On a chalkboard in his anatomy lecture at Georgetown University, Donald Jenkins sketches a pancreas, gall bladder and diaphragm as he briskly describes how they fit together in the body.
From his seat near the rear of the lecture hall, Michael Marshall, 23, a freshman dental student, rapidly glances back and forth from the board to his notebook as he copies the diagrams in blue and black ink.
Most students near Marshall, however, do not take notes. Some simply watch as the pink, blue and green chalk drawings appear on the board. A few have closed their eyes, and a quick head count reveals that some of the 250 students enrolled in the class are absent.
Almost all the students know, however, that no matter where they are, they will get notes from the class -- notes taken by Marshall and medical student Cameron Brown, which Jenkins has proofread and corrected.
That's because of a service that might well elicit sighs of envy from those who have never worried in college about how they could handle their papers, labs and projects and go to class.
The Georgetown medicine and dentistry schools' note-taking service supplies typed and printed copies of lecture notes -- most of them corrected by professors -- to all students who subscribe for $30 to $60 a semester, depending on the student's year in school.
"What we're talking about exists everywhere, just not on such a formalized basis as here," explains Brian Kennedy, 27, a junior who directs the service for dental students. In many professional schools, he says, six or eight students will band together informally to take notes for each other when they can't make classes. "We're just one of the few schools that have it above ground rather than below ground."
In fact, students at George Washington and Howard universities' medical schools have organized similar services. At GWU, instructors do not correct notes for subscribing students. Freshmen and sophomore medical students pay about $40 to $60 a semester for the service, on top of their $11,800 yearly tuition, according to Jeffrey Roames, the medical school's assistant director for administration.
At Howard, according to Miriam Willey, director of the school's Office of Medical Education, most freshmen and sophomores subscribe, and some professors proofread and correct the notes before they are distributed. Tuition at Howard is $2,600 a year.
At Georgetown, almost all the 600 dental students in all four classes and the 400 medical students in the first two classes subscribe to the service, and the fees are added to the dental students' yearly tuition of $10,000 and the medical students' yearly fee of $14,750.
A dozen or so students at the Georgetown schools agree to be notetakers and are paid $10 to $25 per lecture for their efforts. They take notes and tape the 55-minute lectures, and later transcribe their notes -- a process that can take six hours -- then take the notes to the lecturer to be proofread and corrected. Most, but not all, professors agree to correct the notes.
The notes are then typed, printed and distributed to students.
Although Kennedy says the service tries to get the printed notes back to students within a week of the lecture, one dental student said he received his notes a month later.
Other students worry that the quality of note-taking varies and that they can't depend on some note-takers to give a comprehensive account of the lecture. But as Kennedy points out, "The notes are not designed to be a gospel, but they are designed to be an assistance."
Many students admit the service makes it easier to cut classes, especially when they are trying to juggle projects, lab time and -- in the case of many upperclass dental students -- appointments with patients.
"If I have a patient and a lab to do," says Kennedy, "I just might kiss off class today." Marshall adds that with other schoolwork "sometimes I have to miss a class and I know someone's there to take good notes -- hopefully."
Some members of the faculty oppose the service. One instructor who asked that his name not be used said that in the past he had spent several hours (per lecture) "correcting the silly things" and found it was taking time he needed to prepare lectures and do research.
He worries that although the quality of notes sometimes is poor, students use the service as a crutch. "They feel comfortable skipping lectures, knowing they have this to back them up. They feel this is all the information they really need to have.
"By proofreading the notes an instructor gives tacit approval that the note-taking service is all right . . . (but) we're really cheating them, and since these are future doctors and dentists, we're really cheating their future patients."
Peter Andrews, who teaches histology and microscopy, said he thinks the service is "really a good thing," especially if students take their own notes and supplement them with notes from the service. He does not correct the notes because, he says, that "gives the impression that it's a good representation of the lecture, and students might get the idea this is all they should know."
Jenkins, the anatomy instructor who does correct the notes, says "Providing faculty members are willing to go over notes once they've been drawn up, it's probably a good system." He says he thinks it is often best not to take notes in a lecture, but instead to try to absorb the material, then look at notes later.
Many students say the positive aspects of the service outweigh the negative ones. Roy Marlow, a freshman dental student, says, "There are quite a few times when we just can't make it to class because of our schedule" of nine courses. "You start making priorities as to what you're going to do" and if labwork or projects come first, the note service makes it possible to miss a class. he adds that "people realize the notes are for quick reference."
Marlow says he usually takes his own notes in class but looks at the printed notes to see if he left anything out. Also, he says, it is easier to study from printed notes, which often are in outline form.
Kennedy says an anatomy lecture might include 200 slides. "There's no way you're going to take those notes in a 55-minute lecture. For a class like that, you're going to have to band together." He adds, "If you didn't have (the note service), I think you'd have students screaming as soon as the instructor took off at 90 miles per hour."