A lecturer does not make slides or lecture notes available (e.g. on the course website) in an effort to force students to show up at lectures.

However, many students learn the material just fine without attending each and every lecture. It also seems unethical to force us all to show up, even though the attendance is not a requirement because we may just choose to do something else and there is no rule against it.

As a response, some of us have decided to write extensive notes together and put them up on a filesharing website, and we've notified other students of this using the course websites' discussion forum. The lecturer has now messaged one of us (the one who made the post on the forum) and told him to stop doing this.

What should our response be? Does the lecturer have any say in this? Are we in the wrong?

  • 9
    I don't think they can prevent students from sharing lecture notes. But once I was in a class, where the lecturer demanded that every student shows their lecture notes at the exam. Another point is that attending the classes may be actually mandatory. E.g., in the UK, overseas students must attend, otherwise they breach the visa conditions.
    – Alexey B.
    Jan 31 '17 at 16:11
  • 6
    Students that can learn the material without attending lectures is one thing, but sometimes students don't attend lectures and then do badly. If the lecturer gets criticism for this (which may affect promotions etc) then you can see why they might feel the need to enforce attendance. The golden rule (do unto others) is a good guide for most problems of this nature, but you need to consider how both the students and the prof. may be affected by this. The fact the prof. has this policy, suggests that there may have been engagement problems in the past. Jan 31 '17 at 18:16
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    I think it's time to speak to the student representatives, to the dean, or whoever is responsible of student-teacher relations in your university. Someone has to tell the teacher that s/he is in the wrong, officially. Jan 31 '17 at 19:29
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    "What should our response be?" is too open-ended and subjective. "Are we in the wrong?" is also too vague and subjective. Are you asking whether your actions violate the law? whether your actions are ethical? whether your actions violate campus policy? whether your actions are a good idea? Those are very different questions. The Stack Exchange model works best when questions are focused on a single issue. Can you edit your question to focus it on one of these aspects that you are unsure of, and that isn't already covered by another question on this site?
    – D.W.
    Jan 31 '17 at 23:20
  • 3
    If the teacher wants students to attend, make attendance mandatory. Feb 1 '17 at 10:20

You don't say where in the world all this is taking place. As usual, both the country and (in some cases) the specific university matter, as the laws vary and (probably more significantly) the academic culture varies.

A lecturer does not make slides or lecture notes available (e.g. on the course website) in an effort to force students to show up at lectures.

An instructor does not have to make slides or lecture notes available full stop. Academic culture seems to be changing in the direction of lecturers giving slide presentations, and since you are showing your slides exactly as they are, not making them available to students seems a bit more conspicuous than not giving out your lecture notes. But many instructors still do not use any special materials and feel that it is up to the student to get the content from the lectures.

It is a common sentiment among instructors to do business in a way that does not make it too easy or appealing for a student to skip class.

Some of us students feel this is a terrible policy: many students learn the material just fine without attending each and every lecture, so it is not a necessary policy, and it also seems unethical to force us all to show up, because what if we just happened to have something more important to deal with on some given day?

Unethical is very strong. Again, your location probably strongly informs the academic culture, but e.g. I don't know of any American university where the instructor who claims that students should, in general, come to class would not be supported by the administration. At my big state university, there is a blanket attendance policy, to the extent that there is a statement from the administration that students are expected to attend class. This gives support for individual instructors to create their own specific attendance policies. In my undergraduate classes I have often had mandatory attendance policies, to the point of factoring attendance into course grades and also to the point of (rarely, but it has happened) withdrawing students from my course for very poor attendance. On the other hand, I was a postdoc in Montreal, and at Concordia University in particular it was expected that instructors would give students the option of a "100% final": that is, the entire course grade would be the final exam. When I taught a course there, two students exercised this option: one got an A, the other an F. If you don't know, ask the question "Can the instructor require attendance?" to an administrator or academic advisor. You should get a clear answer. If it's yes, then you have no leg to stand on about this policy. (Yes, that does not stop it from being unethical, but if you really feel that way: don't attend that academic institution.)

As a response, some of us have decided to write extensive notes together and put them up on a filesharing website, and we've notified other students of this using the course websites' discussion forum. The lecturer has now messaged one of us (the one who made the post on the forum) and told him to stop doing this.

If the instructor wants or requires you to come to class, then look at from his perspective: he is not going to be pleased if he sees students brazenly making arrangements to avoid coming to class. You are rubbing your lack of respect for his wishes in his face. This is a bad idea.

What should our response be? Does the lecturer have any say in this? Are we in the wrong?

Well, first I want to say that you haven't actually given a good reason for not wanting to come to class. You say "what if we just happened to have something more important to deal with on some given day" but...do you? If most students attend, say, 90% of the lectures, I'm not sure why you need a filesharing program: you can just copy your friend's notes for the few lectures that you missed. On the contrary, a filesharing program looks like a systematic plan for the students to avoid the lectures: again, you may have the right to do so, and you may have good reasons for doing so, but...do you actually or are you just being difficult about it? I have taught at the university level for almost 20 years, and in my experience: there is a high correlation between coming to class and student success. Even if you win a battle not to attend class, the victory seems rather pyrrhic to me.

However, if you feel strongly that it is in your best interest not to attend most or all of the lectures and your right to do so is supported on the institutional level, then: check to see whether there is any institutional policy against students sharing lecture notes. I would highly expect there not to be such a policy. Assuming that's the case: yes, you can share lecture notes. I advise that you contrive to do it more quietly. Giving your instructor even plausible deniability that you are not sharing your lecture notes should go a long way towards defusing the situation.

  • 2
    Even if one uses slides, I can see good reasons for not sharing these. For one thing it avoids terrible study habits of students who try to use them as the main means of reading up on things with resulting bad questions that could have been answered by looking in the book (being based on missing information which was spoken along with the presentation but not written in the slides). Jan 31 '17 at 22:37
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    +1. One suggestion: not using "powerpoint" as a generic term. Recommend "slideshow" or "presentation", others: ask.metafilter.com/22196/Synonyms-for-PowerPoint Jan 31 '17 at 22:37
  • @Tobias: Sure, I agree with that. All I meant (and all I said, I hope) was that if you actually have slides then you have something very visible to decline to give. Daniel R. Collins: I am not enough of a fan of slides for my synecdoche "powerpoint" to be very useful as a product endorsement. But okay, I can change it. Jan 31 '17 at 22:42
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    +1 for "there is a high correlation between coming to class and student success"
    – Ángel
    Feb 1 '17 at 1:15
  • 1
    ...If the university does not permit the student to exchange lecture notes, then in my opinion going to a different university is a much more reasonable option than bringing a lawsuit. Finally I said that the students probably do have the right to exchange notes and should feel free to do so. So I don't see what is "clouded" by my answer. Feb 1 '17 at 18:43

Not really. Unless you have each student sign a non-disclosure then there is nothing that you can do.

To further this if you are in the US the non-disclosure laws are pretty loose. Meaning even if you did have the students sign something the courts enforcing it is a whole different thing. As a person who signs a non-disclosure is usually privy to either secret information or that person is getting a reward (paid). Since a student paying a school is getting neither their first amendment rights - US based answer (but applicable in most countries) - would trump anything you make them sign.

And if the school steps in and authorizes this or has your back they would fall face to the same scrutiny. On this path I do not see any institution that would ever push this as a university should be an atmosphere of sharing, not secrecy and inclusion.

To top it off... there is absolutely no way for you to enforce it. If student A is dating student B what if student A didn't know that student B was looking at their notes. Also if someone posts the sessions online without a clear profile are you going to go after their ISP information? I think you need to rethink what you are looking at doing. If people are passing your class without showing up, then why is their knowledge deemed less than those that went to your class?

On a side note: There were many many classes in undergrad that I never saw unless there was a test. It had nothing to do with the teacher or the teacher's ability. It was that I knew the subject or I was able to clearly learn the subject (I found classrooms distracting and I often misremembered something maybe due to college hormones). There were other classes that I went to class, asked the teacher for help, whatever. I didn't go to classes with better teachers or better lectures, I went to classes that I needed help with. Chaining students to a chair because you think they need to hear your voice for 50 hours when they already understand the class is a bit much. Just know that them not showing up is a reflection on them not you. Also if your notes and lecture slides are that good why is that not a good offering for some students?

  • Nothing the instructor can do? Not sure I agree. Example: copyright.cornell.edu/policies/course-materials.cfm. Feb 1 '17 at 17:34
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    @aparente001 that's about course materials (e.g. PDF files of notes and slides produced by a teacher) not about personal notes written by a student who attended the class and listened to an oral explanation. Now maybe eavesdropping laws apply, but that seems kinda difficult to analyze. Feb 4 '17 at 0:40
  • @AndreaLazzarotto - I went a little deeper and read their Guide to Academic Integrity, including "Taking someone’s work or using their ideas or words without acknowledgment is no different from stealing." In this case, there would be acknowledgment; but there would be no seal of approval from the source (the instructor), stating that the published material is an accurate reflection of what the instructor presented in class. Also, the published material may be less complete than the instructor would like. Important bits of context might be missing. Feb 4 '17 at 5:59
  • @aparente001 assuming lectures are their original ideas (of the lecturer, very unlikely when speaking about science for instance) it is not a legal requirement to ask for approval when citing someone else's ideas unless maybe if said ideas are patented. Mar 11 '17 at 19:03

As a former student let me assure you that there is no way a lecturer can actually stop people from sharing notes. A lecturer can pretend they have that ability or ask nicely, but that's about it.

  • Not sure I agree. Example: copyright.cornell.edu/policies/course-materials.cfm. Feb 1 '17 at 17:35

I don't know what country you're in, or what pedagogical approach is used at your institution. When I look at your question in the context of the general university culture in the U.S., it's rather hard to relate to your point of view on this; note that it's not uncommon in the U.S. for a university to have a policy expressly forbidding what you are doing.

However, if I think back to my experience as an undergraduate in Mexico, I see your question in a completely different light.

I will describe my experience when I was studying in Mexico: each class met for 50 minutes, five days a week. In the most extreme case, during the whole 50 minutes, day in, day out, the instructor dictated, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, from his notebook. We all wrote in our notebooks, word for word what he dictated. Occasionally someone would ask him to repeat a sentence or to go a little slower. There was no discussion, no assigned reading (the department library was almost empty anyway), no homework, and no projects. I aced every exam. Towards the end of the semester, I would read the "notes" and make an outline of the contents. When that was complete, I would make a second pass through the whole thing, working from my first outline, reducing it to a more condensed version; and then I would memorize the very condensed outline. None of the exam questions required any thought or analysis. The exam consisted of simple regurgitation.

If I think back to that experience, I can identify with your frustration.

However, if your educational experience is anything like what I described, then I would say that you are fighting the wrong fight. A better one would be to improve the pedagogy at your institution.

  • 1
    “the instructor dictated, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, from his notebook” This sounds like elementary school in Italy. Feb 1 '17 at 12:54
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    @AndreaLazzarotto - I'm sad to hear this about the country that gave us Maria Montessori. Feb 1 '17 at 15:00
  • Well I know it sounds bad, however it changes a lot when switching to middle school and then high school or university. I think the idea is that the younger the students, the less likely to have critical thinking and autonomy to know what they need to study and or write on their notebooks. So children are suggested what to write and what pages they have to study for the next lecture. Feb 4 '17 at 0:44
  • @AndreaLazzarotto I'd like to point out that not all elementary schools are the same, in Italy; to be precise, this is the first time I hear someone talk in these terms of our elementary schools. While dictating may be common in the first, or at most second, year to teach students to write, no one I know of has experienced this in the other years. It's probably something that changes based on location.
    – gcali
    Feb 14 '17 at 13:31
  • @Odexios, of course not all lessons are like that, there are exercises and stuff. But when a teacher wanted to tell us something to remember precisely, it was either photocopies or dictation. Depending on the size of the text. Also, teachers don't just say "study" but they dictate exactly what pages must be studied. Feb 14 '17 at 18:33

In this case, all professor can do is to say "don't do it, please." And it is completely up to you if you stop sharing notes or not. He cannot take disciplinary action, he cannot threaten you by giving an F.

In academic ethics, as long as you give reference, no one can prevent you sharing published material. For instance, you can attend a conference, take notes, and share your notes on your website by giving reference. As long as it is not verbatim, this is just like writing a technical report and publishing the literature review section on your personal website, or file sharing website.

You do not have to give a good reason for not coming to class. In fact, you do not have to give any reason for not attending if attendance is not mandatory. Attending class is your business. Teaching the subject is professor's business.

In case the professor insults, threathens or denounces you, that means he is bullying you and some action should be taken immideately. He is not a superior human being and no, his will may not be done. He is an employee of the faculty and is paid to do his job.

If one is able to pass the course by only studying the shared notes, there are three choices.

  1. The notes are very extensive and beautifully prepared by a person who really mastered the subject
  2. The course syllabus covers only superficial topics in the subject those can be learned by studying textbooks/slides/notes.
  3. The instructor is not really adding something to the topics, but only giving simple examples and reading the slides.

When the third case is put into words, it is usually met by enormous anger in academia. But unfortunately based on your professor's behavior, it is highly likely. Usually, a scientist promotes collaboration (that is how science works) instead of trying to stop it. And those who are trying to stop it are tend to be not very good teachers.

All in all, everyone has a few "really bad" teachers in academia, but noone admits that one of those few ones are themselves or their colleagues.

  • 3
    -1: a lecture is not published material. Students attend class by entering in a contract with the university; a class is not necessarily an open event (and even then, that doesn't make it obvious that you are allowed to publish the material. Try going to a concert and then publish the music you heard). Feb 1 '17 at 6:08
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    you are always free to publish your own product as long as you give credit to the original creator of the material. also, the professor is teaching the subject via textbooks and papers etc. it is absurd to prevent people from sharing their notes while you are using someone else's material. i think that - 1 is not because of wrong information.
    – padawan
    Feb 1 '17 at 7:06
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    “attend class by entering in a contract with the university” This is only true in the context of private American universities, that's not how it works in most countries. If a post is based on a particular cultural context I think it should be stated so readers can get a better understanding. IMHO Feb 1 '17 at 12:57

I would stick to this link, although it is a bit old but the explanation is quite logical: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091005/0207136420.shtml

So no, I see no legal right at all for a lecturer to claim a copyright on lecture content.

In my opinion there is also no moral right to claim copyright on lecture content and the behaviour of the lecturer is against academic spirit. They are paid by the University (and some get paid a fortune) for presenting knowledge of a field, not making coin by any other means, which is often an intention. At my university there are some not offering any material for the lecture at all but adevrtising heavily their book which is then relevant for the exam - which means you have to buy it if you want to stand a chance. Of course if the book is shared in a public drive, the professors see some income loss.

  • 2
    That's not how copyright works. As the link you cite says, "The professor's notes or slides arguably would qualify for copyright protection". If the students are copying word-for-word from the lecturer's notes or slides or writing on the blackboard, copyright law might be applicable. If the students are paraphrasing, there is likely no basis for a copyright claim. The question does not provide enough information to distinguish between these cases. Consequently, there's not enough information to confidently conclude that there is "no legal right at all" that might be applicable here.
    – D.W.
    Jan 31 '17 at 23:23
  • @D.W. you are right, but also it should be noted that the link applies only to US law. What Bruder wrote might be very well applicable in other countries (in fact, it's basically the accepted standard in the EU). Feb 1 '17 at 12:59
  • Why do I get all these downvotes? I am the only one in this thread offering a reference to an external source which dealt legally with this matter. My only fault was to assume OP's case happened in US, for the legal situation in my homeland (Austria) I can search sources if you want. Feb 1 '17 at 17:30
  • This answer has mischaracterized what the auxiliary source says and has drawn a conclusion that is not supported by the facts available to us. It's not true that the only fault with this answer is that the OP's case is in the US. If the OP's case is not in the US, then that link is irrelevant (as that link relates to US law) and the conclusion that there is "no legal right at all" is not supported in this answer by justification or evidence. If you prefer to avoid downvotes, I encourage you to edit the answer to address the feedback you've received and correct any faults you are aware of.
    – D.W.
    Feb 1 '17 at 17:44

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