Ontario university students’ “notewagon” website innovative

The first time I read this London Free Press article by Kate Dubinski, titled “Slacker Students Get Help” (H/T Catherine), I was shocked and appalled. A team of students at the University of Western Ontario, Waterloo and Guelph had started up a website for sharing (buying and selling) lecture notes. Meaning, as the LFP column title implies, it sounded like slacking off, or even worse, cheating.

Yet, on second reading (and therein lies the reason students should be taking their own notes), I came to the conclusion that this was not, in fact, slacking off at all. Rather, it was a very creative and innovative solution to a chronic student issue — having to miss classes for one reason or another.

Look, I manage this blog myself, so I know how time-consuming setting up and maintaining a website can be.  However, bloggers have templates they can use, as do website developers of course. But, clearly, setting up a complex website like www.notewagon.com must have been incredibly complicated and time-consuming. So, kudos to the developers!

Now, a fair question would be: Why did they not use all that creativity and energy simply to go to class and take their own notes? I don’t know, although I can guess — boredom and not seeing the relevance of lecture content to what they want to do with their future lives. So, perhaps university professors can learn something from this and make their classes so interesting that no one will want to miss anything.

In any event, the note sharing website is not likely to slow down since students from Toronto, McMaster, Waterloo, Guelph, Ryerson and Laurier have now joined in as well. So, here is my point. The developers and managers need to realize that learning anything new is a process that involves attending (concentrating), digging into our long-term memory for what we already know, adding to that pre-requisite knowledge, and then retaining enough of it in long-term memory for later use.

So, while I can appreciate that the “notewagon” site developers are making sure the content of lectures are thorough and complete, they also need to find a way to highlight the main ideas, key points or concepts before they are available for sharing.

Why? Because, as I explained above, the student getting the notes needs to be able to learn what is relevant and important without having been present at the lecture. Students reading this might want to check out what I have written here about organizational strategies because knowing what to do to remember notes is not automatic. They could also check out Chapter Six in my book, which is specifically about notetaking strategies, and likely available in most university libraries. There are also some excellent Internet sources, such as College Board and Alamo’s Notetaking Strategies, as well as a number of links via this Google page. 

So, in summary, note sharing by itself is not necessary slacking off, although it can be for some students. However, in my opinion, the developers and managers of this service are hardly slackers, particularly if their “notes” service includes the necessary highlighting and follow-up summaries. By so doing, they can actually be of some benefit for students who: (1) have to miss a class for some reason, (2) are not good at writing notes, (3) have learning disabilities, or (4) have some kind of a physical challenge whereby they do not have full use of their hands.

Endnote: Although I have turned the comment feature off for awhile, I would be interested in receiving feedback from university students involved in this project or using it.  To do so, please use the Contact Form on the header bar.

Update: Here, then, are examples of messages received:

  1. From fh: “Sandy, I think the students are very creative we all remember trying to get notes for missed lectures notes are guarded like a pot of gold. I remember my friend getting his notes back and they looked like they had been in a hurricane and he was in a fraternity where notes were more easily obtained. Kudos to the students it is about time. I just hope that they keep up the quality of the notes. (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 12:47pm)”
  2. From Janalee: “I think another benefit is getting a second set of notes. I remember sharing notes in my university days with other students in the class and noticing that they emphasised things in thier notes that I missed in mine. Particularly in history courses where the lectures consisted of a professor talking for the entire class it was easy to miss something as you were attempting to keep up. (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 6:57 pm)”
  3. From Saif Altimimi: “Hey Sandy, I’m Saif, the Co-Founder of Notewagon. I read your article about us, just wanted to say thank you very much for the positive input. I want to assure you that we are indeed not incentively students to slack off but in fact we are working hard to provide a learning management system for students by students. A Peer-2-Peer network of sharing knowledge specific per classroom. We have other product launches that will make this vision come true! (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm)
  4. Saif also clarified the following: “One of our co-founders goes to western, but the core team is actually in Waterloo&Guelph Ontario.” (Time: Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 8:05pm)