Introduction

To Share or Not to Share

To Share or Not to Share

Exams are upon us again, which means that a flood of emails is almost certainly bound to be upon us as well.

Our classmates, many of whom we have never met, will use the email system on Blackboard to request notes and lecture audio. Sometimes they’ll be a desperate plea for someone who’s missed most of the term; other times they’ll be someone who’s noticed their notes aren’t as complete as they thought they were.

Photo of: a person's hand with a pencil tapping on a notepad
Rennett Stowe (CC BY 2.0)

These notes will range from a two-sentence request to a lengthy explanation. And every time we receive these notes we are faced with an ethical dilemma.

Do we share notes, altruistically or because we hope the person requesting our notes has notes from another lecture we need, or do we keep our notes to ourselves, because we did the work for them and should therefore not be obliged to assist those who didn’t?

As someone who’s been on both sides of the request, I understand the desperation sometimes required in requesting notes. A volunteer note taker may not have posted their notes for the same lecture in which my note taking device died. Or it’s the end of term and I not only don’t know where the 13 weeks have gone, but how I’ve fallen so behind. Or illness has kept me out of class.

Or any number of things. I don’t know my classmates’ life stories and I certainly have it easier than many with long commutes, more courses, and generally more responsibilities.

On the other hand, I’ve seen tens of these requests, and some of those with whom I’ve shared notes haven’t reciprocated in the way they claimed they could. The notes they promised seldom arrived or sometimes I never received even a “thank you”. I know it’s shallow to want even a little acknowledgement for my efforts, but a “thanks! Want to review the course over email so we can both prepare?” would go a long way.

This has meant my heart has hardened somewhat to these requests. I know what it feels like to be in their position, but I don’t want to feel taken advantage of either. I also know I’ve done the

Which doesn’t do much for my self-image as a giving person.

On the contrary again, I’ve had fantastic study groups and study buddies in classes who have been more than willing to discuss material and share notes if need be. And with these folks I’ve been more than willing to go the extra mile. And, for the record, my default position is to share notes with my “unknown” classmates too, just perhaps not as readily as I once did.

In short, I’d suggest sharing one’s notes is a decent thing to do, but if you’re asking for notes, be willing to give a little as well. Even if it’s not in the moment (stress can make a mockery of one’s non-exam brain function), a quick thanks weeks afterwards will never go unappreciated. Academia can be a team sport, and we’re all better if we help each other out.

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