Buying your way through school

In Business & Technology /

By Jeff Lagerquist

Students who want to sleep through early morning lectures can now pay someone to sit in class for them.

Waterloo upstarts Notewagon.com and Studymonkey.ca provide an online market place where students can buy and sell the notes they take in class.

“The point of university is to learn the content, not attend every class,” said Khaled Hashem, head of marketing and advertisement for Notewagon. com at U of T and Ryerson. “Instead of relying on a few friends you can choose from several sets of notes on our website,” he said.

Hashem and a small group of students started work on the site six-months-ago. Originating in the U.S., this innovative trend in student networking raises questions about intellectual property and academic integrity along with the potential benefits for students with busy schedules.

“We saw the trend in the States and realized it wasn’t very big in Canada,” said Vance Lee, one of the co-founders at Studymonkey.com, which emerged from Waterloo University shortly after Notewagon.com with similar ambitions.

Both websites let students select notes from a semester’s worth of courses, but the content available depends on what has been uploaded by users. Shoppers get to preview a limited portion, and if they like what they see they can purchase the notes. Students who upload their notes get paid for each download.

“There is a huge opportunity for students to make money,” said Hashem. First year biomedical engineering student Faiza Kabir had never heard of online note markets, but would consider making a purchase. “We don’t always have time to take perfect notes. We’re under a lot of stress,” she said.

But Ryerson’s professors say if students want good notes they should simply come to class. “I think this kind of business is obviously catering to those who want to miss a lot of classes and don’t really want to be bothered to do the work. That’s an alarming development because it feeds into an element of passiveness about student learning that we see increasing in classroom,” said English professor Sophie Thomas.

Catherine Ellis, a professor and member of the Academic Integrity Council Committee raises the greater issue of who owns the notes students take in the classroom.

“The notes themselves are based on lectures, and the lecture material is the intellectual property of the professor. The professor is providing the lecture only for the purpose of communicating the information to the students who are present in the room. They have not authorized any use of those notes for purposes outside the course, including the making any kind of profit,” said Ellis.

Ryerson’s Student Code of Academic Conduct makes no mention of note sharing at the individual or organizational level. While sharing material that is “submitted for assessment,” like essays and exams is a clear breach, classroom notes are not specifically referred to.

“It’s perfectly legal. In the states there are huge companies that are doing the same thing,” said Hashem.

Notewagon.com and Studymonkey. ca are moderated to prevent the distribution of copyrighted material and content that can be resubmitted for marks. Both companies insist they have been well received at every campus they visit, and even encouraged by most professors.

“People who used to take only half decent notes are now bringing their lap tops and producing typed, full colour content so they can compete for buyers on our website,” said Hashem.

Photo by: Isabel Quinn

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