You may have heard about a pair of Penn students who’ve come up with a nifty new idea. They’ve created a virtual marketplace, Noteriety (motto: “Get A’s. Make Bank.”), where students can buy and sell notes from their classes. The idea is that if for some reason you should miss a class, or are just having trouble learning what you’re supposed to, you can buy notes taken by somebody else who did go or does understand what the hell’s going on. An article about the start-up in the Daily Pennsylvanian mentioned that it’s “backed by the PennApps Accelerator Program,” a “mentorship and sponsorship” effort aimed at encouraging student entrepreneurship.
Coincidentally, the same week the DP article on Noteriety appeared, the New York Times ran a story on a new study showing that increased class attendance in college leads to improved grades.
In the study, professors teaching a popular Intro to Psych course at the University of Texas instituted a new teaching method that replaced grading based on a final exam with grading based on a series of quizzes given during every class. The quizzes were short and tailored to a student’s previous performance; get a question wrong, and you’d soon find it staring up at you again.
According to participating professor James W. Pennepacker, students hated the new method at first, and gave him and fellow prof Samuel D. Gosling the lowest course evaluations they’d ever received. Gosling’s explanation for the dissatisfaction: “For the first few weeks, every time their friends went out drinking, they couldn’t go; they had yet another test the next day.” But by the end of the term, the class got higher grades and outperformed a similar class that used the more traditional grading system. Improvement was greatest for students with low-income backgrounds, which the professors attributed to the fact that the quiz system required that students stay current in the reading and pay attention while in the classroom. They noted that the new method also increased average class attendance from 60 to 90 percent, since if you missed class you missed a quiz.
That being said, it will be much more efficient for Penn kids to buy other kids’ notes rather than attend class themselves. Their schedules are so onerous, what with four courses per term and a total of a dozen or so hours per week spent sitting in class. Noteriety’s founders plan to expand the program to Drexel, and from there, who knows? What college student wouldn’t prefer having more time to drink and hook up to, you know, going to dumb old classes for which your parents are paying $60,000 a year? (Did you know the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently awarded Penn a $25,000 grant to help educate its students about drinking during “high-risk” events like Spring Fling? The grant money pays for Penn Police officers to stand on street corners and hand out pamphlets to students. Uh-huh. About as brilliant as Princeton's recent attempt to ward off its meningitis epidemic by passing out red Solo cups. But I digress.)
Penn’s Office of Student Conduct acknowledges that using Noteriety could create “academic integrity” issues for students, but hey, what’s a little academic integrity when you’ve got Economics at 9 a.m. on a Monday morn? The site already has hundreds of users and is generating cash for sophomore founders Adam Eskassas and Arjun Jain. Their motivation? "Sometimes we would ask upperclassmen for notes, but it was just a big pain in the butt," Eskassas told the Daily Pennsylvanian.
You know what else is a big pain in the butt, Adam? Trying to understand why Penn would back a start-up that educators have shown will lead to less learning by students. No doubt about it: I'm not smart enough for the Ivy League.