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Web Changing How College Students Study

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
May 18, 2009

Web sites such as Cramster.com are assisting college students with homework, but some educators worry that utilizing the sites encourages cheating.

The New York Times reports that the Internet has revolutionized the way undergraduates study. On CourseHero.com, for example, students can type in a college name and course number to access exams and research papers from previous semesters. Similarly, Cramster provides step-by-step solutions to math and science textbook problems.

Some college officials are voicing concerns about the trend. Teddi Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity--part of the Rutland Institute for Ethics at Clemson University--noted that with regards to CourseHero, "There are professors who don't change their questions from semester to semester, and one of the things that this raises is how problematic that is." Fishman also pointed out that such Web sites don't allow students to struggle and practice independently, which prevents them from learning effectively.

But David J. Kim, president and chief executive officer of CourseHero, noted that the company essentially aims to create online study groups. "A student may know one or two people in their class," he said, "but we wanted to provide an online community where you could connect with students from different colleges studying the same subject."

Kim remarked that the site, which offers three million student-submitted items from 400,000 courses at more than 3,500 schools, has hundreds of thousands of registered users.

In addition to providing answers to problems from textbooks, Cramster allows users to submit questions to any of the site's 3,000 experts, who are rated for quality like sellers on eBay and Amazon. But Aaron Hawkey, the site's chief executive officer, admitted that students could easily abuse the system.

"Let's say I have a take-home test," he said. "We had one incident where someone posted a question on our site that was the same one on an exam."

Nevertheless, students at the State University of New York at Buffalo are increasingly turning to Cramster for study help, reports The Spectrum, the institution's student-run publication. "I'm in engineering, so it's a lot of technical and math questions," said Eric Jongsma, a sophomore. "The way I learn best is by doing a lot of problems. I can do a problem on Cramster and look up the answer. I use it more as a study tool."

Jongsma, who was also interviewed by The Times, noted that ultimately students cannot rely on the Web site to help them pass courses-a fact he learned after repeatedly copying problem solutions from Cramster for homework without fully understanding the methods. "When it came to the test, I tried to learn multiple chapters at the last minute," he said. "I failed the test."

Arnd Pralle, assistant professor of physics at UB, remarked that online study sites will probably lead to changes in how homework is assigned. "Rather than using the textbook," he told The Spectrum, "we may have to end up making all our homework ourselves or make our tests worth more points."

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