In a class, students asked the professor to give us a copy of his powerpoint presentations, but he refused and claimed this is personal property.

Students need the presentations to review the topics presented throughout the semester.

Is the course presentation personal property of the professor or part of the educational materials which must be delivered to the students?

Edit: Related question, but from the perspective of the faculty member: Is it common to provide digital notes (slides or handwritten) for students?

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    I believe expectations of what material the professor provides may depend on the country/school. What country is this? And is there a text with the same material?
    – Kimball
    Feb 21, 2015 at 4:23
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    @Anko There are plenty of valid, privacy related reasons why students aren't allowed to bring video cameras, take photos or record a lecture.
    – user141592
    Feb 21, 2015 at 15:36
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    @Ramrod Fair use can protect making a copy, but can't force the professor to give you a copy, nor can it prevent the school from taking disciplinary action if you record a lecture against school rules.
    – cpast
    Feb 21, 2015 at 19:27
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    @Anko many people would argue (and some do in the answers) that yes, it is in the students' best interest to be forced to use an inefficient information-capturing tool. Or at least to be prohibited from using an efficient information-capturing tool.
    – David Z
    Feb 22, 2015 at 11:19
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    The fact that you ask how to force your prof says a lot about your attitude towards your education. Forcing applies to donkeys and obtuse people. Maybe you should ask yourself how you can convince your prof. Be aware he might try to convince you otherwise.
    – A.G.
    Feb 22, 2015 at 19:55

10 Answers 10


You wrote:

Students need the presentations to review

Back when I was your age (of course I have no idea of your age but I am guessing you are a traditional undergraduate student), we had to take notes using these two antique tools called pen and paper.

I don't think even one of my professors gave me anything, other than pausing so I had time to write down the important points.

You have to take some responsibility for your education - don't just blame the professor for not handing you what you want.

There is teaching research showing that students who take notes retain much more information than those who do not. It could very well be that the professor is trying to take advantage of this knowledge to force you to learn more.

dmckee's answer is also great. The prof might be using this as leverage but in the end, you did not create the slides, they are not yours to demand. While many profs do freely give out their slides, it is actually unreasonable for you to demand them.

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    +1 for 'taking notes using these two antique tools called pen and paper' and many other great points in your answer.
    – enthu
    Feb 21, 2015 at 9:45
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    We also had to keep our own notes, but then our professors presented the material using these two antique tools called chalk and blackboard. This kept their speed at a level we could match. Feb 21, 2015 at 21:30
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    @ChrisC I agree that pen&paper is great and helps you internalize the concepts, but I do think I missed a lot of the interesting stuff in my first year at university because I had to concentrate so much on writing everything down that I usually lagged behind and missed all of the profs explanations that weren't on the board/slides. My best learning experiences were in classes were I had the backup of a script and could just take the notes that seemed important. Since I'm a writing-learner, I always prepared handwritten summaries, but I did it after the lecture and finally had time to listen. Feb 21, 2015 at 23:19
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    @Davor If your teacher's pace is too brisk, you should mention it to him/her. In my experience, those students who are unable to take notes are unfamiliar with proper note-taking techniques. For example, some try to copy down every spoken word (which is just a silly way to try to take notes). Yes, some teachers do put paragraphs of text on their slides (and that is terrible) but still students should be able to copy down the key points and citations within 30 seconds. For reference, my typical slide is up for 10 minutes.
    – earthling
    Feb 22, 2015 at 2:08
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    @Anko Here are some references for you (simply addressing the point that note-taking is positively correlated with higher test scores): Bretzing, B. H., Kulhavy, R. W. (1981). Notetaking and passage style. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73, 242–250; Fisher, J. L., & Harris, M. B. (1973). Effect of note-taking and review on recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 65, 321–325.Titsworth, B. S., & Kiewra, K., A. (2004). Spoken organizational lecture cues and student notetaking as facilitators of student learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 29, 447–461.
    – earthling
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:50

@Patricia asks what happens if a student is not able to take notes and think at the same time.

If the student has a disability that prevents note taking (say for example, they are blind or they broke their arm), then in the United States the university will normally provide a note taker (usually another student in the course). The student will of course have to petition the disability services office for this and provide documentation.

Otherwise, this professor is providing a valuable learning experience for you. Learning how to learn is just as - if not more- important in college as what you learn.

In life, there are many occasions when you will have to be able to take notes (using pencil and paper) and quickly respond:

  • Working with a client in a business who orally gives an explanation of their situation and wants an immediate bid/response.
  • Taking depositions as a lawyer and immediately needing to come up with additional questions.
  • Listening to testimony as a jury member and needing to come to a decision of innocence or guilt
  • Listening to a patient explain their medical history and then needing to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan
  • Students complaining how life / your course is unfair and needing to come up with reasons why they need to suck it up.
  • etc. etc.

Life does not always give you its powerpoints.

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    +1 for "Life does not always give you its powerpoints."
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 21, 2015 at 18:04
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    Good points. And furthermore, PPP are terrible ways of conveying information as a standalone. I mostly use them as a visual reminder "oh, he showed that picture while he was talking about this and that".
    – Davidmh
    Feb 21, 2015 at 18:10
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    Another plus for life not giving powerpoints (or in my case, LaTeX/Beamer slides), and the general uselessness of slides. Though I admit I'm probably an outlier: I never mastered the art of note-taking, and got through BS & MS (with decent grades) without writing down much more than assignments. I concentrated on trying to understand in class, rather than think later from poor notes.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 21, 2015 at 18:55
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    I worked for a semester in college as a notetaker. Having to produce quality notes in each and every class for other people to use was a fantastic life lesson. It was singlehandedly the best "class" that I never took for a grade.
    – RoboKaren
    Feb 21, 2015 at 18:58
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    @RoboKaren Bless you. My wife had severe pain in her wrists for a while, and while the disability office did their best good note-takers pearls beyond price. Feb 21, 2015 at 19:21

The choice to give them to you or not is the professors, not yours. If he won't, then you need to find another way to preserve a useful record what went on in class.

Mind you the only reason I see right away for withholding the slides involves trying to pressure students to appear in class. I have other way to do that, not the least of which is that a significant amount of material is not on the slides: it is only in my patter.

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    That is very, very bad for people like me who have trouble writing and thinking at the same time. Which do you think I should do: try to take down what you are saying, at the expense of not really hearing it, or listen and think, at the expense of not having any record? Feb 21, 2015 at 12:13
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    @PatriciaShanahan You understand that many of us here have studied years ago, when we had to read the book for the course, take notes and teachers were writing on the blackboard instead of reading slides. Believe me, this interactive form of lecturing where you had a) to understand what the teacher said b) take short notes about it c) then look to the book for clarification instead of being half-asleep over watching the teacher recite the slides was much more effective.
    – Alexandros
    Feb 21, 2015 at 13:19
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    I did my bachelor's degree from 1967 to 1970, which probably qualifies as "years ago". I did most of my letter-grade PhD coursework between 2002 and 2004. I got much better grades for the latter. Some of that is grade inflation, but I did understand the PhD material much better. I attribute a lot of the improvement to the intervening invention of the digital camera. I would have done better on my bachelor's degree if I could have listened and thought during lectures, instead of putting all my attention into writing as fast as I could. Feb 21, 2015 at 14:43
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    @PatriciaShanahan Everyone faces the think or write dilemma. It's all over the pedagogy research. There is also scads of advice on how to help, and "give them the slides in advance" is only one of the usual suspects. I use "test them on the reading so that most of them will do it before class, then give them the slides after" approach. But posting the slides is part of my strategy to maximize the value of my classes. Other choices I make---backed up by the pedagogy literature---generate complaints every semester, and I'm not about to change them because they work. Feb 21, 2015 at 14:58
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    "Other choices I make---backed up by the pedagogy literature---generate complaints every semester" - My experience exactly!
    – earthling
    Feb 21, 2015 at 15:33

I really like earthling's answer, but like all the others it (rightfully) tells OP why she/he shouldn't try too hard to ask for the notes. To the question of whether one can force a professor to give copies of the slides it's pretty clear that the answer is: No, you can't.

The reasons are that there is most likely nothing in the school regulations or, even less so, the law, that can coerce a lecturer to give copies of presentations.

Deal with it.

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    +1. The question of whether or not to share PowerPoint slides would likely be regarded as a pedagogical decision for the professor to make. (As you can see from other answers, some people think it improves learning to not share them.) And universities generally give their professors a lot of autonomy in pedagogical decisions, and refrain from interfering unless things are clearly haywire. Hence the absence of such regulations. Feb 22, 2015 at 16:07

There are several reasons why a student would want the slides, and several reasons why a professor might not want to make them available.

For example, I can add a Dilbert cartoon to my slides, and, so long as I'm only showing them in class, that can fall under the umbrella of Fair Use. Make those same slides publicly available, though, and I may have just committed a copyright violation.

If we want to give the benefit of the doubt to the students, we can assume they find these slides to be a convenient way to review major topics. If we take a more skeptical view, however, perhaps the students are trying to "shortcut" the educational process.

I've been surprised sometimes at the number of students who tell me, "Sorry I could not attend class yesterday, but I'll make sure I look at the slides," as though looking at the slides is almost as good as the real deal. (A lot of my slides contain visual prompts that remind me of topics I want to discuss, and little more. For example, if I want to discuss the Denver Airport fiasco, I might post a picture of an airplane on a tarmac. Good luck, absentee, on figuring out what that sleek 737 represents or means.)

One of my students once remarked, "Your slides are really good in class, but not so good when studying for exams." I smiled, and informed the class that my slides were intended for me to use as a presentation tool, in order to help me lecture more effectively – not as a study aid. I'd be put off if students demanded my slides as though they had some sort of right to them.

That said, I do understand there can be legitimate reasons to use slides when preparing for exams. Occasionally, I have built two sets of slides for each lecture: one "juiced up" version to use while lecturing, and another "pared down" version to give to the students; that can be a nice compromise. (Of course, it can take a lot of time to develop two sets of slides, so I don't always do this. In this business, everything is a tradeoff.)


In this case, the copyright status of the presentation files is irrelevant, as what you want is not the right to use a copy, but a copy itself.

Just because you attend concert doesn't mean you can demand that they give you a copy of the score, or require that they provide you with a recording of the performance, regardless of the copyright status of the work.

Similarly, it would be unreasonable for you to demand that the professor furnish you with a copy of presentation files.

This is a similar principle to that involved in selling free-as-in-freedom software or works that are under the public domain: even though anyone with a copy is allowed to distribute it, they are not required to do so, and can even charge others money for the service of furnishing a copy.

  • These comparisons are exactly to the point. Very good. Feb 24, 2015 at 1:41

Somewhat a tangential answer to how to cope with this situation. Hope it'd help.

If you missed the chance of taking the notes in the first class, by all means try to explain to the professor and ask for at least an outline for this one lecture. After that, you'll need to use a new strategy.

  1. At least practice writing down the main theme or title of the slide, so that you can go home and fill in the details.

  2. Do the preparatory readings so that you can better put the slides into a mental framework, familiarize with the lingo, and ask relevant questions to clarify.

  3. Practice to listen for "hint phrases." Lecturers come with different ways of speech, some are more "fluffy" and some are "denser." Nonetheless, they often have some catch phrases before enumerating main points or emphasizing key concepts.

  4. Use systematic note taking system like the Cornell method or Mind mapping to quickly write down the ideas and their associations. Then you can rely on readings and research to fill in the details.

  5. Compare notes with your peers. It may help to clarify what's missed.

  6. Negotiate with the professor within reason. For instance, if he/she just flies through many tables and graphs from many journal articles, at least try to ask for a list of the references for each session. Do show the lecturer your notes and explain that it'd be very hard to copy the citations. (Although with author's last name, year, and the first three words in the title there is usually no problem.)

  • I especially like "Compare notes with your peers." What a great idea!
    – earthling
    Feb 22, 2015 at 14:21

It is the student's own responsibility to take care that he has all the material he needs for review. Take notes and draw sketches, if he shows pictures. I am now almost half-way through my 4th semester of lecturing and I do not hand out any of my materials: no powerpoints, no lecture scripts. The only thing the students have, is a schematic overview, so to say the "table of contents" of my lectures.

The reason is simple: Taking notes by hand is the most efficient way to memorise something. If I would provide all the material, they would not pay attention anymore. In fact, a survey around here has shown that the average grades are higher in lectures where no material is provided.

//edit And the other problem is: Facts and figures may change over time. If I hand out my material and it circulates among the students, then they suddenly get confused and use outdated material.

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    For some people taking notes by hand is the most efficient way to memorize something. For others, including myself, having to take notes is a serious obstacle to actually learning anything at all during the lecture. If you give out notes, those who are aided by taking their own notes can still do so. Feb 22, 2015 at 19:57
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    Handing out notes would eventually lead to people not being involved in the lecture anymore. I'm taking it quite easy when it comes to presence (they're adults after all) but preparing for an exam is one's own responsibility - including the preparation or organisation of material. If I'd have a student with a serious issue in this, I'd help him of course, but so far I never saw that. Feb 22, 2015 at 21:15
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    For some professors the reason for not giving out slides and lecture notes is even simpler: they do not want to bother themselves preparing decent materials for the lecture. Feb 23, 2015 at 17:14
  • Yes, that's unfortunately even more common that it ought to be... Feb 23, 2015 at 20:02

It has more to do with law. The slides are probably the intellectual property of the Prof, or maybe they are the IP of the Uni.

Yet another possibility, that they are under publishing, or they were soon published, and the contract between the publisher and the IP owner rules out any reproduction.

In any cases it is unlikely if you can do anything. But actually the whole thing isn't governed by the IP laws of your country, but by the local policies of your university. The problem is, that these are probably against you, too.

On my opinion, your have the best chances if you try to reach your goal on a more cooperative way.

I think, the goal of the prof is probably to motivate the students for an analytical reproduction of his lectures.

I also really don't like this - unfortunately, not uncommon - behavior. But the prof has his viewpoints, too. Most of the ppts are easily reproducible by free hand. On my opinion, a slide is the best if you can reproduce its content on your logic, while you hear the lecture.

His goal is probably not a bit-to-bit reproduction of the slides, but a real understanding what he teaches.

Maybe a little bit hilarious idea, but he may or may not allow to make photos from his slides during the class. But one is sure: you can ask him, if he allows it, in worst case he will reject.

  • @DavidRicherby I extended the answer. Now it starts with a literal answer at the beginning, and ends with a practical explanation/suggestions about the probable wider context. What about this version?
    – peterh
    Feb 22, 2015 at 15:08
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    Much better -- thanks! I wouldn't be so sure that the slides are the IP of the university, though. Universities don't usually claim IP on academics' writings (as distinct from inventions), as far as I'm aware. Feb 22, 2015 at 15:12

You could always explain to your professor, about the situation (ie. You needing it for review), telling him you might understand his reasons for not wanting to give it out. Also you could suggest that he give you key points in text books so you could make your own slides (you'd understand it better).

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