Taking notes in class can be a pain. You know how it goes: your teacher might have a really thick accent, handouts might be too difficult to understand, or there might just be more pressing issues to attend to (like finishing up your tutorial for the following class).
Even when you do successfully manage to scribble down some of the stuff your professor is saying, you just know that you’ll dread looking through them again later, because they might be too messy for you to want to attempt reading them at all. One platform, StudySoup, wants to make this, a thing of the past.
What StudySoup Is About
You know how there’s always that one person in class who makes the best notes? Or the one who always manages to spot the right topics for the exams? Yup, these people — as well as other regular (read: struggling) students like the rest of us — are kind of the reason for StudySoup’s existence.
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Initially launched in the US by founders Sieva Kozinsky and Jeff Silverman, the website calls itself a “peer-to-peer learning marketplace”. It essentially allows students to post their study materials on the platform, while those seeking help can download these notes. But that’s not all: those who share their notes on the platform stand to earn money from it, while those who need help must pay for the notes they download.
The best notetakers are invited by StudySoup to become Elite Notetakers, which means they earn more from each set of notes they share. StudySoup takes a 50% cut of the earnings, which goes towards the running and maintenance of the site. Currently, they already have about 120,000 users on their platform, and are active in about 80 campuses — pretty impressive, considering they only launched in March 2014. Charlie Cohn, Head of Marketing at StudySoup, also revealed to Vulcan Post that the platform is becoming more popular in Asia, especially Singapore.
How To Buy Notes
The process is simple enough for notetakers: upload notes that you make for yourself, and stand to get paid each time someone downloads them. Buyers of notes, on the other hand, are required to sign up for membership before they can download notes: membership fees range from US$11 to US$32 per month, during which students can download up to six sets of notes. Additional notes can be purchased at US$8 per set.
What Singaporean University Students Think
I’ll admit: I did have my doubts when I first came across StudySoup. While I do see the value of such a platform, I did also wonder if this was a somewhat unethical way of earning money — almost like taking advantage of another individual’s need for help to make money off of them. But before dishing out judgement on the platform, I decided to find out more from Charlie himself.
“StudySoup helps empower students to make money while participating in the educational process. Students have bought, sold, and shared notes as long as they have been taking them. Our site gives them a platform to help more students and get paid for doing it…It helps great notetakers get paid for what they are already doing, and helps students that struggle get help,” he explained.
It’s a fair enough point, and if I were to think of StudySoup from the point of a less well-to-do student, I do see how it could go a long way towards helping them cover a portion of their tuition fees. That said, I’m (sadly) no longer an undergrad, so I reached out to a couple of students in local Singapore universities to ask what they thought.
One student, J, said: “It actually seems more like a knockoff plus more expensive version of MOOC courses? I only previewed the NUS material science one…but it seems like it’s mostly notes copied directly from lectures so it doesn’t seem super helpful if you’re already in that module.”
This, of course, is a legitimate concern, though it is a problem that will likely be solved as more students from local universities get on board to provide better quality notes. J also conceded that StudySoup “could help students who need extra income”, though she raised concerns over “ethical issues about intellectual property…Since it’s essentially profiting from the prof’s material.”
Likewise, another student, S, shared that a platform like StudySoup “does go against the spirit of sharing notes with our peers for free, out of the intention to help them rather than trying to earn money. And it might also shut out less financially able students, though I don’t think this will be a significant problem, unless the notes are so beneficial to the extent that they can really pull up your grades.”
And while she did like the concept behind StudySoup, she felt “there’s always potential for the platform to be abused.”
In response, Charlie shared an excerpt from an article on this very issue: “Instructors have almost no intellectual property rights to what students write down in class, he said. Faculty members may have intellectual property in the books they write, articles they publish and even possibly in the lecture notes they write for themselves, but students own the copyright on their own notes.”
It seems the debate surrounding platforms like StudySoup is still pretty heated, with a lot of grey area surrounding the concept behind it. I myself continue to have some reservations about such platforms, though it is hard to discount the benefits that come along with a website like StudySoup. Experience has taught me that getting help at higher levels of education can be tough, so when a site extends a helping hand, it’s unlikely that anyone will turn them down.
120,000 students can’t be wrong, after all.