It’s hard to know what to think of Course Hero, a site that declares itself as a “social learning network” where you can “give and get” information.
Conceived by students at Cornell, Course Hero provides access to old tests, homework problems, textbook answers and class notes. It also offers the ability to form study groups where you can share files and exchange ideas. It’s basically a forum where you can put up old schoolwork you’ve done and see the old schoolwork of your peers from your own school and around the nation.
Course Hero isn’t really free. While you can create an account for no cost, you can’t view anything until you pay in one of two ways:
- By posting materials (40 documents = 1 month free)
- By paying a monthly, 6 month, or yearly fee
If you don’t pay, you can still create an account, but you’re only able to see what kind of information you could access to if you did pay. You can’t actually view any of them.
By putting coursework online, Course Hero is hoping to allow students (and faculty) everywhere to become involved in spreading learning and information.
And that’s not all…
If Course Hero is news to you, you probably aren’t aware of the many sites similar to Course Hero, including studyblue.com, cramster.com, koofers.com, and gradeguru.com. It’s important to note that Course Hero, though innovative, is not the first of its kind.
And from the looks of it, it definitely won’t be the last.
Student groups, clubs, fraternities, and sororities have collected test files for decades, giving members of those groups a distinct advantage over others. Course Hero and similar websites put everything on the table for everyone, leveling the playing field.
By providing class notes, old exams and more, Course Hero gives students an additional chance to learn material that they didn’t understand the first time a professor taught it. If they didn’t understand a concept in class, had problems on a homework assignment, or missed a lecture, these websites are a chance for redemption and learning.
For faculty, Course Hero gives you the chance to see how students are sharing the information you teach them, and to look at the different ways other professors are teaching similar subjects. You can get ideas, know which tests and homework problems were most difficult and gather tools to better teach your classes.
These websites also promote social development. You can join a study group and meet students in your class you otherwise might not have worked with. You can choose to study through the internet, or meet at a physical table and chairs on campus. In this way, Course Hero allows you to make connections with others who you can help, and who can help you.
The more people Course Hero and similar websites connect, the more students and faculty there could be learning, growing and sharing.
Despite the good things Course Hero claims to offer, the most glaring question is this: Is using Course Hero cheating?
Each of the websites offering these services overtly addresses this question. The answer they all come up with is, of course, No.
Most of the websites have safeguards against what they consider cheating. There are courses of action professor can take if they find their copyrighted information online. These websites leave it up to professors and universities to define in their honor code what cheating is, and to give that information to the student.
CU’s honor code states “On my honor as a University of Colorado at Boulder student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance on this work.”
The key word is “unauthorized.” How do you define it?
Many teachers define it in their syllabi and it is common knowledge that copying answers and plagiarizing are violations of the Honor Code and considered “unauthorized” assistance. But where is the line? Working in groups often facilitates learning in students, and contributes to the cohesiveness of a class. When working in groups, students often share answers, methods, notes and their understanding—all things that would be shared on Course Hero.
One of the big problems with Course Hero is that if a student wants to cheat, the website offers all the tools they need to do so. It provides a temptation to students who are looking for exam answers and want to cheat in class.
You also can’t track who is using Course Hero. Often, notes are posted anonymously, so the individual who posted them cannot be tracked down. This means that it’s harder to punish those who are blatantly cheating or difficult to tell if the resources available can really be trusted.
Like it or not, Course Hero and similar websites are probably here to stay. They’ve introduced an innovative product that will not stop here, but grow in the future.
The thing to worry about now, is how to address these websites.
Instructors need to be sure to tell their students what will be considered cheating and what won’t. Request that students tell you if they find your information online. Share with students that posting information online may result in harder tests, at the detriment of an instructor’s time and a student’s grade.
If the goal is to have students learn the subject, and looking at Course Hero helps, maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all? Maybe it is useful to try to teach students to use these new resources responsibly instead of banning it from the classroom.
Some other things instructors can do to fight against cheating:
- Keep tests after you hand them back, so students don’t have the chance to upload them to any website.
- Post only answers, and not questions, on CULearn for homework and tests—that way the answers won’t mean as much.
- Give students old tests to study from, so that there is no reason for them to search online. This could help to level the playing field for those who would have cheated and those who never would.
- Give people the opportunity to report cheating anonymously—no one likes to be the ‘tattle-tale’
- Try to give students a reason not to cheat by providing everything they need to perform successfully
The line between getting assistance to study and cheating is sometimes hard to see. Course Hero makes it even more difficult. While new technologies can provide more opportunities for dishonesty, try using them as a resource or as a reason to teach your students about ethics in education.
Written By: Kate Vander Wiede, CU ’09, ASSETT Staff