Building an online academic community

University Junction pools together student materials

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Sharing notes between students across university campuses may become easier thanks to a new website, UniversityJunction.com.

According to the website, UniversityJunction.com provides an “online connection to classmates through academic forums.” The website says it aims to help students complete their coursework more efficiently by allowing students to share what they think is most relevant to each course.

The site was developed by former university students from three Canadian universities and has expanded to 56 campuses across Canada and the United States, Liz Mitchell, communications director for University Junction, explained.

“Our intention is to build a free undergraduate academic community that aggregates freely available, non-copyright academic resources " such as open courseware content" organizes these resources by course, and stimulates academic discussion on our forum,” she said.

Though the concept seems straight forward, there is a major concern related to the site regarding the possibility of copyright infringement.

“Student’s notes are their own original work, but if a verbatim transcription of a professors lecture is uploaded to the website, then it would be copyright infringement,” Samuel Trosow, an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at Western, said.

Mitchell explained the onus to prevent infringement will be placed on the site’s users.

“When a student signs up for UniversityJunction.com, the user is required to abide by our copyright policy [and our] privacy policy states that users are prohibited from uploading, posting or otherwise transmitting any materials that violate another party’s intellectual property rights,” she said.

Another issue regarding sharing notes online is the increasing popularity of skipping class because of online resources.

“While many professors post their notes online, students still miss out on a large portion of their education,” John Barnett, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Western, said. “However, when technology is used properly, it can have a positive impact on the educational process.

“I have noticed an increase in students attending office hours as they have become more connected and they have developed an expectation for their questions to be answered as quickly as possible.”

Mitchell believes online resources such as University Junction can assist students by granting them the opportunity to interact with students at other institutions and compare their educational experiences.

“For example if a student is taking intro to accounting at Western, they can converse with students taking intro to accounting at the University of Pennsylvania,” Mitchell said. “This way, you not only have access to study materials from your university, but also to supplemental materials that other students are learning from.”

She added the operators are hoping to expand their server to 160 campuses by the end of 2009 and believes they can create a successful academic community that truly will help students study more efficiently.

Despite the lofty goals set forth by the site, it has yet to gain popularity at certain Canadian universities, including McGill, one of the school’s where it originated.

“No one I know uses [University Junction],” Leah Smith, a second-year science student at McGill, said.

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