Schoology Web site pays students to upload lecture notes

Photo Illustration by Aaron Facemire

Photo Illustration by Aaron Facemire

By Phil Collins

Whatever your major may be, there are some things about classes you can’t get around. Note-taking is done in different ways – with a keyboard, with a pen or there could even be a highlighter involved. In any case, notes are taken all around campus in a wide variety of subjects. What if all those notes could be compiled into one resource available to all students?

That is the basic idea behind the new Web site schoology.com, which was launched last month by four students at Washington University in St. Louis. The site pays students to upload their notes and allows other students to download them free of charge.

“We tried to come up with a collaborative environment to bring together students and teachers in an online venue where they can find academic resources to their specific needs,” said Jeremy Friedman, junior at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder of schoology.com.

The site allows users to search through all the uploaded notes or to filter them by school. Schoology uses 90 percent of its advertising revenue to pay students for uploading their notes, rather than paying them by charging other students to download those notes. The amount a student receives is determined by how many times his notes are downloaded.

“There are a lot of Web sites out there that will pay you for your documents but then they make you pay to see them,” said Ryan Hwang, junior at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder of schoology.com.

Users can also register as tutors and set a rate by the minute. Friedman said that about one in five users on the site is also registered as a tutor. Schoology has users at more than 60 colleges across the country. The site also makes money by taking a cut of what the tutors earn on the site. While anyone can register to be a tutor, users can talk with the tutors before they decide if they want to pay for their services.

“All the chat sessions start for free … there’s no way you’ll be charged unless you specifically click the ‘hire’ button,” Friedman said.

Mike Deck, a freshman at Northwestern University, is registered as a tutor on schoology.com. He is a math major and has tutored people in math and reading at the Kumon Learning Center in Des Plaines, Ill. However, he said he has logged on to Schoology a few times without finding anyone else logged on.

“Once more people start hearing about it I think it will become more popular,” Deck said.

The founders of Schoology are trying to listen to suggestions from their users as much as possible. The site is still in beta mode, so it is being updated often and some suggestions from users have been implemented. Friedman said the site has been redesigned three or four times to make it easier to use.

“We want to make it as user friendly as possible, and we’re trying to create features for everyone who is using it,” Hwang said.

This covers the spectrum of note uploaders and downloaders, tutors and even some teachers. However, not everyone is sold on the idea of using notes uploaded by other students.

“I probably wouldn’t download notes from it just because I would question the reliability,” said Casey Meyer, senior in LAS. “You don’t know specifically where it’s coming from, and stuff changes so fast from semester to semester that I would worry that teachers would make just subtle enough changes that the notes might be obsolete.”

She said she has used and trusts Web sites like Ebay and half.com, and that her concern with a site like Schoology would not be with the monetary transactions, but with the quality of the content. If the site comes into wide use on campus, she said it could have both positive and negative effects.

“Anytime you get something like that, it sort of increases the net knowledge that can be found,” Meyer said. “I do think there is something to be said for going to class, I mean taking your own notes.”

Friedman said the site is hard on plagiarism, and they monitor the notes for obviously lifted material. Eventually they want the site to be a ground for students and teachers to further participate in the learning process.

“We’re hoping to kind of bridge the gap between what’s being learned inside the classroom and what’s being learned outside the classroom,” Friedman said.