Kent State Grad’s Internet Site Buys, Sells University Students’ Class Notes

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An enterprising graduate of Kent State University is putting his internet-based idea to work. Michael Matousek has started a business that buys and sells class notes to university students around the country.

FlashNotes works like this. Interested students who would like to earn extra money upload their class notes to the FlashNotes website. Other students who might have missed a class, or who would like extra help preparing for an exam, can buy those notes and download them from FlashNotes.com. FlashNotes founder Michael Matousek says he got the idea as a junior in a Kent State statistics class.

“The students were having a hard time really learning the information that was being presented to them in class and I somehow caught on to the way the teacher was teaching and I took awesome notes,” Matousek says. “And whether my buddies missed class or whether they went to class they still were confused, they always asked for my content and material and I sort of saw that there was a business here.”

During his senior year, Matousek further developed the idea in an entrepreneurship class. He went on to raise enough money to pay for the design of a website. Now the 22-year-old is recruiting note-takers at various universities around the country. Those who post their notes get 80 percent of the sales price; FlashNotes gets 20 percent.

“The site in a lot of ways works like Amazon and EBay where the students essentially upload their content and set their own price,” Matousek says. “We’ve had notes range anywhere from $1.99 to $36. It’s ranged from a day’s worth of notes to the entire semester’s worth of notes. And the average right now is about $5.”

Matousek says some students have earned more than $100 selling their notes.

“It sort of creates a marketplace for the students. In addition to setting your own price you can essentially become an entrepreneur yourself and sell notes and start your own note-selling business within our site.”

But that’s only part of the equation. Matousek sees FlashNotes as an extremely valuable educational tool. John Cogan, a lecturer in Biology and Biochemistry at Ohio State University, agrees, up to a point.

“I think the upside is that students you now have the availability of the material. And as the website suggests some students are better than others at taking notes and I think it could benefit students that don’t have that much skill in that area,” Cogan says.

“On the downside you know we are always dealing with students trying to get out of class for a variety of reasons and I think this in some ways does promote that. It makes it a little bit easier,” Cogan says.

The number of course notes from Ohio State classes is extremely limited. There’s much more material available from Kent State, Matousek’s alma mater. It’s an enormous challenge for a small company to recruit note takers at colleges around the country. And there’s another problem: how do you ensure the accuracy of the notes that are being purchased? I asked Matousek about that.

Q: You talked about taking awesome notes but how are you sure that the people who are selling their notes are also awesome note takers, they could be missing things. How would you verify that what they’re saying is accurate?

A: Instantly as you upload your notes, a one-third preview of those notes are generated – one third of the first page. So it reduces some of the risk to the buyer when he sees it. As well as the seller can essentially create a profile of themselves, as well as there’s a ranking system like Amazon and E-bay on those users. If a student uploads something at all that is disputed by the person who buys it we offer a full money back refund for those users.

Belton Fleisher, a professor of Economics at Ohio State is another professor who says he has no problem with lecture notes being sold for cash. He says he does not believe that the material presented in his classes verbally or on the board is copyrighted.

“If somebody wants to take notes and sell them or show them to somebody else, that’s okay with me,” Fleisher says. “If students want to buy those notes and think that they’re well-written and represent what went on in class that’s the risk they’re taking.”

But Fleisher does have a problem with the notes that were downloaded by WOSU recently from a course he taught several years ago

“This is a printout of a power point presentation that I made in Economics 201 – Macroeconomics. I should note that if somebody else is copying and posting them, it’s illegal. Really these are copyrighted documents. Flashnotes.com will be, I will inform our publisher about that,” Fleisher says.

Copyright issues aside, FlashNotes CEO Michael Matousek and Ohio State Lecturer John Cogan agree: online resources are changing the way that students learn. Educator John Cogan:

“We don’t necessarily try to make information secretive so I think education like biology is constantly evolving and we have to keep up with these trends because the students have more and more available access to notes, to class material, to websites, and it kind of keeps us challenged to keep up with and kind of modify education as students do as well,” Cogan says.

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