Course Hero - The Study Site that's a Pyramid Scheme?

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The original discovery of this little gem goes to one of my Harrisburg colleagues who learned about it from an instructor. The site in question is Course Hero or "An Open Online Study Community", but note how the home page features quizzes, exam solutions and homework answers along with some actual lecture notes. Yes, I am a little paranoid especially since I have seen many suspicious study aids over the years.

But, since this was a new model, I thought I should investigate. First, I was interested to see that you can use your Facebook account to log in - I knew there was a reason to sign up. Once you log in, you can create a study profile identifying course number and instructor (presumably to find other online study mates). You can also enter in textbook information by ISBN-13 number (always get a textbook for class).

The interesting part happens when you click the Search button. At that point you find out that you have to "upgrade to a standard account" to view search results, and it offers several ways to do so. The first way is to upload your "study aid documents first" (5 for 1 month's access, 50 for unlimited access); the second is to invite your Facebook or AIM buddies (50 friends for one month or 200 friends for one year); or thirdly you could pay a monthly fee. And this is where I feel that "pyramid scheme" applies, because to avoid paying a fee you have to contribute resources (content or people), but if your friends want to avoid paying, they have to find more friends or content...or else. The only thing missing is your cut of the profits (although presumably you will have access to an ever-growing set of resources, possibly forever.

This model is interesting, and it probably works, but I would be leery of joining any service before I had gotten a chance to really look at the search results first. For one thing, I was seriously considering uploading 5 junk documents just to get an in-depth view of my hypothetical search results, and I may not be the only person with this idea. Even worse, I could have "joined" only to find that my search results were empty AFTER I uploaded/paid/sucked in friends. Seems like a real rip-off to me.

The other questionable aspect, of course, is the posting of exam and homework solutions. Hmmm. Sample tests can be helpful study tools...if the instructor chooses to post them, but since the sources on the homepage are set to "anonymous", I'm not sure the instructor is posting anything. Which is where another colleague mentioned copyright issues.

But I suspect that Course Hero is structured like YouTube in that they let users post anything they want and wait for any take-down notices to arrive at their doorstep (I'm sure it's all stated in the user agreement somewhere). In the meantime, all the solutions are available to you under a "Creative Commons" license...assuming that you ever get access to them.

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