Online startups: cash for notes

Some students get cash for class, but U experts note there may be costs.

by Jessica Hart

At colleges across the country, note-sharing sites have grown in popularity — and for some, can be financially advantageous. 

Online startups, such as NoteUtopia and the now defunct FlashNotes, have popped up over the past several years and offer students monetary rewards for their notes. At OneClass, which contains over 1,800 sets of notes from the University of Minnesota, students can earn an average of $11 per hour for their work. 

Though the University doesn’t have a specific stance on the practice, said Sharon Dzik, director of the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, the University’s administrative policy on student responsibilities says that students cannot widely distribute or sell notes that are “close to verbatim” to the professor’s course materials. 

The policy also says that distribution of course material — such as notes that closely align with the professor’s wording — must be condoned by the professor.

Still, the policy does not explictly ban students from sharing notes, said University of Minnesota copyright program director Nancy Sims. 

“Students are welcome to share notes with other students in the course, [but uploading notes] online requires instructor consent … and would need instructor consent to sell,” Sims said. 

OneClass, which said it receives about 500,000 to 1 million viewers monthly, does not accept materials taken directly from professors. 

“We are actually one of the very few companies out there that do not accept any lecture slides, past exams, solutions … and as soon as we see that, we have someone basically working kind of 24/7 to actually remove them on daily basis, so you don’t actually see them,” said Jack Tai, CEO and co-founder of OneClass.

For some, there may be consequences outside of violating a University policy, Sims said.

“If an instructor finds out you’re doing this and doesn’t like it, that ends up affecting your relationship and career,” Sims said. “[Selling notes] may just get you in as much trouble as cheating on exams. I understand how cheating on an exam might feel different than sharing your notes online [but] the risks are high in both situations,” Sims said. 

Professors can search for their notes to find out if students are uploading their presentation slides or verbatim class notes without consent, Sims said.

According to Dzik, most of the cases OSCAI receives are 75 percent plagiarism and copying other students’ work on tests and homework.

“I think people know when they cross the line with cheating,” Dzik said.

Tai said he and his colleagues wanted to create OneClass to help students succeed academically and financially. He said he recalled difficulties with understanding course material in his transition from high school to college and wanted to help students with similar problems. 

Aside from offering class notes, the website also provides video tutorials explaining class material, as well as a search engine to find textbooks and scholarship applications. 

“Our mission is that one day we’ll be able to help as many students as possible with their tuition so that students are able to go to class, take better notes, contribute them to OneClass to get credit … to help them pay off their textbooks or tuition.”