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At first glance, the academic ethics of “social learning networks” are on shaky ground. Phrases like “student-uploaded class content” conjure up images of answer sheets and tests ready-to-print.  For StudyBlue.com users, though, the idea is to make studying so easy that cheating just isn’t worth the effort.

StudyBlue.com grew out of the summer project of two students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  With the help of their university and their fellow students, by 2008 the humble site was a full-fledged social network, aiming to “help students study more efficiently.”

The site has a range of users from high school students to college professors, with a strong bias towards undergraduate students.

Users have access to:

  • Notes: flashcards & all kinds of class materials
  • Tutor and Study Group Listings
  • Study Outlines for Popular Textbooks
  • Individual Classes Information: professor’s name, textbook, location and time
  • Study Scheduler:
    • Set an exam deadline and choose the flashcards you wish to study from, and the site creates a study schedule for the student to follow, which is further enforced by email reminders.

The site’s main strength is in its student-provided content, which all comes under the general header of “notes.”  By far the most popular of these are the flashcards, which can be automatically made from the textbook outlines or created by the students themselves.

These flashcards can be kept private, shared with other designated users, or added to the common pool.  Like their physical namesake, these cards can be assembled into “decks,” which can be sorted out, discarded, or merged with other decks as needs change.  Once one’s deck is assembled, it can be printed out, or saved to study online.

Other notes vary by class, but can include lecture notes, scanned handouts, essays, reports, presentations, and, of course, tests.

Signing up is free and easy—links to the registration form are available on every page.  Anyone can search the note library, but only users can actually access and read the files.  Many of the cooler features – such as downloading notes, printing them, merging card decks, and the Study Reminders – are available on a trial basis.  They’ll be reserved for Premium (paying) users come the Fall 2009 semester.

In an effort to encourage uploading material, the site has tested a reward system: in the 2008-2009 academic year, materials were ranked by popularity, and those that had uploaded the best information were given cash rewards.   It proved so popular that content “tripled…  [within] six weeks,” and the blog hints that this will continue in some form next term.

StudyBlue.com is a resource, and as with any resource there is the opportunity for misuse. It’s certainly possible that a determined cheater might search through the massive amount of material on StudyBlue.com and use it on a crib sheet.  On the other hand, a professor could use the uploading rates and popularity figures as real-time feedback on students’ comprehension.

Written By: Susan Craft-Rendon, Japanese Major, ASSETT Staff