Popular websites and study tools like Chegg and Course Hero have been a saving grace for many students’ grades. But these online tools have opened the door to a world of trouble that students may be unaware of.
Beyond normal repercussions for cheating and honor code violations, students can be sued for sharing course content violating copyright laws.
David Berkovitz, Chapman University professor, filed a lawsuit March 10 against unknown students for posting his exam prompts on Course Hero, a subscription-based website where students share content from their college classes, according to The Washington Post.
Berkovitz’s lawyer, Marc Hankin, told The Washington Post the professor is not trying to bankrupt his students, he just wants to prevent cheating in his class.
This case is the first time Adriana Kanarek, a 21-year-old UF biology junior, has heard legal repercussions can come from posting content on websites.
Kanarek remembers more people using these websites when she was a freshman, but said she doesn't know too many people who use them now.
In one of her physics classes in the Fall, a professor found a student posting the answers online during the exam, which ended with serious consequences for the student, she said.
If a student is accused of violating UF’s Honor Code policy, they have to attend an honor court hearing where a panel decides the student’s consequence.
Kanarek believes people who post content on sites probably are aware of repercussions for cheating.
“If more people knew that suing was a possibility, there would be less of it or people would try to go under different domains and still try to do it but in a hidden demeanor,” she said.
Users’ identities are protected under their privacy policies, Jamie Soper, Course Hero spokesperson, wrote in an email. Course Hero must receive a subpoena before releasing any information, like the names of users posting the infringing content, to the copyright holder.
The website uses an advanced filtering technology to identify, prevent and remove known infringing content on their platform, Soper wrote.
“Course Hero does not tolerate copyright infringement of any kind and employs a range of preventative measures, investigation and enforcement policies,” she wrote. “Our policies include swift content removal, prevention of infringing content being reuploaded to the platform and removing repeat offenders.”
It is no secret that exams, homework and study materials tend to make their way to these websites, said Alex Angerhofer, a UF chemistry professor.
“I think you almost expect that sort of thing,” Angerhofer said. “It’s part of the educational environment that we live in.”
Professors encourage their students to use outside resources, but cheating is never tolerated, he said.
To Angerhofer, cheating doesn’t pay off. When students do cheat it doesn’t end up improving their grade, he said. It may get them an A, but they don’t learn the material and cannot apply it.
“In the end I think there is some karma out there that if you do that, you eventually will have to pay the price,” Angerhofer said.
Cheating is expected, said Steven Noll, a UF history professor. However, the internet and the requirement that professors must post their syllabi and textbooks makes it far easier to do so, he said. Because the syllabi are available to the public, information about the classes is easier to find.
The Chapman University professor’s aggressive action to try and prevent sites like Course Hero from violating the integrity of classes is good, Noll said.
With classes more commonly structured for an online setting due to the pandemic, Noll said, cheating and websites like Course Hero have become a greater problem because courses are becoming more like public record.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s more of a problem …[on] the student end,” he said. “I think it’s more of a problem from the administrative, governmental end.”
It becomes a question of who owns the coursework, he said.
Noll created an online version of American History since 1877, a common general education requirement for UF Online. Even though he crafted the class, he was told UF owns it.
In his case, Noll wasn’t allowed to copyright his course, whereas the Chapman University professor did have the rights to his class. This demonstrates the difference between a public and private university, he said.
“I think that public universities have to behold governmental issues,” he said. “At some level the assumption is that you are, as a state employee, responsible not only to your students but also the state of Florida.”
Contact Elena Barrera at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family.