As we are watched and surveilled by those around us — is cheating in plan sight a clever plan against the purpose of the Panopticon — or do we need to pretend online “study aids” are really helpful to the soul and not deceitful against the mind?
Is a “community of learning” or is it just a chance to cheat better in class at $9.95 a month for access to all the answers?

What do you make of “Course Hero’s” claim of being a “learning network” with it 3.5 million “articles” uploaded by students across 425,000 courses and over 3,7500 institutions?  According to the New York Times, uploaded material includes notes from lectures, study guides, student presentations, lab results, research papers, essays and other homework assignments.

Perhaps you’d like to see the grade distribution graph on Koofers to indicate which classes are “easier” to take than others?

SparkNotes — from Barnes and Noble, no less — claims to have a higher purpose for higher learning by helping you study.  To my eye, SparkNotes looks like a waystation for getting easy answers.  You search without needing to think. 

I once had a student who copied and pasted an entire section from SparkNotes and claimed the analysis as his own.  When I confronted him with his plagiarism, he did not understand the problem and was shocked — SHOCKED! — when I reported him to the Dean’s office for cheating.

When we do not draw a bright line between cheating and honest learning, we create the worst of us for imitation and propagation the world over.  We become spiritually lazy and intellectually uncurious and when we can merely “look up” the answers instead of thinking about them to divine the truth, then we lose our moral consciousness and our ethical creativity and our future ability to problem solve is muddled by commerce meddling in the necessary human process of learning from our mistakes.  


  1. Whatever happened to genuine learning? I’m glad that I can say that I learned not a single thing from SparkNotes or ClifNotes or any other sort of cheating device like that.

  2. Gordon —
    Right! Those cheating services are there to dissuade students from learning and into just memorization. There is no understanding in the evidence of rote. We need to be nimble thinkers to help each other understand the world around us.

  3. Maybe one of the first things student should learn in university is that “memorization is not learning” 🙂

  4. That is one of the first things I try to teach, Gordon. Even in the theatre just memorizing is not enough. Anyone can memorize. Few people can actively apply their memory in the live instance.

  5. In light of the fact that school (at least here in TX) will be starting up shortly, the timliness of finding this article is excellent! I do often wonder what has happened to what Gordon so aptly refers to as genuine learning. I think as a parent & lifelong learner myself, it is disheartening to know that we are enabling people to “cheat” so much easier now & almost making it harder to actually learn something on your own accord. Do we not want to encourage our students (if we are educators), our children (as parents) & for me, being in sales & training people in my day job, to learn on their own? Even with as much training as I conduct, I find that only a small few want to actually learn how to sell products; others would just prefer to call me on my mobile & have me do the selling for them…& if I do that, I am not doing them any favors or helping them to learn…so I don’t let them have an out. They need to learn & apply that knowledge in a real life situation just as my son needs to genuninely “learn” for himself. Have we become so lazy in our quest for the easy way out that we no longer wish to learn?

  6. I think you’re on to something. I don’t think most people have a lifelong yearning to learn — they just want to be told what they need to know and what they should think. That sort of blind obedience to power is not only condescending, but dangerous to free thought in society.

Comments are closed.