IT department warns against students using school accounts for commercial use

IT dept. notes students using school accounts for commercial use

By Theresa Mueller | 10/15/17 9:57pm

GVL / Emily Frye Becky Oppman checks her grades on blackboard on Sunday October 15, 2017.

Over the course of the semester, numerous Grand Valley State University faculty members have discovered students utilizing class notes beyond the traditional use of studying. Rather, students are using their Blackboard accounts or university emails to solicit notes through various online vendors, such as StudySoup.

The Information Technology department sent out an email to all faculty and staff Monday, Oct. 2, noting that it is impermissible for students to use their Blackboard or GVSU email accounts for promoting the commercial use of notes. 

According to the university’s computing conditions of use policy, “Using university technology resources for commercial use is strictly prohibited. Such resources are to be solely used in conjunction with doing business for GVSU or purposes directly related to academic work.”

StudySoup is a website that recruits students to take notes and sell them online. While students are not prohibited from using sites like StudySoup to sell notes to peers, they cannot advertise their work through Blackboard or their student email.

“(Students) are obviously using (StudySoup) to make money,” said Sue Korzinek, the associate vice president and chief information officer for IT. “We’re not saying students can’t do that. We’re just saying they can’t use Blackboard as a tool to notify other students.”

If students choose to sell their notes, there are additional policies they must follow. Students are prohibited from sharing textbook information or a professor’s work on these accounts. Both incidents would be violations of copyright. 

“It’s propriety,” Korzinek said. “Notes are your own personal property, but if (students) were trying to sell faculty members' notes or anything they handed out, that’s totally violation of copyright and illegal.”

Korzinek said the message was sent out to clarify the note-sharing policies with faculty. 

“We sent out the message so faculty know what the proper policies are and what they are able to tell their students," she said.

Per the email, “Faculty are encouraged to let their students know that (commercial use of GVSU accounts) is not permitted and that they may not use Blackboard or any other GVSU resources for this purpose. Let your students know that GVSU does not endorse these types of services, like StudySoup, and that if the activity continues, the Student Judicial process may be invoked.”

The IT department does not know the exact number of students who are soliciting notetaking vendors, but a handful of professors have come to Korzinek with questions regarding policy. Korzinek explained that there are likely many other related incidents but that faculty members have either not reported them or don’t know how to respond to the situation.

Potentially, there are many other students using Blackboard for soliciting use, but IT does not have a direct method for monitoring these violations. IT relies on professors to report the problem, in which case, IT can notify the student involved that they are violating policy.

If a student were to continue promoting their class notes through GVSU accounts after a notice from IT, they would be reported to the dean of students. It would be up to the dean and campus judiciary to determine the repercussions.  

In the case of soliciting notes online, the motive is clear.  Making a profit is always appealing to college students.  Whether or not a student is aware they are violating university policies is not always clear. 

“I’m guessing they’re not aware,” Korzinek said. “Once information about (violating policy) is shared with (the student), we typically don’t see repeats.” 

One way this issue could be avoided altogether is if students simply shared their notes with classmates. 

“As a student, those notes are your own intellectual property, so you can do with them what you want,” said Eric Kunnen, associate director of e-learning and emerging technologies for IT. “You can sell them or, as a student, just give them to your classmates.” 

Kunnen and the IT department continue to grapple with the issue of how to ensure that students are acquainted with various university policies. 

“Realistically, when you say (to students), ‘You must read the handbook,’ how many students really do?" he asked. "We can provide information on Blackboard and links, but we can’t force students to read it."

The university's computing conditions of use policy is only one of many at GVSU. The matter then becomes which policies the university wants to prioritize. 

“(It’s a matter of) what messages do you want to get out,” Korzinek said. “The university has to pick and choose what is so important that we almost force students to understand.”

Ultimately, students at GVSU have a responsibility to make use of campus resources in accordance with policies, all of which can be found online.

“You have a set of expectations,” Kunnen said. “Make sure you’re plugged in to what it means to be a student at the university. At the end of the day, the technology (the IT department) puts in place for our students and faculty is there to make you a more efficient learner or teacher. That’s what we’re about.” 

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