The Study Blues: Where Using Online Study Materials Can Go Wrong


It is 11:42 p.m.

You’re racing against the clock to get this assignment at 11:59 PM. You figured you won’t procrastinate like that again, but here you are scrambling to complete your homework as if your life depended on it.


The minutes go by faster. You have already factored in the grade you need in this class to get your dream GPA and you are so close. So, in a moment of pure panic, you turn to Google.

When the results show up, you find a source that matches your question perfectly … too perfectly. You click on the link and lo and behold you find not only that question, but your entire assignment. Copy. Pastry.

11:58 p.m.

With confidence and guilt, you hit Submit.

This research is where it all goes wrong, according to those who enforce Arizona State University’s policies of academic dishonesty.

Study websites like Studyblue, Course Hero, Chegg and others make documents with all homework or test answers easily accessible to students with one click.

Confidential information that looks like contraband often appears in student search engine queries, linking them to sites that appear to be legitimate study tools.

Something about these “study sites” always struck me as wrong, and I was determined to figure out what it was. So I started with my most basic question: is it illegal for students to share the exact answers of the course materials on a website?

Legal issue

The short answer is “yes,” Kimberly Holst, ASU Law School professor, told me over the phone.

“It’s certainly possible that a student could get in trouble with the law,” says Holst.

Technically, a teacher or school could own the copyright in the material, and if that information is posted online without consent, it is copyright infringement, she says.

“Under copyright protections, the person who creates the work controls how the work is disseminated,” says Holst.

However, schools probably wouldn’t go so far as to continue, she said.

Schools usually have their own ways of handling cases and suing a student would be a longer and more expensive process, says Holst.

So the. My job was done, right?

Wrong. Maybe I got an answer to my original question, but now I wanted to dig deeper into the issue and find out what schools and students had to say about using study sites for college courses.


To answer the question of how schools respond to the use of these sites, I turned to two ASU schools: the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

“Sites like Course Hero were presented to the Cronkite board because students saw it as study material,” Mark Lodato, deputy dean of the Cronkite School, told me, adding that there is a big difference between students referring to material for ideas on format and approach versus students submitting copies as if they were their own.

As Deputy Dean of Cronkite, he also chairs the school’s standards committee.

Although Lodato could not give me specific information on the cases, he says the majority of cases at Cronkite School “come down to the point where students feel they are under pressure and have not. other options ”.

But, on average, Lodato says the Cronkite school sees few instances of academic dishonesty.

“We are fortunate that Cronkite’s academic integrity policy is very clear, so we see very few instances of academic dishonesty,” he says.

This contrasts with the 250 to 300 cases Assistant Dean Brian Skromme says he estimates the Fulton School has per year. In his position as Assistant Dean, Skromme deals with all cases of academic dishonesty that go through the Fulton School.

With his hands crossed on the small conference table in his office, Skromme tells me that his rule of thumb is that exchanging electronic files between students is bad and is the first wrong path. Sending emails, sharing a USB drive, borrowing information from a friend’s laptop, and even using study sites to share material are all included in her. general rule, he said.

“You have to be careful to protect your own interests because sometimes you might facilitate something,” Skromme says, adding that it doesn’t matter if it was intentional or not.

Fulton School, he tells me, has even recalled people after graduation because their work was being used inappropriately – sometimes knowingly and sometimes after their work was stolen from something like an online portfolio.

“If you post something on a public site, it’s like walking through a public mall, handing out copies of your work to everyone you see,” he says with a chuckle.

Typically, Skromme says that if they know that copyrighted information, such as an exam or review guide, is on a website, the school will contact the website and ask. that they are deleted.

“Most sites will comply if they receive a notice of copyright infringement,” he said.

To use or not to use

When asked how students should use these sites, if at all, the two associate deans told me that students should be careful.

“These sites are dangerous for students if they are misused,” Lodato told me.

He says from his experience, most students realize that the use of the information on these sites is wrong, but ignore the sentiment.

“Students need to recognize their intuition and say ‘wait a minute, it’s time to take a step back,” says Lodato. “Nothing will derail their college careers faster than crossing that line. “

Skromme says he thinks the best way for students to stay out of trouble with study websites is to avoid them altogether.

“Our biggest concern is not prosecuting students, we are more concerned with academic integrity.”

Skromme says the school encourages students to help each other learn, because that’s one of the best ways to learn.

“Our motto in engineering is that engineering is a team sport, because no one succeeds completely alone in engineering school – it’s extremely rare. “

The slots

I was fortunate enough to speak to a representative from Chegg, a website that sells study tools, tutor help, and student textbooks, to clarify exactly what the website expects from its users. .

User Liberman, vice president of communications for Chegg, says there are two sides to the Chegg study.

The first facet is help with textbooks.

“The right way to think of this is as a study guide and an aid in learning and mastering the materials,” says Liberman.

You can get an answer anywhere, but Chegg’s study is supposed to help you figure out how to actually fix the problem, he says.

The second part of the Chegg study is an expert question-and-answer session where students can query a database of more than 7 million answers and get solutions immediately, almost all the time, says Liberman. And even if the question isn’t in the database, students can expect a response in around 4 hours, he added.

“But again, this shouldn’t be used for doing your homework,” he says. “It should be used to help you understand the problem and how to fix it. “

Of their one million subscribers, Chegg receives very few complaints of academic dishonesty per year, says Liberman.

Course Hero and Studyblue did not respond to my requests for comment.


Alex Lee, a sophomore electrical engineering student at ASU, uses Chegg every day for textbook solutions.

“I practice and then check the solution on Chegg,” he said. “Studyblue has flashcards, so I use them to review my final exam. “

Lee pays accounts at the three main sites – Chegg, Studyblue, and CourseHero – and says they are important resources for his studies.

Other ASU students, like Michael Du, a freshman in computer science, don’t frequently use the sites themselves, but know other people who do.

Du says he knows “a lot” of people who use the sites as a crutch rather than a tool in high school.

“I guess this will continue (at the university),” he said.

Alex Salaices, an interdisciplinary studies junior at ASU, told me that he doesn’t use the sites after using one and was asked to pay for a subscription.

But according to him, students don’t even have to visit a site to be invited to register.

“In one of my classes, we get spam from an ‘official note taker’,” Salaices said, putting quotes around the sentence. “But she really works for StudySoup and wants you to subscribe.”

Salaices says some of her classmates might come to terms with this, but probably only at the last minute, the day before an exam.


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