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Nittany Notes gains mixed reviews from professors

If the semester seems to have passed you by and you feel like you're drowning in a sea of red tape, the red pages of a downtown note-taking service may be your life preserver.

For a fee, University students who haven't been to class or have trouble taking notes have a way to stay afloat.

Nittany Notes, 234 E. College Ave., provides class notes ranging from art history to biology lectures. Started here in 1985 by Jim Reeder a Penn State graduate, the service was patterned after another note-taking service at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. After operating Nittany Notes for about three years Reeder sold the business to Tom Matis, a financial consultant in State College.

Note-taking services for university students have been around for about 40 years, Matis said, adding that the first service was opened in 1954 at the University of Berkeley.

"The concept (of note taking) is not new . . . I know about 20 other universities that have the same type of program," Matis said.

The University of California, University of Texas and Ohio State University are among those that offer such services.

Although Matis said he gets a steady flow of customers throughout the semester, he said that during final exam week his sales increase.

Matis said he offers final exam packets near the end of the semester, in addition to day-to-day lecture notes. He speaks confidently of his service and said students can benefit from it.

"When test time comes up students use notes as another study aid. They like them because they're typed up and well organized," Matis said.

Final exam packets cost about $10 and individual lecture notes cost $2.50, Matis said.

University students and professors have mixed opinions as to why students purchase the notes.

"I use them to supplement my notes," said Laurie Levy (sophmore-elementary education). "They're helpful because you don't just have yours but someone else's in case you missed anything," Levy said.

Deborah Dias (junior-nursing) said she has more confidence in Nittany Notes than her own. "Some teachers are hard to follow, maybe someone takes better notes then me. They're nice and organized."

Also, some professors agree that Nittany Notes can be helpful if used as a study guide to supplement notes.

"I don't mind Nittany Notes because the students are polite and they usually get the best students to take them," said Pat Trimble, an instructor in the integrative arts department who teaches Theatre 109.

However, Trimble cited a problem with using Nittany Notes is that it is a temptation not to show up for class -- a student who buys the notes and doesn't attend classes and misses lectures or labs might not understand the material thoroughly, Trimble added.

Trimble's statement might have some validity.

"I use the notes because I didn't do the reading and missed a lot of classes," Alex Sahakian (freshman-finance) said.

Lyn Helgeson (senior-health policy and administration) said she uses Nittany Notes to combat her tight schedule.

"I hardly have time to go to class. Since I didn't go to class I'm just using them as notes," Helgeson said.

Because some students substitute Nittany Notes for class attendance, some professors feel the service diminishes the responsibility of students.

"Legally, I don't see how to control it, but from a student's point of view (using Nittany Notes) is an abdication of responsibility," said Stephen Belcher, an assistant professor who teaches Comparative Literature 108.

"I would be inclined to think the notes don't reflect courses correctly except for certain structured, quantified courses," Belcher added.

Though students know the qualifications of professors, they don't know the qualifications of note-taking students, Belcher said.

The names of notetakers are kept confidential in order to avoid teacher biases, Matis said.

"Some professors like the concept of Nittany Notes, some don't," Matis said. "Either way I think they'd be prejudiced," Matis said, adding that professors might be resentful of Nittany Notetakers.

Matis said all notetakers must be registered in the class and have a cumulative average of at least 3.2. For some courses, such as biology and business, students must be in the major.

Matis said all Nittany Notes are copywrited in order to keep students from copying them.

Although Nittany Notes are controversial among some University professors and students, no offical action has been taken by the University against Nittany Notes.

This year a report on note-taking services was presented to the University's Faculty Senate, said Jerry Covert, associate vice provost of undergraduate studies.

The report made several recommendations to the administration about Nittany Notes, but recognized that the service can be helpful to students who supplement their own notes or are for some reason unable to take them, Covert said. He added that Disability Services uses the notes for some students, but said he didn't favor using Nittany Notes to avoid going to class.