While Ryerson professor Andrew McWilliams was browsing online, he found his own lecture notes available to read and download.
“The notes were identical to those I had distributed to every student registered in those courses through the respective course Blackboard sites,” said McWilliams, who teaches chemistry. “I contacted the company, identified myself as the professor in charge of the courses in question and asked the materials to be removed.”
McWilliams found the notes on OneClass, a website that allows students to sell lecture notes and exams online for credits. Users can pay credits to access other notes or redeem their credits for gift cards. OneClass, which launched in 2011, has over 20,000 new users per month and more than 250,000 student users.
Kevin Wu, the website’s co-owner, said that OneClass does not allow any non-student work on the site. Several professor-prepared test solutions and lecture notes, however, can be found on the site — including a 2006 York University final exam for Computer Use: Fundamentals, with the correct answers in bold.
“We don’t allow any exam solutions, PowerPoint slides, assignments, solutions. People can post it on the site, but if we do get any complaints or things like that, then we’ll take it down right away,” Wu said. “There are a few hundred thousand documents on the site, so obviously one gets through here and there.”
According to Wu, the site creates a platform for students to post their notes and, in turn, be able to read other students’ notes. Students receive 15 credits for lecture notes, 24 for textbook notes and 36 for exam study guides. They can cash in 800 credits for a $10 gift card at stores such as H&M, Starbucks, Best Buy and Amazon.
If professors see their notes online, they can send OneClass an email and it will be taken down within 24 hours, Wu said. There is also a flag option that automatically notifies the site to take a look at the specific document.
Prof. Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar first found out about the website when she saw OneClass workers handing out business cards in front of the library last week.
“I have a concern with students posting their notes because their interpretation isn’t always correct. Like what they’ve written down from what I’ve said is not always accurate so that’s a problem,” said Hernandez-Ramdwar, a sociology and Caribbean studies professor. “If you’re willing to pay to get something that you didn’t actually work for then that means that you probably didn’t put in the hard work.”
Giselle Basanta, director of Ryerson’s academic integrity office, said that Ryerson’s Student Code of Academic Misconduct does not specifically mention buying notes online, but there are still issues involved.
“If an instructor has in their course outline that a document in RAMSS is to be used only for their course (private domain) and a student willfully chooses to break that rule, Policy 60 may be engaged,” Basanta said.
Policy 60 defines copyright infringement and plagiarism, as well as the penalties for academic misconduct — infractions that are “not accepted by any university,” Basanta said.
Nursing professor Corinne Hart said she would be very upset if she found her own notes online.
“I have a problem with students posting things that teachers have posted for their students and then making them publicly available without their knowledge,” Hart said. “I have a big problem with students taking my notes or my PowerPoints and posting it on those kinds of places.”
However, not all professors care about their notes being shared online.
“I’m not necessarily against students sharing notes or exams,” said first-year economics assistant professor, German Pupato. “You have to be realistic: In this day and age, it’s so hard to control the flow of information.
And that applies to exams, notes, photos, anything. As professors, we should be aware of this. Even if we don’t like it, we should anticipate it.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 9, 2014.