Web site offers money for class notes

By Joe Kennedy

‘ ‘ ‘ Some Pitt students won’t have to copy a friend’s notes when they miss class. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘… ‘ ‘ ‘ Some Pitt students won’t have to copy a friend’s notes when they miss class. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ A new Web site, GradeGuru.com, allows them to download them instead. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Launched in June, the free Web site lets users upload lecture notes, study guides and other relevant course materials in exchange for rewards, such as money and trips. The GradeGuru.com staff and clients give their feedback on the quality of the notes, and the company uses an algorithm to calculate, based on the quantity and quality of the notes, how much students should be rewarded. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The site offers 75 cents for short lecture notes from one session, $3 for comprehensive notes from a single session, $10 for an exam study guide and $50 if a student can contribute all course materials from a semester. To encourage students to take thorough and insightful notes, the site, which is sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education, offers a $1,500 grant to the top contributor. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The Web site’s founder Emily Sawtell said she views GradeGuru.com as extension of what students were already doing ‘mdash; exchanging ideas after class. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We observed that students commonly turn to their peers for help and that peer-collaboration was already a constructive practice amongst students when they were struggling to understand difficult concepts,’ said Sawtell. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ But some professors said they’d prefer not to see their notes end up online. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘I would not put my notes on the Web because I think it is an incentive to miss class, and I believe much learning occurs in class,’ said history professor Janelle Greenberg. ‘The more people who attend class, the better the discussions. I am deeply committed to the idea that we are a community of scholars who benefit from associating with one another.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Regardless of what their professors think, students have a right to put their notes online, one law professor said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘Student notes belong to the student, not to the professor … and what the student does with them is up to the student,’ said Pitt law professor and associate dean of research Michael Madison. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Sawtell said GradeGuru.com is committed to academic ethics. The Web site’s main page says that it’s against the company’s policy to lift materials off its site or to submit them as one’s own. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We are uncompromising when it comes to issues of academic ethics and integrity,’ said Sawtell, mentioning that the site uses anti-plagiarism tools to boost its standards and lower the possibility of students profiting from stolen material. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ The Web site doesn’t mention the specific penalties for plagiarism, but does say that it has the right to terminate users’ accounts with or without notice. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Some professors said attribution is all it takes for them to accept sites like GradeGuru.com. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘What I say to the class is for the class, but I don’t care [about uploading them to a third-party site] as long as there’s an attribution to myself,’ said Lisa Brush, an associate professor of sociology. Brush requires her students to upload their notes to Courseweb after two class sessions so that they can discuss the ideas in them as a group. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Freshman Margo Lynch had a similar opinion of the Web site. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘As long as they’re being accredited for what they’ve said, it shouldn’t be a big problem,’ she said. ‘If you’re skipping class, you can get the notes online if all you care about is getting a good grade on a test. If you really care about the subject, you’ll show up to class and listen to how the professor explains things and better your understanding of the course.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt spokesperson Patricia White said GradeGuru.com hasn’t contacted the University yet. Sawtell said she’ll be getting in touch with it in the future. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Pitt is one of 322 universities already registered on GradeGuru.com. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ Sawtell said the Web site recruited Pitt students because, ‘We are looking for some of the best and brightest to be the pioneers of this online community.