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Freshman flock to note-sharing sites

Note-sharing services have become increasingly common on Brown's campus, with more freshmen registered with sharing networks than any other class year.

Almost 400 Brown undergraduates are registered with the note-sharing network StudyBlue and 25 are members of UniversityJunction, a similar service launched last February.

Only a quarter of the students who use StudyBlue - a free Web site where students are paid to post their notes online - are upperclassmen, according to the company's chief communications officer Ben Jedd, who added that about half of the registered users are freshman.

UniversityJunction, which is also free, allows students to collaborate on academic forums and upload course-relevant material, including old exams and audio files, to a digital library. Containing 1.1 million pieces of data, according to Communications Director Liz Mitchell, the service markets itself as an ethical alternative to note-buying Web sites.

"We are very strict on our ethics policy. We have functions in place to stop students from unethical behavior," Mitchell said.

For instance, users can flag information they feel may infringe copyright and intellectual property laws, Mitchell said, adding that the network's staff will review and - if necessary - remove the information. The infringers also risk account termination.

But while the UniversityJunction team monitors copyright violations for materials uploaded to the Web site, the ethical usage of the materials taken from the site is left to user discretion.

StudyBlue, founded in 2006, has the same outlook on the ethical policy of sharing academic resources online as UniversityJunction.

"Yes, there are free notes on the site, but if you miss class, you'll get your notes from your friends," Jedd said. "And even if you were in class, you might collaborate with your friends anyway."

"The first thing we like to point out is that we're not a cheating service or a shortcut. We're a suite of online study tools" Jedd said.

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron wrote that professor consent is required before students take advantage of online note-sharing services.

"Note-sharing services are not forbidden by any particular policy," Bergeron wrote in an e-mail to The Herald, "but students should always check with a professor to verify, first, that the professor knows about the service and, second, that the professor finds it acceptable."

Still, note-sharing services run the risk of aiding students in violating Brown's Academic Code.

Bergeron wrote, "If class notes are to receive a grade, it follows that turning in notes taken by a service - and not by the student ­- would be in violation of the code."

Mitchell said UniversityJunction hoped to mitigate such student and faculty concern over potential academic code violations by forging links with the academic community. Professors from Carleton University, McGill University, Oxford University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute "advise" and promote the network as a collaborative academic resource.

StudyBlue has also teamed up with faculty members, many of whom had initial qualms about the online resource, Jedd said.

"We've had a lot of faculty members, at first, have questions about the site," Jedd said, adding that they "later became enthused about it, finding that the service is really a tool to help students study."

Francesca Zetar '12, a registered user of StudyBlue, said that she did not see any ethical problems with note-sharing services, but that there aren't enough Brown students on the network for it to be a useful resource.

"I haven't really used it. I haven't been on it since last semester," she said, adding that "it could be very helpful if everyone was on it."

Zetar said that professors probably won't have a problem with their students using these services.

"I think professsors would think that they are a great study tool."

Aaron Foo '11, also a registered member of StudyBlue, agreed that using note-sharing networks is not unethical, but also not particularly helpful.

"I don't think it's the best for students to share notes online," Foo said, "because the process of making your own notes helps you to synthesize the information from class and strengthens your understanding of the material."


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