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For most of the undergraduate courses I teach, I also prepare lecture notes and students usually buy a printed copy at a copy shop at the university. Sometimes I think it might be beneficial for the lecture notes if I include additional material which I might not cover in the course.

Is it ethical to add additional material if most of the students will buy a printed copy and the price will go up due to the additional pages? Does it make a difference if the material is available as a pdf in the course's page in a learning management system?

  • Is the extra material exam-relevant? – Captain Emacs Apr 16 '16 at 15:01
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    So, those lazy students who never come to class will end up studying additional material. It might work! – GEdgar Apr 16 '16 at 16:28
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    By how much will the price increase by your inclusion of the additional material? $1? $50? And does any of this increase go to you as profit? – Dan Romik Apr 16 '16 at 16:35
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    What is this "printed copy" of which you speak? – JeffE Apr 16 '16 at 23:36
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    Easy way out of ethical concerns: put up the whole notes for free on your website ;) – darij grinberg Apr 17 '16 at 0:39
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It is very thoughtful of you to be concerned with the increased costs to your students; indeed, professors should be aware of and sensitive to such issues. At the same time, it is important not to go overboard with such concerns. As an educator, your primary concern should be to provide the students with the materials that you feel they need. That can legitimately include material that you are not planning to cover in the course but feel would be beneficial to at least a reasonable number of students. When weighing the benefit of this extra material against the increased cost of 1-2 euros to purchase the lecture notes, personally I feel that the educational benefit wins out against the fairly negligible amount of money involved. So yes, I would say it is ethical.

As for distributing the extra material online for free, sure, that would work as well, but would probably send a signal to most of the students that this material is not important and should be ignored, and would dilute the pedagogical value of making the material available to the students.

Finally, note that my answer may be different if you personally were making a profit from the inclusion of the extra material. In that case there would be a clear conflict of interest that would warrant, at the very least, a good deal of extra caution and perhaps rethinking your entire approach to distributing course material.

  • The "signal" is seriously questionable... Sure, it would send a signal that the extra material is not going to be examined, but that's intentional. Would it send a signal that the extra material is not important period? I don't think students are that brainless. – darij grinberg Apr 17 '16 at 0:39
  • @darijgrinberg I never said or implied that students were even a little bit brainless, so I'm not sure where your criticism is coming from. The signal may indeed be a weak signal and may not make much of a difference, but it's something to consider. And in my experience students do respond to cues from the professor regarding the importance of different parts of the material, even ones that aren't covered on the exam. – Dan Romik Apr 17 '16 at 0:57
  • Well, there are two types of importance: short-term importance to passing the class, and long-term importance to their future research/work. In the former case, the OP presumably wants the students to know that the material is not important. In the latter case, I am fairly sure that the students will not pick up a wrong impression if they actually care about the material beyond their final grade. – darij grinberg Apr 17 '16 at 2:55
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As long as it's your material or you have a license to reproduce it, you may include whatever additional material you want. Since you're not going to grade or test on it, you're ethically covered as long as you have the right to reproduce the material in question.

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