Efficient teaching: Crowdsourcing class notes

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I’m writing this entire blog post to share one cool tip:

I see a lot of upsides for having students collaboratively write notes in class, and it’s hard to see a major downside. I haven’t done this, but I’m excited to see how it works out when I have the opportunity. (I’m teaching only lab sections this semester, so this kind of thing is moot.)

I know on some campuses, some people make money by preparing and selling lecture notes from large lecture courses. This would essentially defuse that dynamic and also provide uniform access to a resource that would presumably be of high quality.

As an instructor, you could look at the shared notes to see if there are things that you should clarify or amplify upon, and students could even write questions for you at the end of each lesson as well, like a muddiest point.

Apparently, in some places, students are already organizing google docs for their courses, sometimes unbeknownst to the professor. I suppose in situations like these, not all students are in on a shared document. If students want to have their own private google docs, they still can of course, but facilitating a public one might be improve access to a quality shared resource.

While we can always choose to hand out our own lecture notes to students, I think a student record of what we do in class is more valuable to everybody.

Classes on my campus are rarely huge, but I suppose in a gargantuan course, hundreds of people simultaneously editing one document wouldn’t work out so well. You could assign students to groups randomly or haphazardly (maybe 20 students? 50?), and have many of these documents going on simultaneously. Or you could just create a number of docs, and have students choose one. Or perhaps if it’s a lecture with associated lab sections, you could have a separate doc for each section.

(If you or your students have reservations doing this through Google docs, there are also other online collaborative writing tools, from Microsoft, Dropbox, Zoho, Authorea and others).

Have you done this in any of your classes? Or do you have reasons why you think it might not be a great idea?

6 thoughts on “Efficient teaching: Crowdsourcing class notes

  1. Crowd sourcing notes sounds like a good idea. I have two possible critiques. First, it might increase computer note-taking in class, which we know is a bad idea. Second, it implies that lecturing is an effective teaching technique. I think short, pithy lectures that explain a few points and then other activities is better. And I don’t mean the anathema of so-called flipped classes where the boring lecture is outside of class. I’m a believer in reading with study questions and problem sets and writing that matters, as for Wikipedia.

  2. I’ve tossed about the idea of having students in my gen ed astronomy courses create their own exam “study guides” (basically class notes) using the wiki tool in our CMS, but I’ve not make the jump because I was concerned that the document might end up the work of just a few students unless I graded participation somehow, or that the students would end up asking for a study guide (or a copy of notes) anyway because the wiki was incomplete. I’d be curious hear how others make this work in their courses – it sounds like a good way to keep students on track with material and see what the confusing topics might be.

    The nice part about the CMS is it should have rules to make the tool unavailable during class time to avoid students just putting notes directly in during class, I know that all students have access, and it would be hard to share outside the section (I find my study guides on places like Course Hero all the time).

    This would be a “no go” in my geology courses because there’s no way to sketch/draw easily – but not every course is going to fit every teaching strategy.

  3. Agree with Joan above; and also I always think that the point of note-taking is not to have the notes afterwards but the thinking and repetition that goes into writing the notes (yourself). However, I might still try it out, because I know shared (not with me) google docs still exist in my class and often contain falsehoods…

  4. I’m very interested in the idea here, but again drawing, sketching, and calculations are tough for even the professional to present efficiently and effectively.

  5. Doesn’t this just encourage students to skip class and read the collected notes of everyone else?

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