New Web site puts class notes into cyberspace

The recently launched Schoology.com allows students to turn class notes into profit.

University students have always paid to take classes, but now students have found a way to pay themselves back by selling their notes to Web sites like the recently launched schoology.com.

It may sound lucrative to get paid just for going to class and taking notes, but just two weeks ago a Florida professor filed a lawsuit against the owner of a similar Web site.

HowIgotAnA.com hires students with at least a 3.7 grade point average to take notes and then creates “study kits” for courses at Florida universities.

Schoology.com doesn’t hire student note-takers, but it does pay students to post their notes. It’s free to download notes, so schoology.com founders use advertising revenue to pay them.

“We don’t want people to upload notes just to make a quick buck,” said one of schoology.com’s co-founders, Jeremy Friedman, a junior at Washington University.

People are paid based on the quality, popularity or number of downloads, and the quality is determined by a rating system similar to that of eBay, he said.

“We are not concerned with a lawsuit like that happening to us,” Friedman said. “We are a service that not only benefits students, but teachers as well. We do not sell anything, and the entire site is free to use.”

About 2,000 people from 70 colleges use schoology.com, Friedman said, but so far no one at the University is registered.

He maintains that schoology.com is not like the other Web sites out there that encourage students to post tests and quizzes, and which would immediately be pulled down.

“That’s not what we do or what we stand for,” Friedman said. “We don’t want teachers to fear it. We want to use a system they’ll be using.”

Yet, not all teachers approve of sites where notes can be bought and sold.

“I think it quite frankly goes against everything required of education for those receiving and paying for it,” said Kjel Johnson, a cultural studies and comparative literature lecturer.

“I find the idea horrifying and depressing, but it costs a lot of money to go here, and students have to work and graduate on time,” he said. “It’s inevitable.”

First-year chemistry Megan Ranger said the site could be helpful, but she acknowledges that notes differ.

“I’m retaking a class and learning a lot about different things. I go back to my old notes, and it doesn’t help me at all,” she said.

As for the ethical matter of downloading someone else’s notes, Tess Prouty, a first-year psychology major, doesn’t think it’s dishonest unless one takes ideas from someone’s notes and puts it in their paper.

University law professor Tom Cotter said the legal dispute comes down to the hazy line between fair use and copyright violation.

If a professor’s original notes exist in a tangible medium – such as a PowerPoint presentation, recording or printed on paper – they can be copyrighted, Cotter said.

Copying notes for academic intent is protected by fair use, Cotter said, but when University students start making profit off notes, they could be violating the University Student Conduct Code.

Students can’t sell or broadly disseminate class notes for commercial purposes without the instructor’s written permission, according to the University’s Policy on Use of Class Notes for Commercial Purposes.

The policy doesn’t address downloading notes for free, but Sharon Dzik, the director of the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity said, “The spirit of this policy could translate to saying in terms of academic integrity, do your own work and take your own class notes.”

Yet Friedman said his site isn’t changing the way students obtain notes.

“Right now teachers are posting their material online, and it’s pretty easy to ask a friend for notes,” Friedman said. “It’s not changing anything.”