By DAVID TINDELL
Since CourseHero.com began posting UMW class material, the popularity of ‘social learning networks’ online has been raising Honor Code concerns with UMW professors.
Social learning networks are online communities of students, educators and subject enthusiasts who are able to post and view educational material. Such websites include Cramster, Course Hero, Koofers, Grade Guru, Knetwit and SparkNotes.
These online communities have become increasingly popular over recent years. According to the New York Times, Cramster has 500,000 registered users and Course Hero offers three million student-submitted items from 400,000 college-level courses.
Additionally, SparkNotes gets more than 24 million hits a week, according to its website.
Although these web sites have existed since the early 2000s, professors have only recently begun to notice UMW students for posting. CourseHero.com indicates that UMW students have been posting study guides, syllabi, lectures, answers, homework solutions, questions, exams and assorted class materials.
Even though UMW posting is a recent phenomenon, UMW students need only a few clicks and a monthly fee, which is waived if they submit material, to access documents of most courses. However, UMW posting is noticeably underdeveloped except for in math and science classes.
“There seem to be two problems—the honor code violation one, and the copyright infringement one, which, since the latter is theft, is also a violation of the Honor Code,” said Margaret Huber, chair of the department of sociology and anthropology.
Some students believe such web sites can be used in a positive manner.
“Maybe there is a problem with copying straight off the site, but I don’t see a problem with using them as a class aid,” junior Dan Grist said.
Others students are more skeptical.
“[These web sites are] not something I would necessarily be for…it definitely seems like an honor code violation. People don’t need that type of material to succeed in class,” sophomore Merry Saez said.
The UMW Honor System Constitution states that giving any academic material in a manner not authorized by the instructor is a violation of the Honor Code. The constitution also states that ignorance is not an acceptable alibi, and that this violation could result in permanent dismissal from UMW.
“Some faculty are concerned, not just because of the potential cheating aspect of all this, but because they have copyright to whatever they write…and that right is being violated with these postings,” Huber said.
“[It is] not right to take my material and put it online for anyone to see without my permission…not because I want them secret…but because I have put a ton of work into my lectures,” said Debra Steckler, chair of the department of psychology and associate professor of psychology.
David J. Kim, president and chief executive officer of Course Hero, disagrees with these notions. Kim said in the New York Times that his company “bring[s] the concept of study groups [online]…A student may know one or two people in their class but we wanted to provide an online community where you could connect with students from different colleges studying the same subject.”
Another question raised by these sites is their accuracy.
“I thought it very strange to see a student post on my Western Civ course,” Steckler said. As chair of the psychology department, Steckler does not teach a Western Civilizations course.
“The truth of the matter is that obtaining course materials from a website like that, in most cases, is an honor violation…I would hope that Mary Washington students would be able to sort this out on their own,” said Keith Mellinger, associate professor and chair of the department of mathematics.