This link to Boston.com discusses the new websites that provide professor notes for specific classes to students free of charge. The article is very interesting, and it talks specifically about Harvard and MIT (as well as their economics professors). Below is probably one of the most interesting quotes in the article, and definitely is one I'm sympathetic to. Academic journal articles are expensive (as Colin Wyers notes in one of my previous articles), and it does go against the underlying idea of academia. Of course, there needs to be funds for the journals to operate, and perhaps some profits, but it makes it hard for communication between academics and non-academics in a world of mass communication for everyone:
Still, part of the reason that there haven’t been more lawsuits around the intellectual property of lectures is that professors and universities see their mission as fundamentally different from that of a music label or movie studio.
“Harvard and MIT and Stanford and Princeton, we’re not Decca records. Our job in life is to provide enlightenment to the world,” says Lewis, an outspoken critic of the way content providers have used copyright law online. “We have to make a living doing it and all the professors have to be paid for their labors, but the notion that universities would inherit the oppressive picture of the way intellectual property is treated by the music industry is really a fundamentally warped view of what the ultimate purpose of universities are.”
One of the big issues I see with releasing notes is allowing students to skip classes. While they pay their tuition, and should probably have the right to do what they want, there is definitely value in attending classes and discussion. By just reading notes, this value is not realized in many cases. University of Phoenix has essentially taken advantage of the note/book reading aspect of the internet. I think this is the way education is going in general, but I'm not sure there is a perfect substitute for social interaction and verbal discussion. I think having such mass information from around the country can supplement this discussion to an enormous extent, though..
Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw's Blog
Update: Over at ECONJEFF (my microeconometrics professor's blog, and former student of Nobel winner James Heckman) Jeff Smith offers some insight into differences among students at different institutions. This link is related to this post a little bit, as well as my previous post on Division III athletes in a roundabout way.