Unconventional studying doesn’t cheat students

Academia is a survival of the fittest game in which the weak are weeded out by their own deficiencies and the strong succeed by whatever means they can.

We spend an inordinate amount of time staring at incomprehensible textbooks and lecture notes that might prove illegible, all in the name of earning good grades.

Of course, cheating is another  one of those means. More and more it seems that getting grades often isn’t about how to answer questions, rather about how to find the answers.

Over the years, students have discovered new ways of finding the answers they want, from clear-cut cheating — using cell phones during tests — to more hazy forms of academic dishonesty, such as pulling information on Sparknotes and Wikipedia.

Recently, social networking took studying to a whole new level of creativity when recent college graduate-turned-entrepreneur Ryan Stevens launched the website NoteUtopia, a networking site that allows students to buy and sell their old lecture notes, study guides and homework.

The website now faces scrutiny, as the California State University system sent the site a cease-and-desist letter, insisting that the sale of class notes violates the state education code and raises concerns about increasing the number of students that skip classes.

This issue further opened the debate over intellectual property rights on class material created by students.

It is yet to be determined whether or not NoteUtopia will become a groundbreaking Internet phenomenon with noticeable impact on the higher education system, but still highlights an important in the world of higher education.

No matter how many precautions administrators take to prevent cheating, students will always find a way to use technology to bend the rules — it seems that educators have no choice but to accept evolving technology as the reality about how students learn today.

Rather than fight the technology that can enable less-than-ethical study methods, educators should instead structure classes to stress the new skills students need to find answers in this new media age.

Sites such as Sparknotes, Wikipedia and NoteUtopia reflect the rapidly increasing rates at which information is shared — and these trends should be integrated into the classroom, not ignored.

Buying and selling notes and other class materials might seem a dubious practice, but it’s not so different from asking a fellow classmate for the notes in a missed lecture.

The issues of profit and potential widespread ramifications are legitimate causes for concern, but the practice where students seek information to aid them in class for a price is essentially the same as hiring a private tutor or taking extra classes.

University administrators wary of this technology underestimate the work students go through to find creative ways to study, whether that means getting other people’s notes or reviewing example questions from past homework or tests.

Problem solving in the real world requires teamwork and asking around for help to find an answer as efficiently as possible.

Websites like NoteUtopia are just resources that students choose to use; if they help a particular student, all the more power to that student.

In this economy, an academic degree no longer guarantees a job. Employers are not looking for workers who can take tests in multiple-choice, short-answer or essay format.

Ultimately, many employers are not solely impressed with the grades, but rather the skills learned in order to get those grades. Having the ability to find answers creatively by accessing the resources at one’s disposal demonstrates valuable job skills.

Cheating, in theory, means that those who take too many shortcuts in their studies do not gain the necessary knowledge or skills expected of a college graduate.

Of course, in the real world, cheaters often do get the upper hand in society. As unfortunate a reality as that might be, we cannot hinder the sake of progress by restricting technologies that could help many students.

Cheating will not go away, and we can only hope that educators encourage students to learn and try on their own merit rather than take shortcuts.

Ideally, professors want their students to be able to arrive at the solutions to the problems they propose on their own with the material they teach.

But that kind of exclusive relationship neglects to account for how students get a significant amount of their learning outside the classroom.

Sites such as NoteUtopia should not be penalized for their potential ability to act as a substitution for academic work but should rather be utilized for their ability to aid academic achievement.

Educators and students should use available technologies to stress the problem-solving skill sets necessary for the growing demands of this competitive world.

Victor Luo is a senior majoring in English.