"Airbnb of Education" Funds Keggers Across America


Selling lecture notes for beer money keeps getting easier. According to The Boston Globe, publishing company Cengage Learning has partnered with Flashnotes to create the "Airbnb of education," an online bazaar for college students to buy and sell class notes, study guides, video tutorials, and other educational materials.

While this sounds like great news for frat boy slackers and high achievers alike, the commoditization of college study has raised some concerns about "blurring the line between collaborating and cheating," particularly in light of the Harvard cheating scandal back in 2012. Cengage, however, plans to address the concerns of university professors and administrators about cheating and other academic tomfoolery:

The exchange will be included in an existing online portal, MindTap…that Cengage offers to college professors for posting supplemental learning tools…Professors using MindTap will be able to activate or disable the function that lets students swap study help for money.

Flashnotes, which has been operating an online marketplace for study materials for several years now, also has a strict policy banning the "sale of test answers, essays, or homework, and uses a keyword screening algorithm to flag content that could be considered cheating." In addition, users can report ethics violations.

Yet for all its supposed problems, the online marketplace offers a rewarding opportunity for diligent students to benefit materially as well as intellectually from their hard work. One student from Northeastern "pocketed between $400 and $500 last spring semester by selling study guides on Flashnotes." A former Florida State University student has earned almost $12,000 selling his materials. That's a lot of kegs.

Some, like Craig R. Vasey of the American Association of University Professors, worry that the buying and selling of lecture notes is "at odds with the spirit of higher education." But Vasey's skepticism betrays a distaste for monetary exchange more than it does a worry about the philosophical underpinnings of the university, considering the prohibitive expense of official educational resources such as college textbooks—not to mention the exorbitantly high price of participating in the "spirit of higher education" in the first place.

And, as The Boston Globe is quick to point out, students have been swapping and selling lecture notes long before Flashnotes and Cengage came along. For every lazy student there is an entrepreneurial high achiever ready to make some cash. The online marketplace merely connects buyers with sellers and facilitates exchange between the two—an exchange that would occur offline anyway.