Online lecture sites cause angst in academia

by Amit Anand | 4/5/00 5:00am

Going to class is so last century. After all, what's the use of getting up early and walking across campus when you can get the lecture notes with a few simple clicks of a mouse?

Sounds too good to be true? Not if you're one of the many thousands of students across the country, including many at Ivy League schools, using sites such as, and, that post notes online.

Of course, that's not what the sites are for, at least according to the companies who run them. According to the website, the notes are meant to fill in the gaps in their own notes; clarify points that they may have missed; gel their own thoughts.", part of the network, has a similar message on its website.

The main controversy, however, has not been that students will stop going to class because of the free notes available online -- although that has been of concern to many people -- but rather that the notes posted on these sites may have been obtained without permission from the professors., the leader in this market segment, employs about 5,000 student note-takers for about 7,000 classes at over 150 colleges and universities, Janet Cardinell, director of university relations at, told The Dartmouth.

In most cases, students -- who are paid between 8 and 12 dollars a lecture -- post their notes within 24 hours of the lecture. Some professors feel that their classroom materials are being plagiarized.

Although professors nationwide have expressed concern over whether sites like should be allowed to post lecture notes, the controversy came under the media spotlight recently after Yale University issued a cease and desist order to the company, demanding that it remove all notes from courses offered at Yale.

The demand at Yale came after Princeton University's decision in the fall to send a campus-wide e-mail reminding students of the university's policy that students may not sell or publish lecture notes after began recruiting students at the school, according to a recent article that appeared in The Daily Princetonian. insists that it has strict guidelines for what can be posted on the site, and that the company does not tolerate copyright violations.

"We have a very stringent plagiarism policy. Any material that the professor submits or puts on his website is not to be copied," Cardinell said. However, the company argues that taking notes on a lecture and placing them on the Internet is no clear violation of copyright laws. CEO Oran Wolf made a similar statement, telling The Dartmouth that the company's policy regarding plagiarism is "pretty clearly stated in our manual." Asked about whether had received any complaints from professors, Wolf said the company had received some complaints during the fall, but the number trailed off this term.

Once it is determined that a student has violated the company's guidelines, the student is no longer allowed to work for, Cardinell said. According to the company's website, "If we ever determine that a note taker is plagiarizing a professor or any other source, or is not providing material befitting Versity standards, they are replaced with a more suitable student."

Asked about how many note takers had actually been removed because of violation of this guideline, Cardinell said "information regarding the performance of individual note takers is confidential."

Cardinell also pointed out that's relationship with professors is good in many cases. While she would not give the number of professors that had contacted the company with concerns, she said some professors had actually promoted the company on their own websites.

Cardinell noted that the company makes an active effort to talk with professors and reach a consensus when a problem arises.

Dartmouth's Dean of the Faculty Edward Berger said that despite the recent controversy, sites such as have not been brought up as a concern at the College.

"So far this hasn't even come up on my radar screen," he said. "I haven't heard any faculty members mention it at any of our meetings."

Berger did acknowledge that Dartmouth is not fully prepared to deal with situations dealing with the role of technology in academia, but said he hopes that more discussion on the subject would cause the College to form a committee to look into the subject.

To work for, students can either apply online at the website, or through campus managers. They must attend a series of orientations that train them how to take notes and pass a test in order to work for the company. also lets students apply online, as well through a campus representative.

Students are often attracted by the seemingly-simple job and the high incomes that many of the sites promise., for example, offers 400 dollars a course to note takers, while, another site that offers notes, promises up to 1,000 dollars a term. Students are considered independent contractors by the firms, and the notes that they submit become the company's property. and both prohibit their note takers from selling their notes to other sites. When asked how the company regulates that policy,'s Cardinell responded that "we evaluate the note takers internally. We also look at the different sites."

Both sites offer more than just notes on their website. provides study guides and book notes, which are outsourced, Wolf said. offers practice exams, which the company obtains through a partner.

In spite of the recent controversy, both companies are going full steam ahead with their expansion plans. is experimenting with various different revenue models, according to Cardinell. Some of the ones currently being tested include subscriptions for students and working more closely with professors, perhaps even paying them for services.

Whether sites like, and will be successful in the long run is yet to be seen, but no one can doubt their continually-expanding influence on campuses nationwide.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!