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Who Owns the Ideas Taught in Classrooms?

A website started by recent Harvard grad Andrew Magliozzi threatens to reignite a decades-old debate on college campuses: Who owns the...

A website started by recent Harvard grad Andrew Magliozzi threatens to reignite a decades-old debate on college campuses: Who owns the intellectual property taught in university classrooms? FinalsClub.org, the site Magliozzi founded two years ago, offers class notes posted by students, hosts online study forums, and even has a library of annotated books available for perusal.Magliozzi told the Boston Globe that his intent is to create a "meta-academic institution," where students collaborate on improving class notes to make them more comprehensive, and use the site as a discussion board to interact among themselves and with professors. Unlike, MIT's open courseware sites, it's actual students who are posting the material. Professors do grant permission to FinalsClub to host the material. Faculty members, such as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, are totally on board with the effort, whereas celebrated author Louis Menand and others believe it encourages kids to cut class.


With the university largely cut out of the process, and the materials available online for free, it means that "one of the core functions of a university-distributing information through its professors-is no longer entirely in its control," according to the Globe.Sure, this isn't quite as dire as the issues that threaten to topple the music and newspaper industries, but it's a fight universities have been involved in since at least 1969 when a UCLA professor sued one of these note-taking companies that have since proliferated around all campuses.A Harvard computer science professor makes a firm distinction between universities and the music industry: The former would never handle the issue of intellectual property in the "oppressive" way the latter did; it would be antithetical to the university's goal of enlightening the world.Also, as the article points out, it's not as though having these notes online will mobilize hundreds of would-be Harvard students to sit at home and learn via laptop. The benefit of the Harvard experience, of any college experience, is more than just what you learn inside the class. At places like Harvard especially, there's a lot to be said for the extensive network of grads in well-placed perches in the professional world that an actual degree connects you to.
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