I was banned from collegeconfidential just for asking for some help?
July 12, 2013 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Summer vacations are coming up and I am going to use some of my free time to learn physics and math, subjects that I love. In order to do that i asked collegeconfidential.com if anyone had "exclusive study materials" from their university which they could share. I mentioned that I would like to have acess to tests and exams from other universities and I could give some good materials collected by my colleagues of the physics and math course in exchange.

The reason why I ask for these repositories is that they are very very useful when someone tries to do some self-study. I have some of my university' (IST, Lisbon) student repositories and I know from it. Sometimes I think, If I had just a couple more of these sites I could learn almost anything in a blink of an eye. With the arrival of massive open online courses, this is becoming less important but still, these are very valuable sites where one can find very useful and organized information. When looking up on the internet you lose a lot of time going from one source to another and in a book you get lost with all the information. In these sites (usually a skydrive account or a open dropbox account) you can find solved exercises that you couldnt find anywhere else. You can say to me: "Well, you have MIT and Yale opencourseware" but it's not as easy to browse as this student repositories. Here you can find the best of one's university materials organized by year and subject, so you can always pick a subject that matches your level.
This repositories don't need to contain copyrighted material, they are a good sourse of info by themselves because they have a lot of organizing effort put into them by generations of students.

So, I hoped I convinced you about the importance of what I am looking for. When I asked this at collegeconfidencial I though I was going to receive a lot of support but insted I got banned as a spammer forever. Now what, what do I do? I don't bother much with the ban, I can just create a new account but I would like to understand why this happened and how can I find what I want.
posted by tsuwal to Education (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
They think you're gathering the materials to sell to cheaters online.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:12 PM on July 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

I can't speak to college confidential specifically; maybe there is something in their terms or guidelines that will make it clear what you violated.

But for me, reading your request and trying to look at it independently of your explanation, my first impression was that you were either searching for or trying to create a guide for cheating. For example, frat houses are sometimes notorious for having repositories of old exams which are used not to study but to memorize answers (since often teachers will re-use exams).

If you just ask for study materials and sample problems, that is more acceptable.
posted by Lady Li at 9:13 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

With all due respect, why on earth would any university (American or otherwise) provide you, a random stranger, with free and unrestricted access to private course materials that other students pay a tremendous amount of money for just because you say you plan to use them for personal enrichment? It is frankly sort of bizarre that you think you are justified and right in asking for these resources, because College Confidential has nothing to gain by giving you what you ask for!

There is nothing about your request that doesn't sound off and I'm a little surprised that it hasn't occurred to you that thousands of people do ask this question on sites like College Confidential for the sole purpose of reselling that material or using it to cheat, and others still are asking because they think they are entitled to what other hardworking people pay for even if they themselves aren't willing to pay tuition and fees to gain equal access to it.

You offering materials from your own university is actually another red flag because a) this probably violates your university's honor code as well as some of their other bylaws on redistributing course materials, which makes you look really untrustworthy/naive, and b) because so many people say they are going to give something in return for something of value but very rarely do, which makes your promise ultimately rather empty even if you do intend to share what you say you will.

The majority of universities do not just give out exclusive study materials because it would hurt them financially, and because it would give opportunistic people (who sound a lot like you when they do their initial pitch for goods) the chance to wreak havoc on a school's grading system by re-distributing those exclusive study materials for a fee to cheaters and for-hire students. This is, in my opinion, why your question got you flagged and banned (and rightfully so), and as someone who still works in higher education and who works hard to develop study materials for her students, please be respectful of the community you are trying to take advantage of.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:33 PM on July 12, 2013 [48 favorites]

Lots of universities have "exclusive" study materials that are university-ID & password-protected. That's because those materials are copyrighted, and unauthorized distribution of them violates intellectual property law.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:34 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

The biggest asset of these universities are their teachers and their teacher's course material. Why would they give them to you for free just for asking?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:37 PM on July 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Summer vacations are coming up and I am going to use some of my free time to learn physics and math, subjects that I love. In order to do that i asked collegeconfidential.com if anyone had "exclusive study materials" from their university which they could share. I mentioned that I would like to have acess to tests and exams from other universities and I could give some good materials collected by my colleagues of the physics and math course in exchange.

Your explanation sounds bogus, full of fake earnestness. Your "wha, me?" incredulity sounds put-on and fake. Your explanation sounds too thought-out to be real, the whole "summer is coming up; time for a serious self-study project!" thing sounds like a cover story.

That's why you got banned.

Your request is so specific and refined, for materials that have serious market value. It casts serious doubt on your claim that you need the materials solely for self study.

This is like someone soliciting porn for "research."
posted by Unified Theory at 9:44 PM on July 12, 2013 [20 favorites]

they are very very useful when someone tries to do some self-study

They are also very, very useful to paying students.

I would like to have acess to tests and exams

So would the people who have to take those tests and exams.

In these sites (usually a skydrive account or a open dropbox account) you can find solved exercises that you couldnt find anywhere else.

The reason these files are are on skydrives or open dropbox accounts is that it is extremely unethical and potentially illegal to share them. People could be expelled from their schools for being in possession of or sharing those files.

You just went onto some website and basically said "hey guys where can I steal stuff?" Of course you got banned.

And asking for tests and exclusive materials isn't "just asking for some help." You're being very disingenuous, and I'm wondering if you posted this question hoping to be pointed to some of the material you're trying to steal.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:45 PM on July 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

I got nothing for you about collegeconfidential.com but...

Summer vacations are coming up and I am going to use some of my free time to learn physics and math, subjects that I love

Taking you at your word (with a pinch of sodium chloride) MIT has free course materials and exams if you are keen.
posted by Kerasia at 10:02 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

When looking up on the internet you lose a lot of time going from one source to another and in a book you get lost with all the information.

1. Getting educated is supposed to take a lot of time, and part of being educated is learning how to use the internet effectively, which is what you learn by going from one source to another and back again until you figure out the shortest path to the complete answer.

2. If you get lost in a book because there's too much information, you need to back up a grade or two or three, trying lower level books until you find the one that you don't get lost in; finish that book, completely, and then move to the next level.

I can't help but wonder just what you think getting educated is all about. It's a slow process, my friend, and hard work - it's not just a matter of studying a bunch of old tests until you master the answers and then calling yourself knowledgable/educated. You're either incredibly naive or you're trying to gather material to sell; either way, it's not surprising that you're no longer welcome where people earn their way.

Please do it right or don't do it at all.
posted by aryma at 10:02 PM on July 12, 2013 [18 favorites]

"This repositories don't need to contain copyrighted material..."

In general, any original written material is covered by copyright automatically as soon as it is created. Course notes, lectures, etc. are copyrighted works whether or not they contain notices to that effect, and it is illegal to copy them (except in certain exceptional cases like "fair use") without permission from the copyright holder.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:10 PM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Khan Academy. They have math lectures and exercises that goes from arithmetic to Linear Algebra.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:11 PM on July 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Interesting...... ten days ago, in your only other post here, you were going to spend your summer learning English. Now you're going to spend your summer casually learning physics and math, complicated subjects other people need to spend YEARS studying.

As everyone above says, the material you're trying to acquire is proprietary: it's all copyrighted for a reason, and your naive-sounding request for it comes across as a scam. Perhaps you aren't a scammer, perhaps you ARE totally honest, but colleges and universities have exactly one thing to sell, and that's the intellectual knowledge you are trying to get from them for free. That's not really any different than if I were to have a lawyer draw up a document for me and then refuse to pay for that service.
posted by easily confused at 2:25 AM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

If your background on collegeconfidential.com is anything like it is on AskMe-- you had never appeared before and then opened an account and the next day made a solicitation for course material from other colleges -- then the reason you got banned is that you came across as a spammer and/or someone looking to collect course material to consolidate and sell.

If this question is serious, I would look into things like Schaum's outlines or other similar study guides that many of us in college used to supplement our class material and helped us work step-by-step through the topics. There were lots of sample problems, as well.
posted by deanc at 4:02 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think your question is suspect at all, but I think that due to differences in academic cultures in the US and Europe you assume your request is not problematic.

As other people have stated above, universities in the English-speaking world are very expensive and, as these materials are copyrighted and only meant to be used by their students, it is reasonable for them to assume someone asking for masses of them in a public forum is up to something sketchy.

You said it doesn't need to be copyrighted material, it's enough with students' summaries of the material they have covered in class. Well... the thing about summaries is that you probably learn more from them by making them than just reading them. There is a reason why students are made to spend many months exercising and reflecting on material they are supposed to know well.

You can't short cut your way through learning. If you get "lost in a book with all the information" it means you should spend MORE time digesting the information, not less. Until you are able to generate your own summaries.

Invest in a good textbook and supplement with free materials you will find online.
Any good, up-to-date maths or physics textbook will provide you both with the relevant material and exercises (plus solutions). There is also stuff like edX, Coursera that have free online lectures by teaching staff in excellent universities.

Good luck!
posted by ipsative at 4:05 AM on July 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree, there's a whiff of insincerity to your question/motives. Learning is a process that often does take a while, and people who claim to love learning usually enjoy spending time with it.

Ask a professor for recommendations on books to get you started, and they'll often be happy to help. Ask a professor for the answers in the back of the book, and they'll suspect you're not there for the love of learning.

Assuming your question is sincere, and you learn best from concise, carefully guided and curated materials, what makes you think it's okay to ask for other people's work for free? The only thing you have to offer in exchange is materials from your own school, which you presumably did no work on and certainly have no right to distribute. Forget the website, you could get kicked out of school for doing this.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 AM on July 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

One major issue is that in the US, students do not always keep exams and tests, and access to full exams is often strictly controlled by professors. This varies widely between classes and universities, but it is strictly against the honor code to share exam materials in the manner you describe at the college where I work.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:06 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is impermissible by most US academic honor codes. Systematic violations are sometimes even viewed as newsworthy.

Cheating disorder rages on [NY Post, Sep 2012]

The cheat is on at CUNY.

A recent grade-changing scandal at Baruch College has done nothing to deter student entrepreneurs from peddling test answers, The Post has learned.

An underground trade of “test banks” and “solution manuals”— the materials professors use to create exams — are selling for up to $30 a pop, an undergraduate accounting student at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business told The Post.

“It is still going on this semester,” said the student, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

She said that last semester, she struggled through an accounting course while watching other students get easy A’s.

“Wow. I must be doing something wrong,” she told herself.

Her luck changed when a fellow student slipped her the test bank that, at the time, she thought was simply a study guide, she said.

The test bank contained lists of more than 150 questions and answers for each chapter in the textbook her class was using.

A classmate placed the test bank in her Dropbox, an online file-sharing service. She then saved the files to her iPad.

While taking an at-home midterm, she discovered that the exam questions appeared verbatim on the test banks, which she had in her hands.

The questions and answers were in a different order, but every word was identical.

The struggling “C” student earned her first “A.”

Stunned by the discovery, she told a friend.

“She told me that some people sell it,” she said. “She was asking me if I wanted to buy it for [another] accounting class because she has a friend — $25 for the test bank.”

I understand that this may not be what the OP has in mind -- there's clearly something of a culture gap, and maybe even a very slight language gap going on.

It's true that certain varieties of this sort of thing are legitimate (or semi-legitimate) in specific academic subcultures in the US. For instance, many law schools allow student organizations to openly maintain outline banks very closely tailored to specific professors/courses, and use them to compete in recruitment (to the point of being accessed through school sponsored Westlaw course tools). But these of course may not contain actual examples of graded work. Similarly, the University of Chicago's social science grad students used to maintain the incredible prelim archives (link to v1).

The idea for a collection of summaries first came about during the summer of 1994 as a group of us from the 1993 cohort were preparing for that time-honored ordeal that is the Department's preliminary exam. It often seemed like we were spending more time writing summaries than working with the original sources. This is probably a familiar sensation to most of us who have suffered through the prelim. We decided that what was needed was an organized, centralized, publically available collection of summaries. After the summer was over and we had moved past the prelim, we still thought this sounded like a good idea. So we began to gather together the summaries we had written and otherwise acquired and were able to put together on disk a large compilation which includes a complete set of summaries for the readings from the (1993-94) Prelim Bibliography, as well as summaries from readings we had done in the Inquiry sequence and other assorted classes. This collection of summaries is currently available in the Regenstein Reserve Room on 3.5'' disks and is formatted for MS Word (Sorry, Mac and WP users).

If you renew this request, I'd drop the specification of actual assignment materials and graded work. Asking to share notes or outlines is acceptable, if often frowned upon -- especially when you have nothing to offer and may seem to just want to exploit others work to earn a degree without expending the effort or accomplishing the learning.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:44 AM on July 13, 2013

Best answer: I think people are being kind of hard on the OP. Lots of us had these collections of previous years' assignments and exams floating around dorms and fraternities. They're a pretty good study guide because you only learn stuff by doing it over and over again and experiencing lots of different problems. It's not, IMHO, "cheating" in any sense of the word, and a professor who doesn't allow such sharing is simply covering up for the fact that he's too lazy to write up new problem sets and exams.

However, it is a form of labor to put these things together-- to organize assignments, curate the paperwork and order it into something useful, etc. People are willing to share the results of this labor with their classmates and friends and dormmates, but they're not just going to give it away to a stranger who might use it to sell, create his own class based on your and another professor's work, etc. It's not so much that it's considered "personal property of the school" but that it is considered personal property of the student and his community. The content itself might not even have that much added value outside of the context of the individual class compared to a Schaum's Guide or any of the other online course material.
posted by deanc at 6:57 AM on July 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: this probably violates your university's honor code as well as some of their other bylaws on redistributing course materials

Or perhaps it doesn't. Because "honor codes" and "college bylaws" are really not universal things.

I see this as cultural naivety from the asker, not bad faith: outside the Anglosphere, and especially outside the US in current times, there's less of a sense that university materials are precious intellectual property delivered in return for your inflated fees. (Which in itself is a misconception, but that's another issue.) Back in the day, I certainly wouldn't have considered course notes at my somewhat well-known UK university the equivalent of proprietary source code.

OP: the answers above make clear what the problem is. Any forum that has a heavy US presence is going to treat requests for course-related materials like you're asking for warez. That's why the open courseware concept exists.
posted by holgate at 7:03 AM on July 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

What doesn't make sense is why you would want elusive or proprietary materials for learning physics and math. Talk about taking the long way home. You'd spend far more time trying to make sense of the piecemeal harvest you'd reap than learning anything in a linear way.

Physics and math are linear subjects, understood the same way all over the world, and accessible in very sophisticated pedagogical interfaces and resources that are widely and freely available. They don't depend, for quality instruction, on a particular university or professor, at least at the more basic levels, in anything like the way more interpretive/humanistic knowledge or any actual current research in math or science would. And if you are good enough at math or physics to need sophisticated or cutting edge research-driven pedagogy, you will find yourself in demand as a scholarship/fellowship candidate and don't need to beg for free help.

What level or aspects of physics or math are you trying to learn? I'm sure many here can point you to far more efficient sources than some professor's hacked Dropbox account, you know?

It's that your request doesn't make intellectual or practical sense that is leading folks to suspect you're being disingenuous.

/checks to make sure all last semester's extra course materials are cleared out of his Dropbox account

posted by spitbull at 7:12 AM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: wow. I am admired for how I was interpreted. As ipsative said this really shows the culture shock between English speaking countries and countries like mine, Portugal. Here in Portugal there are no good university level privare schools (well there is just one that is good in economics & business, it's like Portugal harvard Business School, http://www.clsbe.lisboa.ucp.pt/site/custom/template/fceetplhome.asp?sspageid=1&lang=1). Anyway, in Portugal the maximum tuiton fee in Bachelor degrees is set to about 1000 euros, about 900 dolars. Master degrees cost the same, most of them, but some go up to 5000 euros depending on the Masters. To get your PhD, if you an GPA above 16/20 you get a schoolarship from FCT (http://www.fct.pt/index.phtml.en) a to support you financially. As you can see, there is practically no business around education, education is cheap. The real effort you have to make is get a good grades to enter the best schools. For example, Medicine is very hard to enter, you need a GPA of at least 18/20 to enter. I know that you may not believe me but I am very hardworking, I went to med school here in Portugal but them I changed to Biomedical Engineering at IST, that is considered Portugal's best engineering school. The university is very good but it has a big flaw: it's students are very discouraged. This is mainly due to the fact that Professor standards are much higher than the high school standards. Do you know what you learn about computer sciences in Portuguese high school? You learn Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. O.o So, my point is, as students are very disencouraged, what we have is each other help. These sites I was asking for represent the work of a lot of students. In my university Computer Science students and Biomedical Engineering students made very good repositories. I can show you the Mechanical Engineering repository of the 4th year student group which is worst student repository I think (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rzfa9zokqv7csdk/Rk7nTaD6u1). The exams and tests you see there are given by the Professors (they are free) and even the Professors say to their students to look up for old tests and exams, it's part of the university culture. In Med school, however, is completly different.
posted by tsuwal at 7:13 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

You need to Google "open courseware." You will be amazed what's out there for free, legally, and of excellent quality.
posted by spitbull at 7:17 AM on July 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think a lot of us are willing to take you at your word about your intentions, but you need to be aware that your request mirrors those made by unsavory people.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:49 AM on July 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is certainly U.S specific, you can access a lot of courses' materials online here (Germany) (some are password protected, but not all). Assignments and solutions from past years are harder to get by, as they are recycled or slightly mutated from year to year. Exams are inaccessible.

In contrast,my old university (in Israel) used to publish booklets with a collection of the exams in each course, used as prep material. We'd sit for a week and solve old exams.
I prefer Germany's system :)

I disagree about using only text books for studying. Reading and understanding a 900 page book about Quantum Physics without guidance takes too long and is not necessary to reach good understanding about quantum physics for undergrad level, fox example. A good professor's lecture notes are much more valuable.
posted by sockpuppetdirect at 9:26 AM on July 13, 2013

And if she publishes her lecture notes then great. But if you have to obtain them surreptitiously it's wrong whether they might be helpful or not. Luckily there is just a huge and expanding universe of resources out there that gives you everything from lecture note level synthesis to detailed problem sets and solutions to 900 page textbooks for free, especially for math and science, so there is absolutely no need to steal, knowingly or not, to get the best resources you could imagine or a self-directed course of study of basic level physics or math.

The world needs millions more people, if not billions, to obtain such knowledge stat, and a lot of very serious people are working hard to make it possible for that to happen. It's a great time to be asking for these resources.
posted by spitbull at 9:58 AM on July 13, 2013

I went to university abroad (about $100 a semester) and this was the norm too. The best students would gather mountains of borrowed books and booklets (from any university) and even photocopies of notebooks of students who had previously taken the class and were known for taking good notes. This was the way of preparing for a difficult class.

It may be kind of shocking for you to see the reaction of MeFites to your question, but yeah...higher education in the US is a business. Like any business, every university tends to be very protective of any material designed by their staff. I know that in many other countries impeding the free flow of knowledge is seen as unethical, but here (given that education is so damn expensive) sharing material is a no-no.

Anyway, some resources you may like

MIT open courses are available here
There is an interesting thread collecting free video lectures in Maths here
"learning Physics through free courses" from Open Culture
and depending on your level, you may like FearOfPhysics.com
posted by Tarumba at 10:43 PM on July 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try googling [course name] "lecture notes" OR "practice exam" site:.edu. You might also find this NYT article enlightening.
posted by oceano at 2:16 AM on July 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older A question of fashion   |   Best hard drive solution for mobile audio... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.