In the last couple of years a number of websites have created an interactive marketplace where students on select college campuses in the United States can share class notes with fellow students.
On these websites users can sell various class materials including notes, exams, essays and syllabuses, among other things. Once posted online, other students have the ability to buy the material for their own use.
“FindMyNotes was mostly built out of necessity,” said FindMyNotes.com’s founder and president, Douglas Boyce. “ [FindMyNotes] was something that I would have wanted to use.”
Users who sell material indicate what course, professor and campus the material pertains to. Users who buy the material can easily find which material is pertinent to their class once they indicate which college they attend and which course they’re looking up.
“At the beginning we thought that we should focus a lot of attention towards community college students,” said Douglas, discussing his company’s evolution. “But looking at the data it was reversed; well over 90 per cent of traffic is from universities throughout the U.S..”
A website that has already seen a serious buyout is NoteHall.com. Last week on Oct. 6, the company’s founder Sean Conway and his associate D.J. Stephan were featured on the ABC reality television show Shark Tank.
On the show, the duo sold 25 per cent of the company for US$90,000 to real estate millionaire Barbara Corcoran.
“Usually you have an idea of your senior investors in some light, but not [the sharks],” said Conway.
“You get a few minutes with them and then hopefully they like you. It was really intimidating at the beginning, but then [ . . . ] when they like your idea it starts easing up.”
The night of the website’s television appearance, the number of users, ranging in the thousands, crashed the NoteHall website in five minutes. That night NoteHall was the number one Google search in the United States.
NoteHall’s newfound success is an even bigger feat for Conway. Conway, who struggled while attending Arizona University, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“My difficulties with ADHD led to the spawning of NoteHall,” explains Conway. “The reason why I’m so passionate and energetic and creative and thought of NoteHall was because of my ADHD.”
When speaking of their success both Conway and Boyce underline similar attributes that both websites share. Both feature reliable resources for students who are in need of a helping hand. When further perspectives are needed, students have a number of resources to rely upon, and the student has the ability to choose various formats of material, such as audio or video. Both companies show interest in branching towards Canada in the near future.
According to Boyce, every student is unique in their own right and some might have different study habits.
He indicated, some students might have had different opportunities that others may not have had. These types of websites help bridge the gap when receiving information that they might would not have been accessible to them in the past.
“Just because someone is willing to buy notes doesn’t mean they aren’t taking notes in class,” Boyce added.
Despite their ideologies, websites like these have been prone to criticism and controversy.
Many faculty members on various campuses are criticizing the idea of their work being bought and sold on the Internet. When talking to Inside Higher Ed, former DePaul University Professor Gina Mieszczack asserted that students are making a profit off of her work.
University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) president, Brad McKenzie, also said that he did not agree with the websites’ purposes.
“In my view, these kinds of postings, not only violate intellectual priority laws, but are unethical in the way that they take what is private information and post them in a public domain,” said McKenzie.
“Far better, I think, is interacting with student colleagues who are teaching the same course. Setting up mechanisms for student courses within classes; to use chat rooms that are composed of people who are taking the same course [ . . . ] To learn through that method and ask questions to students who are in those courses.”
“If a student uploads notes for a math course showing steps on how to solve an equation, I really don’t see the harm in doing that. It’s not as if the professor came up with the solution. The formula has been around for over a 100 years,” said Boyle. “So, some of the criticism I can understand, while I don’t agree with all.”
Conway hopes that sites still promote students attending class while “making sure that professors get out of their same way of teaching every semester. So that they don’t have the same work [today that] they were teaching eight years ago [ . . . ]. That’s how we’re going to improve education altogether. We’re forcing the professors to go above and beyond their actual tendencies.”