Online study kits irk one Florida professor

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus Blog reported today on a professor at the University of Florida who is upset that an online company, Einstein’s Notes, is selling notes and quiz answers from his wildlife ecology classes. The professor, Michael Moulton, and his textbook’s publisher have sued Einsten’s Notes, claiming that the company is violating copyright by selling study kits online.

In the CHE interview, Moulton said that grades in those classes have been going up since the study kits became available and that some students are using them as a means to avoid attending class. He said that other, harder-working students also buy the kits, feeling that they must have every academic advantage lest they lose their scholarships.

An added wrinkle is that sometimes the study kits are wrong, Moulton said, which costs students points on exams. The situation has forced Moulton to change the ways he makes class materials available online. In addition to recordings of his lectures, he now puts (correct) outlines of notes on the Web and has ceased giving out old quiz answers. Moulton told the CHE, “If they don’t want to come to class I can’t make them come, but I’ll be damned if I help [Einstein’s Notes] sell answers to questions if they don’t want to come.”

Most of the comments on that CHE blog post criticize Moulton, saying that if students can improve their grades simply by having the class notes then the course is poorly designed. While there is no doubt more to this story, I can see Moulton’s point. While the grade at the end of the course is what matters to most students, there is something deeper that most of them do not see — something that professors want them to see. That is: Academic work is hard work, and it’s about more than just the grade. It’s about the journey.

I’m inclined to think that many college students these days are in college because they think they have to be there (like another few years of high school). They are there because of the paycheck that will come from the degree they earn. The age-old essence of hard work and carefully learned study habits is over their heads. I applaud Moulton for defending that point of view. (Of course, these are the words of someone who once taught English 121 – College Writing to freshman, none of whom wanted to be there. Take that by way of disclaimer.)

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