Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes

During the course I taught in Effective Learning at the university, the students had to do group presentations. One group, chose to present on time management. As part of their presentation, they drew a diagram on the board that I recognized immediately. At the end of their presentation, I asked where the diagram came from. The students looked at me blankly.

“Where did you get that diagram?” I repeated.

One of the students answered, “One of my profs talked about it in class and drew it on the board.”

“Did the prof tell you where it came from?” I probed.

“I can’t remember.”

“Well, I can tell you where it came from. It’s from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

As it turned out, none of the students had read the book. But for anyone who is familiar with Covey’s work, the diagram is easily recognizable. Covey talks about diving tasks by their importance and their urgency and then using those criteria to determine which tasks need to be done and in which order.

In case you’re curious, this is the diagram they drew on time management:

We had talked previously in class about plagiarism, but it never occurred to them that informal sources of information could be plagiarized. We had a discussion about always, always, always citing sources, even if they are informal sources, such as class notes. There are various schools of thought on whether students should cite class notes. This is a perfect example of why they should. In this case, the student couldn’t remember if the prof cited the original diagram. If she’d cited her class notes, she would at least have been showing the intent to give credit where it is due.

Here’s a quick, 3-page resource handout that I made for my students on how to cite class notes properly. It contains a brief explanation of how to cite class notes, and some examples, too.

Feel free to share it with your own students:

View this document on Scribd


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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