Online note sharing can be a tempting alternative to 8 a.m. classes and boring lectures, but some University faculty members have raised questions about the academic integrity of using sites that allow note swapping.
Websites like StudyBlue.com offer University students free access to notes and a chance to make extra cash for uploading their own course materials. Some University professors say the sites pose the potential for copyright infringements and declining academic performances as fewer students attend lecture.
To prevent students from profiting by posting lecture notes, some History professors copyright their notes, said Kali Israel, an associate professor and the associate chair of the Department of History.
In an e-mail interview, Israel said these measures have been taken to prevent unauthorized recording of lectures and “commercial note taking.”
“This becomes especially serious if the student supplying notes is profiting,” Israel said, citing that the potential violation of ethics is even greater if a student supplies papers or class assignments through the sites.
She said students who download notes from the Internet may be hurting their grades rather than helping because it prevents them from learning through the note-taking process.
Although the sites mediate note sharing, Israel added that it “doesn’t necessarily make it different than other forms of unauthorized collaboration.”
Esrold Nurse, assistant dean of the Office of Student Academic Affairs, said he has not considered any policy regarding these websites.
“We haven’t considered it, which is not to suggest that we think they’re all good, but we just have not,” Nurse said. “This is all new to us.”
Nurse said if students are caught uploading notes from copyrighted lectures they could be brought up on academic misconduct charges or legally prosecuted.
LSA senior Kerri Sperling said she started using StudyBlue.com at the beginning of this school year.
“It’s a really innovative way to study because if you miss a class you can just (download) the notes,” Sperling said. “And also, for the people that upload their own notes it’s kind of like you’re getting a better experience because it’s enhancing your performance.”
At 26 campuses across the country — including here at the University — StudyBlue.com has an incentives program for students like Sperling to share notes. For every file that is uploaded or flashcard pack that is made public, the student receives $1. Additionally, for every hit that a student’s file or flashcard pack gets that student 50 cents.
“You get paid every time someone looks at your notes, so it’s even that much more of an incentive for the quality of your notes to be good because more people will click on your file,” Sperling said.
Ben Jedd, chief communications officer for StudyBlue.com, said the site was first developed as a school project in 2006 at the University of Wisconsin. It was then expanded to other campuses, including the University of Michigan in 2007.
“The biggest thing about the tool is that it was built for students and it was built by students so that’s really had a great impact on our user base,” Jedd said.
The site has been the most popular at Big Ten schools including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Penn State University and Ohio State University, Jedd said.
“Large universities are where it’s really taking off, and I think a big part of that is that those are the places that have those large classes, those 100 to 500 person lecture halls, that study tools and notes really do come in handy,” Jedd said. “So I would say the larger the university, the more popular the site.”
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