Need Homework Help? Don’t ask us! A review of Course Hero’s reference service (Part 2 of 3)

May 10, 2010, 4:19 pm

I found Course Hero’s Homework Help to be very tempting. Here
is the screen you are greeted with when you first log-in:


Inviting, huh? And pretty straightforward. Subject. Ability
to attach your assignment. Your Due Date & Time. Submit it and then you just chill and wait while the
experts work on your homework.


Here is how it works:


And who are these experts? Tutors who are allegedly affiliated with top tier universities. Let's meet a few:


Ok, great. Let’s give them a test. I started with a fairly common question that you might get at any ref desk or via email or chat or txt around the country:

"I need to find
three "peer-reviewed" articles for my english class. I have to write
about Hawthorne and the occult. I was looking on google but can't seem to get
the full articles, just some abstracts?”

 This is the response I received:


"Us" huh? Got a team working on my question? Why do they need to know the word count? Are they going to write the paper for
me too? Here I am just trying to get three articles. I’m not asking for anything
else, they didn’t even tell me to visit the library or anything. They wanted to
know more details, so I went with it:

"I need to write
a 1,000 word essay on the topic of hawthorne and the occult– like magic and
witchcraft and that sort of thing. Maybe I should do it on the historical side,
like magic during his day, or something about the use of magic in his stories?
I'm not sure, I just know that I need to use 3 peer-review articles. We can't
use websites or even books, professor specifically said peer review articles…
I have no idea what that means or where to find them?

Not long after sending in my clarification they rejected me. A received
an email that said:

We can only answer your 3 question per day one at a time. Please
re-submit an individual question.  Thanks!

Also, FYI:

 Questions that require a significant time commitment are more likely to
go unanswered.


This seemed odd because it
was a pretty easy question. And I only responded to the request for clarification. Finding three articles on a popular American author
seemed very feasible. She could have just given me citations or told me where to look. Obviously I was also struggling with the concept of peer-view, “she” didn’t
even address that. If I were a real student I’d feel abandoned! I came to them for homework help, but there was none to be found.

So I decided to switch it up and
went with an engineering question:

"Hi. I need some
properties data. I'm look for some aluminum or steel alloys that can withstand
high pressure and high temp. I'd really like to find a threshold table that
shows this. Can you help?"

I was denied again. They would not help me at all on this one. At least when I
asked KGB
 they faked it. Course Hero didn’t even try.


So let’s try one more. How about a known item search? I sent in a citation for
an IEEE article and told them that I was having trouble accessing the full text
and wondering if they could help get it. They couldn’t. Which is probably best in
terms of copyright, but he didn’t even refer me to a library or anything—he
just bailed:


Three strikes! Course Hero loses in my eyes. Why couldn't I rate the tutors? They have these very high "positive feedback" scores but where is my chance to leave an opinion? They gave me very little
help. Actually ZERO help. If I were seriously counting on them I would have been
in trouble. They just wasted my time. They sell the idea that this is a
fast and wonderful service, but seriously it is a disservice to students
everywhere. It also seems dishonorable to the world of information professionals.
I would not hire these “experts” to work on my info desk.


And the worst of it all is that they are charging people. Yes, this is
a for-profit service, above and beyond your Course Hero subscription fee. When
you look at the submit screen (the first image in this post) it doesn’t say
anything anywhere about money. In fact, it says I’m a premier member and that I
can ask 3 questions per day. Ah, but they charge you $5 a pop:


They didn’t collect from me because all my questions were denied. But I
was willing to pay. Other than the IEEE citation they didn’t really even try.
Nor did they explain to me how it works. Even worse, they didn’t give me a way
to back out. When I submitted my first question it just popped up and said the
value was $5, I could not cancel it. And later on when they rejected me it
simply said “denied – price” they never gave me a chance to pay more. It is very confusing.

To be blunt, Course Hero’s Homework Help is a tragic failure. I could say more but this should be enough evidence. 


I’ll have one more post later this month that sums up Course Hero and extols
some of the good things that they are doing and what we might learn in terms of site
design for academic libraries.

The Course Hero Series:

Part 1Building A User-Generated e-Reserve System: a glance into the archives of CourseHero

Part 2. Need Homework Help? Don’t ask us! A review of Course Hero’s reference service

Part 3. What libraries can learn from Course Hero (Coming out in late May.)

 See also:

If you have a serious question don't turn to KGB: the story of how this for-profit text ref service fails

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