Student-friendly Web site simplifies study skills

| Regular Features Editor

Washington University’s Cornerstone Center for Advanced Learning helps students succeed in the classroom: Fellow students submit their notes for each class session in exchange for $80 per credit hour, and students with disabilities are able to collect these notes to be sure they will not miss any class material.

While Cornerstone is a useful and responsible system similar to programs offered at many universities today, what happens when this service is offered to all, publicly? Most college students would probably agree that it is not morally acceptable or academically responsible to have another student go to your classes and take notes for you when you are perfectly able to do the work yourself.

However,, a new Web site sponsored by acclaimed publishing company McGraw-Hill, offers this very service. Students enrolled at colleges and universities across the country are able to upload their notes from any class, which other students can then download for free.

Feedback and even awards or cash prizes are given to students who consistently upload helpful and thorough notes. While this site may serve as an incentive to keep up with classes for some, it may do just the opposite for others. Students who do not intend to contribute notes in hopes of receiving awards and recognition can easily use the site as a class substitute.

As junior Jeffrey Feiereisen said, “It sounds like a good idea, but unless I’m guaranteed to get money I don’t think I’d do it. I’d probably just download stuff.”

According to GradeGuru founder Emily Sawtell, the Web site is designed as a supplement to students’ in-class education, not as a replacement. The success of peer study groups in college communities inspired her to create a worldwide interactive study group online.

Sawtell thought that students could benefit from seeing how others take notes and prepare for tests. Everyone has different study methods and different perspectives —Sawtell hopes to give all students access to these methods and perspectives so that they might complement one another’s resources and increase one another’s understanding of a given course or subject.

Sawtell maintains that rather than giving students an excuse to skip classes, GradeGuru actually gives students a greater incentive to do well.  By seeing how successful students manage their classes, other students can be inspired to be more thoughtful when processing information and taking notes. Not only have students testified to the benefits of being able to use others’ notes, but many students have attested to the advantages of uploading their own notes as well.

Despite the intent of the site’s service, however, Sawtell cannot prevent those who just use the notes to cram for classes they do not attend. With a wealth of resources online, the idea is tempting, as junior Rachel Sperry said: “I’d probably use the notes and not go to class. If their notes are just as good or better than notes I would take myself, then there’s no point in doing it really because I could go online and get better ones.”

The bottom line is that Grade-Guru can easily be taken advantage of by those who want access to class notes without putting in the work, but the site has improved the study skills and academic motivation of many student users. Furthermore, it’s hard to turn down an opportunity to receive $45 in 15 minutes for just passing on some old notes.

Should economy and usefulness win over self-directed learning, or should note-borrowing be seen as a really quiet tutoring service, open and free for all? As the Web site continues to grow with more and more students taking advantage of it, we will soon find out.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.