October 23, 2007

Site Lets Students Share Classwork

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The advent of online networking and creations such as YouTube and Wikipedia have started to change the way in which information is shared. Just as user-contribution based Wikipedia forced the academic world into rethinking how information is gathered and dispelled, the student website, TheCollege­Freeway.com, may force the scholastic world to rethink how it educates.
TheCollegeFreeway.com, launched by Andrew Grauer ’09 and fellow Cornellians in September of this year, makes student contributed papers, tests and study guides available online. Much like Wikipedia or YouTube, the site relies heavily on user-based contributions and follows guidelines in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to remove materials violating copyright laws.
Like any other open-sourced site, attracting contributors can be a problem. Michael Mouton ’10 stated that he would unlikely contribute to the site as he does not take notes via a laptop and sees no incentive in taking the time to scan and submit his notes. Acknowledging this problem, Grauer stated, “Only 5 percent of those who use a site contribute to it” but also said, “you only need 1 person in a 100-person lecture to contribute.”
The website would not only facilitate peer-to-peer learning but would also allow Cornell faculty members, if they so chose to contribute, to reach a broader audience than they would using Blackboard, an online course management system controlled by course instructors. Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley already make videotaped lectures available online, and TheCollegeFreeway.com is something that would simply “further the idea of universal education,” according to Grauer. But unlike Blackboard, there are no restrictions on who can contribute or what can be contributed to the website, which raises concerns of academic integrity. Mike Chen, study skills coordinator at the Learning Strategies Center, pointed to issues surrounding archiving old tests.
Instructors generally “don’t let people keep tests and archive them,” he said. According to Chen, the site has the “potential for the furthering of mistrust” that faculty members have toward online educational tools, but adds “in of itself, [the site ] is not a problem.”
“We don’t want to promote cheating,” Grauer said, but acknowledged that “we’re not going to be naïve about it.” According to Grauer, the goal is to make the site as legitimate an education resource as possible. “We want to make it attractive to teachers … We want it to be clean so people will want to contribute.” Mouton agreed that concerns of plagiarism would prevent him from contributing to the site. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my papers on [the site ].”
Although the notion of an open sourced website may lead to copyright infringements and make questionable the academic quality of its online materials, Grauer said the consequences accrued from minimizing restrictions on the website’s contributions are worth bearing.
“If we put restrictions on contributions, yes we’ll feel comfortable, but how fast will this grow?” He drew an analogy between the successful growth of Wikipedia as compared to other online encyclopedias.
Wikipedia, which is now the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, according to Prof. Roy Rosenzweig, history and new media, George Mason University, has been found by some studies to be no less accurate than its more restricted counterparts.