else’s notes will prove helpful for many students. For most students, note-taking is indispensable for engaging with the course material. Taking notes is not mere transcription—it is an active process that requires students to evaluate and synthesize information. When we learn new concepts, we filter information through prior experiences and ideas, and this filtering is reflected in the way we take notes. A one-size-fits-all approach to note-taking is risky, as the process must be personal in order to be effective. Students who rely on TakeNote’s approach may also develop poor note-taking habits which could put them at a disadvantage in classes where notes are not available for purchase.
We doubt that students who take a passive approach to note-taking learn much from their notes. In any case, students often have access to notes and lecture slides provided by professors, and we agree with the founders of TakeNote that this service should not serve as a substitute for class time or study hours.
If TakeNote proves to be a useful study aid, however, we are concerned that the service may create disparities between students who can and cannot afford to use the venture. If the service works, students who can purchase the notes would have an advantage not available to students who do not have much money to spare. This is particularly troubling in a college environment built around academic equity. Duke has put considerable effort into making programs like the Writing Studio and the Peer Tutoring Program accessible to all, regardless of students' socioeconomic status. If TakeNote proves to be an effective learning supplement, it threatens to rob less wealthy students of an additional resource. In classrooms where grades are assigned on a curve, this could have significant and negative consequences.
The administration was right when it determined that TakeNote was not in violation of the Honor Code, especially since TakeNote seeks the professor’s consent before it installs a TakeNote employee in a class. If consent were not given, however, we suspect the company would run into intellectual property issues, given that students are reproducing knowledge transmitted by a professor in a lecture and selling it for a profit.
We warn potential consumers that this service may not be able to provide the advantages it claims. The founders of TakeNote have a right to pursue their idea, but we remain skeptical about its viability and are concerned that it could potentially disadvantage students who cannot afford to purchase notes.