On Sept. 1, Binghamton University Provost Donald Nieman sent out a message to the student body concerning the purchasing of class notes from online sources, such as OneClass, Course Hero and StudyBlue.
The memo discouraged students from using these online, third-party note vendors, which pay student note-takers to compose comprehensive outlines and notes during class lectures and then resell those notes to other students in the class for their own use.
The message raised two possible problems stemming from the Student Code of Conduct that could impact those using these services.
First, Nieman said that usage of these websites might be a violation of the University’s computing and network policy, especially for those uploading class materials.
“[The policy] explicitly prohibits using University computing resources for private commercial purposes,” Nieman wrote in the statement.
This statement of policy was clarified further by Sharon Pitt, associate vice president and chief information officer.
“The section cited in the memo refers to direct use of institutional computing resources, such as using University-owned computers for private commercial purposes or financial gain, hosting a commercial website using the information resources of the University, or selling network access,” Pitt wrote in an email. “Incidental use… is generally not an issue.”
This rule is subject to a degree of interpretation from University administration, since “commercial use” is a broad term that could potentially cover many things. The University reserves the right to decide what qualifies as unauthorized use of BU computing resources.
Specifically, Pitt noted, students are permitted to sell their personal possessions using the University’s network.
“Selling items on e-bay is not a concern,” Pitt wrote.
The other regulation that Nieman implied was that OneClass users may be in violation of is copyright and intellectual property issues.
“Violations of educational fair use in copyright of course materials may be involved, especially where those materials or faculty intellectual property are reproduced or copyright materials extensively quoted,” Nieman wrote.
Despite these statements, administrators say that no decision has been made on whether to punish those who violate these rules by using note-sharing websites.
“The University has not made any decisions about possible punitive action,” Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education and enrollment, wrote in an email. “The University recognizes that there are many valid reasons for classmates to share notes with each other and encourages collaborative learning in academically responsible ways.”
Loewen also noted that different classes and disciplines may have different standards for what qualifies as acceptable use regarding copyright.
“Since the nature of acceptable collaboration may vary across disciplines, instructors typically provide guidance to students in their courses about appropriate collaboration activities,” Loewen wrote.
According to Kevin Wu, a co-founder of OneClass, his company does not allow any copyrighted material on its website and promptly removes any content which violates its rules or any laws.
“Since the inception of OneClass, we have always had an established formal procedure in place for dealing with any complaints which allows us to expediently address and remove any offending content,” Wu wrote in an email.
Wu added that his company does not market its services as a replacement for classroom attendance, but as a supplement.
“We wholeheartedly agree that study guides and notes alone cannot provide a guarantee for students’ academic success,” Wu wrote. “While OneClass may provide an expansive list of supplementary content and helpful exam study material … we strongly encourage students to attend all classes as that is an essential part of every student’s college experience.”